WASHINGTON — After two terms as senator, Bob Corker (R-TN) has announced he will not seek re-election in 2018. The retirement will fulfill a campaign promise made by Senator Corker in 2006 to only serve two terms in the Senate. Senator Corker has been a leading Republican voice on foreign affairs while in the Senate, and currently serves as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Senator Corker has been seen as an “establishment Republican” while serving on the foreign relations committee, a view strengthened by the souring of his relationship with the Trump administration. He has worked to run the committee in a bipartisan manner and even allowed debates to proceed on matters he didn’t fully agreed with.
The retirement will vacate the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The new chairperson, who will be appointed in 2019, will have the ability to influence foreign aid, the international affairs budget and international relations through legislation presented in the committee. Based on Senate rules, a number of Senators could potentially chair the committee starting in 2019.
Potential replacements for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
Senator James Risch (R-ID)
Senator James Risch is the second-ranking member of the Republican Party on the Foreign Relations Committee after Senator Corker. Questions have been raised about whether Senator Risch would accept the Foreign Relations Committee chairmanship since he is currently the chair of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. Senators may only chair one committee at a time. However, Senator Risch has said that seniority will determine the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, suggesting he is prepared to take the chairmanship.
Senator Risch is seen as closely aligned with the Trump administration. He has also been ranked as the most conservative member of the Senate.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Under Republican Party rules, the longest-tenured party member is not automatically guaranteed the chair of a committee. Republicans on individual committees are allowed to vote by secret ballot for the chairperson.
Senator Marco Rubio is currently the third-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. Based on his outspoken stances on foreign policy, some have questioned whether he would challenge Senator Risch for the chairmanship; however, Senator Rubio has stated he will support Senator Risch if he wants to be chairman.
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Ben Cardin is currently the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee. As the longest-serving Democrat on the committee, Senator Cardin would be in line for the chairmanship if the Democratic Party were to reclaim a majority in the Senate. Senator Cardin will seek re-election in 2018 and would need to win his race in order for this to be possible.
Senator Cardin also expressed that he was saddened to hear of Senator Corker’s retirement, commending the senator for the bipartisan nature of his leadership.
While the answer to who will become the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is still somewhat speculative, it will most likely be one of these three senators. The country waits with bated breath for the decision that will come after the 2018 election.
– Erik Beck