Corker, Republican senator from Tennessee, announces his retirement
Corker and other Republican leaders in Congress have come under fire from President Trump and his supporters for not delivering in the early days of the new administration.
Once considered an ally of Trump’s national security team, Corker and Trump traded insults during the August break amid chatter that staunch conservatives would mount a primary challenge to the Foreign Relations chairman.
Corker’s retirement will create what is likely to be a highly contested, ideologically driven Republican primary. It also creates a vacuum among Senate Republicans for leaders on national security issues.
“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018,” the Chattanooga Republican said in a statement.
Corker comes from his state’s long tradition of establishment Republican figures who went to the Senate with ambitions that went beyond just the state’s expansive borders. Two of the last five Senate GOP leaders have been from Tennessee, while Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) are two of the most powerful committee chairmen.
Corker acknowledged that his clout led him to consider breaking his pledge, initially made during his 2006 race, to serve only two terms. “As we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model,” he said in his statement.
But that wing of the Republican Party has been under assault since the tea party movement took hold seven years ago, and even more so in the Trump era, a time when mild-mannered dealmakers fell out of favor with conservative voters who increasingly preferred angry confrontation over ideological outcome.
Corker faced that back home over the August congressional break, when he questioned Trump’s stability following his response to the race riots in Charlottesville. “He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great,” he told local reporters.
That prompted taunting tweets from Trump, who said that Corker was “constantly asking me” whether to seek reelection.
Corker revealed his plans to retire just hours after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced that he would not hold a vote on the latest bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act because it was destined to fail amid defections from moderate Republicans.
The announcement also came just hours before election results were due in the GOP primary in Alabama, where appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) had become the underdog against Roy Moore, according to several recent polls. The former state Supreme Court justice’s insurgent campaign against Strange has emboldened the sort of anti-establishment figures who have made McConnell the target of enmity and who were searching for a primary challenge to Corker.