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Sen. Bob Corker is hardly the fire-breathing ideologue that North Carolina Republican Sen. Jesse Helms was during his tenure at the helm of the Foreign Relations Committee in the 1990s. Nor does he exude the cerebral statesmanship that Indiana GOP Sen. Dick Lugar did last decade, as well as for a short stint in the mid-’80s.
The Tennessee Senator, who could follow in the footsteps of these two legislative giants as only the third GOP chairman of the panel in the past 30 years, is much more of a pragmatist than either. And though not nearly as seasoned a lawmaker, he has ventured several times into the sometimes treacherous world of policy wonkdom and backroom deal-making. And like those other endeavors, his deepening foray into foreign policy finds him amid a chamber and a party that are deeply divided on the issue.
With polls showing Democrats with a good chance of retaining their Senate majority in the next Congress, it’s not clear whether Corker will, in fact, land the chairmanship of Foreign Relations. What is clear is that Lugar, the most senior Republican on the panel for more than a decade, is exiting this year after losing the Indiana Senate GOP primary and that Corker is next in line in terms of seniority to at least be the ranking member. He is prepared to make a bid for the post, and most observers on the Hill wager he will get it when Republican committee members vote to select their leaders after the elections.
During the past year Corker has beefed up his travel schedule. For example, he opted for a trip to Egypt and Turkey rather than Tampa, Fla., for the GOP convention in August, and in recent months he has been reaching out to the GOP foreign policy community in Washington, D.C., forming a sort of informal brain trust to prepare for a potentially expanded role.
By his staff’s count, he has now visited 48 foreign countries since taking office. “If you really want to know what’s happening, it’s imperative to do a good deal of travel,” Corker has said.