Corker to retire after 2018

 In Politics

Bob Corker is pictured. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

Sen. Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, faced a potential primary challenge in 2018. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman faced a possible primary challenge.


Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corkerwill retire from the Senate after two terms, scrambling next year’s election map and causing a seismic change in the Senate’s entrenched committee structure.

The Tennessee Republican’s announcement on Tuesday shocked the Senate. Though he began mulling retirement earlier this month, most Republicans were convinced he would run again.

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Corker spoke with Donald Trump on Tuesday, and the president encouraged him to run again and said that Corker had his support. But Corker had already made up his mind, he said in an interview.

“I just haven’t been able to bring myself to cross the line and say I was going to run. When I ran back in 2006 I told people I just couldn’t imagine serving more than two terms,” Corker said by telephone. “The thought of a third term just didn’t feel like why I came here.”

Corker, 65, became the first senator to announce his retirement this cycle, even as octogenarians Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) mull reelection. But Corker has grown frustrated with the Senate’s gridlock, and he struggled to motivate himself for another campaign.

He wavered on his decision several times, asking his staff to drafta retirement statement three different times, he said. He then found a quiet balcony in the back of the Senate to contemplate his decision one more time. Afterward, he ducked into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office and began sharing the news with other colleagues.

“I felt in my gut it was the right thing to do some time ago. Your head wants to gut it out and you’ve got people counting on you,” he said. Referring to his fellow Tennessee GOP senator, Lamar Alexander, Corker added: “Lamar has known for some time i was very seriously considering leaving, as has Mitch — as has Trump.”

Corker likely would have faced a tough primary challenge next year from the right, likely backed by Steve Bannon. The former White House strategist met on Monday night in Alabama with Mark Green, who was mulling jumping into the race to challenge Corker.

But Corker said Trump has repeatedly urged him to run again.

“When we knew we had the support of the president, that didn’t really matter,” Corker said of Bannon.

Still, his decision set off a wave of hand-wringing from his colleagues, who were dismayed that a senator who seemed so focused on making the institution function better is calling it quits.

“I’m deeply disappointed,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). “His commitment to doing the right thing is unparalleled. Bob Corker is a guy who wakes up every day and wants to do the right thing for the people of Tennessee and the country.”

The loss of Corker, with his signature Tennessee twang and punchy jokes, will leave a void in the Senate. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) is now in line for the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship, though Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the panel’s third-leading member, could conceivably be in consideration as well. Risch is probably the happiest person about the news other than Corker’s family. Corker added, though, that it will be up to committee members to decide the next chairman.

Corker has won praise from Democrats and Republicans for his leadership in the chamber and his retirement sparked a flurry of bipartisan praise.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who worked with Corker on housing reform, said Corker’s retirement is a “wake-up call” that the chamber needs more pragmatists. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Corker’s “thoughtfulness and dedication to the job make him a model senator. We all regret him leaving.”

“Tell me it’s not true!” exclaimed Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Ben Cardin of Maryland when given the news.

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