Sen. John Cornyn has always relished and excelled in the role of attack dog, and now that the Texas Republican has been installed as his party’s chief antagonist in the Senate, he’s come out swinging.
Where his predecessor, retired Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, was more of a behind-the-scenes, press-shy player, Cornyn sees the minority whip job as a role he needs to play in both public and private.
In preparing to take over the No. 2 GOP leadership spot, he visited with former Whips Kyl, Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Trent Lott of Mississippi.
And he’s been reading up on the position. Along with consulting “a lot of books about Senate leadership over time and Senate history,” Cornyn said he has also talked with Martin Gold, senior counsel at Covington & Burling, who served as floor adviser and counsel to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
“Now I think we are ready to hit the ground running, and when we get back, I think we’ll be ready to go,” Cornyn said in an interview with CQ Roll Call last week.
And that is just what he’s done. One day after officially starting the whip job, Cornyn took a hard line on the coming debt limit debate, telling the Houston Chronicle that a partial government shutdown may be necessary if the GOP is intent on squeezing more spending cuts out of President Barack Obama. Not long after that, Cornyn became one of the most outspoken Republican opponents of Obama’s nomination of former Nebraska GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel to be Defense secretary.
Spending cuts, Cornyn said, were a key element that was missing in the New Year’s Day fiscal cliff deal to avert tax increases and automatic spending cuts.
Cornyn also called for using the automatic spending cuts — known as the sequester, which was delayed until March 1 under the cliff deal — and the expiration of a stopgap spending bill — known as the continuing resolution — as leverage to force to Obama to the negotiating table.
“I see this is our next opportunity — the combination of the sequester, the expiring continuing resolution and the debt ceiling — and I think we ought to use the leverage that we have to get the president to the table because I don’t think that he will ever voluntarily produce Medicare and Social Security reforms even though he understands the problem better than anybody,” Cornyn said.
The president has vowed not to negotiate on the debt ceiling, citing concern about repeated showdowns on the issue. Failure to raise the debt ceiling or partly shutting down the government would needlessly damage the economy, Obama has said. But Cornyn argued that the president is using scare tactics to avoid engaging with Republicans.