Since joining the Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, Sen. Bob Corker has set about steeping himself in key international policy matters and trying to work with and learn from Members on both sides of the aisle who share his particular interests. That studiousness has earned him kudos from a number of his Senate colleagues.
The plainspoken Senator — who is not shy about publicly zinging Democrats as well as his own party from time to time — seems to be gaining more traction on foreign affairs than he did in either attempt at bipartisanship on financial issues.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, said all of Corker’s travel and the knowledge he’s gained from it has made him an influential voice on international affairs among Senate Republicans. “The respect is certainly there,” McCain said.
Corker himself acknowledged in a recent interview that he entered the Senate with little in the way of foreign policy experience. His career was spent in the construction and real estate business, as well as local and state politics. Before running for the Senate, he was mayor of Chattanooga.
Since joining the Foreign Relations Committee in 2007 — a post he requested — he has set about steeping himself in key international policy matters and trying to work with and learn from Members on both sides of the aisle who share his particular interests.
In addition to regular travel, he has been a fixture on the dais at Foreign Relations hearings. Corker says he makes an effort to “listen very intently to what people are saying” at those hearings — then reach out to those colleagues down the line when the opportunity to team up presents itself.
“At the moment he’s in the kind of sweet spot,” said Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Elliott Abrams, a former adviser to President George W. Bush on Middle East issues, who is among the experts Corker has reached out to this fall.
Abrams said Corker is “well-versed” about an array of international issues, “but he doesn’t think he’s a great expert, so he’s a very good listener and a very good questioner.”
That studiousness has earned him kudos from a number of his Senate colleagues — even from those who tend to have different worldviews.
“I just appreciated Bob’s seriousness, his willingness to really dig down and understand issues and also take a very objective view of things,” retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said. “And sometimes he reaches conclusions that are a little different than mine.”
The defense hawk and Corker worked together to push for increases in nuclear weapons modernization funding as part of the 2010 negotiations with the White House on the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Kyl ultimately voted against the treaty; Corker was one of just 13 Republicans to support it.
It is significant that lawmakers such as Kyl and McCain are such Corker boosters, given that they represent the neoconservative — or as Abrams calls it, “activist” — wing of the GOP. Despite often being at odds with them on policy, Corker needs their support in his Foreign Relations bid to help fend off charges from some conservatives that he’s been too moderate. Besides his vote for START, Corker’s record includes working with Democrats such as Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) on war powers issues and Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (Mass.) on U.S. efforts to rebuild Haiti.
Of course, Lugar has made similar bipartisan efforts on foreign policy, without inviting the ire of hawks, although it diminished his influence in the caucus over time.
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