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John Cornyn announces he’s running for Senate GOP leader

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is seen from below, surrounded by reporters and microphones.
J. Scott Applewhite
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is surrounded by reporters as he heads to the chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2024. Cornyn has informed his colleagues that he intends to run for Senate Republican leader. He's the first senator to announce a campaign after Sen. Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that he'll step down from the post in November.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn officially announced Thursday he is running to lead the Senate Republican Conference.

“I am asking my Republican colleagues to give me the opportunity to succeed Leader [Mitch] McConnell. I have learned a lot during my time both in and out of Senate leadership,” Cornyn said in a statement. “Throughout my time I’ve built a track record of listening to colleagues and seeking consensus, while leading the fight to stop bad policies that are harmful to our nation and the conservative cause.”

Republicans will elect their leadership for 2025 and 2026 in November after the national general election.

Cornyn’s announcement comes a day after McConnell announced he would not seek another term as Republican leader. McConnell is the longest serving Senate leader of either party. Cornyn is a close McConnell ally and spent six years as the number two Republican from 2013-2019. It’s expected that Cornyn would continue in McConnell’s tradition of principled pragmatism to pass legislation amid a broader push by conservatives to adhere to strict party purity.

He demonstrated bipartisan chops in negotiating the first major gun safety bill in decades after the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde and the CHIPS and Science Act, meant to help boost the U.S. semiconductor industry in the face of rising competition from China.

That reputation has already attracted some detractors, including Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who would not rule out a run against Cornyn in his 2026 Senate primary. Paxton blasted Cornyn for not backing him in his impeachment by the Texas state House and for openly showing concern over Paxton’s legal woes. Cornyn was Texas attorney general from 1999 to 2002.

Paxton called Cornyn an “anti-Trump, anti-gun” senator on social media Wednesday night. He added that Texans “deserve better” because Cornyn “will be focused on his highly competitive primary campaign in 2026.”

Cornyn tersely responded: “Hard to run from prison, Ken,” in a nod at Paxton’s felony indictment for securities fraud and an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of abuse in office.

Despite his criticism from the right, Cornyn is by no means a moderate. He has faithfully voted with his party and advocated conservative causes in the judiciary, on the border and in U.S. interests overseas. He voted with then-President Donald Trump 92% of the time, despite later expressing personal misgivings with Trump’s electability. He endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020 as well as in this year’s primary.

Cornyn said as leader, he would try to unify the disparate factions within the Republican Party, which have recently become a growing challenge to McConnell’s leadership.

“I believe the Senate is broken - that is not news to anyone. The good news is that it can be fixed, and I intend to play a major role in fixing it,” Cornyn said in his statement. “We will improve communication, increase transparency, and ensure inclusion of every Member’s expertise and opinion. … And we will return power back to our members; there will be no more backroom deals or forced votes on bills without adequate time for review, debate, and amendment.”

Cornyn has long made it clear he wants McConnell’s job. He has built strong relationships in the Senate by sharing his prolific fundraising with other Republicans and working across the aisle on major legislative deals.

Cornyn was the top Senate Republican fundraiser in the 2022 cycle other than McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott, who was then chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Cornyn was also ranked the most effective Republican senator of the 2021-2023 session of Congress by the nonpartisan Center for Effective Lawmaking at Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia.

Two other Republicans with leadership experience, current Minority Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming, have also hinted interest in the job.

Cornyn was term-limited out of being Republican whip but has remained close to Republican leadership. He and McConnell kept an open line when McConnell suffered numerous health scares last year that amplified talk of the Kentuckian’s succession.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at