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Cornyn Raises Profile in First Weeks as GOP Whip

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo

“The president wants to sound like Chicken Little and say the sky is going to fall if we delay payment on some of our bills for a few days or a week while we negotiate very important spending cuts,” Cornyn said.

He added: “We expect to get an outcome, and we expect to get one that involves reining in spending. ... It is not going to include any revenue. We are done with that. The president got the revenue he extracted in the [fiscal cliff] vote, but we are done with that, and now it’s going to be about reining in out-of-control spending.”

Cornyn also said he believes Hagel will not be confirmed as secretary of Defense. “I felt very strongly that he was the wrong person for that job, even though I have a lot of respect for Sen. Hagel personally. But this is not about personalities or politics, this is about national security policies that I believe he is profoundly wrong on.”

“I don’t know how you remake yourself after you basically said you could live with an Iranian nuclear weapon, advocated direct talks with terrorist organizations like Hamas and where I worry that he would preside over the decline in American leadership and national security power at the Pentagon,” Cornyn said. “So I think his record is well-known. ... I think the record is pretty clear, so I think there is a very good chance that he won’t be confirmed.”

He declined to say whether he would filibuster Hagel’s nomination.

Lest anyone think Cornyn is freelancing, he said he discussed his decision to speak out on the debt limit and on Hagel with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “My job is not to surprise the leader. ... My job is to support him and provide him the assistance he needs from the whip’s office,” Cornyn said.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart agreed that the two are working closely together. “The leader and the whip are in constant contact. The goal of the whip is to help the leader, and Cornyn has been great since he’s been on the job,” Stewart said.

Cornyn has an opportunity to take the role of chief messenger for the party in the Senate, given the relative shortcomings of McConnell and other Senate GOP leaders when it comes to public appearances and interviews. One Senate GOP aide noted that Cornyn’s “media savvy” will likely come in handy as the GOP battles the president on a number of fronts this year.

As for the other parts of the job, Cornyn said his stint as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee will help him understand the political pressures GOP senators may feel on certain votes. He said he plans to work even more closely “with all the members of the conference because [as whip] you need to understand where they are coming from, where their concerns are, where they need more information.”

He stressed that, like McConnell, he would take a hard line on the ability of the minority to offer amendments to legislation, which Republicans believe has been hampered under Democratic rule.

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