Sen John Cornyn declares candidacy for Republican leader after McConnell steps down

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has officially entered the race to succeed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell, 82, announced Wednesday that he plans to step away from leadership after becoming the longest-serving party leader in Senate history. Cornyn is one of McConnell's top lieutenants in the GOP conference, though he does not currently hold a leadership role. 

"I am asking my Republican colleagues to give me the opportunity to succeed Leader McConnell," said Cornyn, 72, in a statement released Thursday.  

In the developing pool of potential successors, Cornyn is frequently mentioned as one of the "three Johns" likely to next lead the conference. The other two are Sens. John Thune, R-S.D. and John Barrasso, R-Wyo. 


Of the three, Barrasso is considered the most conservative, a source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions told Fox News Digital. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don't always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Donald Trump early last month.

However, Cornyn and Thune have also endorsed Trump for re-election, and Cornyn boasts that he voted with Trump more than 92% of the time during his term in the White House. 

The Texas Republican's pitch is that he's a proven election-winner with a track-record of building consensus to advance legislation. His statement pointed to his two terms as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, during which time Republicans unseated five Democrats and positioned the conference to capture the majority in 2014. 

 "I believe the Senate is broken — that is not news to anyone. The good news is that it can be fixed, and I intend to play a major role in fixing it," Cornyn said.


To assuage criticisms from hardline Republicans over the Senate process, Cornyn pledged to "improve communication, increase transparency, and ensure inclusion of every Member's expertise and opinion." 

"We will restore the important role of Senate committees and reestablish the regular appropriations process, rather than lurch from one crisis to another. And we will return power back to our members; there will be no more backroom deals or forced votes on bills without adequate time for review, debate and amendment," Cornyn pledged. 

Those promises appear to be an answer to Sen. MIke Lee, R-Utah, one of the most conservative members of the conference and a frequent McConnell critic.

"Anyone wanting to be the next Senate GOP leader should tell Senate Republicans — as specifically as possible — how he or she would do the job differently than it’s been done since 2007," Lee posted on X after McConnell announced he would step down.


Lee demanded that the next Republican leader leverage "must-pass" spending bills to achieve conservative priorities like cutting spending and slashing regulations; that they refrain from interfering in GOP primaries against conservative candidates; and that they not "organize ambush sessions in an effort to scold and humiliate conservative senators," among other grievances hardline senators have long voiced against McConnell. 

But only a handful of senators ever sided with Lee and others against McConnell. 

When Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., challenged McConnell for leadership in 2022, the vote was 37-10 in favor of McConnell. One Republican voted "present." Some of those who reportedly voted against McConnell were Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Even so, in a field with several candidates and GOP factions at odds, 10 votes may hold a powerful sway over any senator who would be leader. Announcements come first, and then the backroom deals begin. 

Fox News' Chad Pergram and Fox News Digital's Julia Johnson and Jamie Joseph contributed to this report.