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Bob Corker, Senate GOP's tireless dealmaker, looks beyond immigration reform

Tennessee's Bob Corker considered quitting the Senate, but plunged back into the art of the deal, helping to build a big majority on immigration reform. Also on his agenda: taxes, deficits, and housing.

By Staff writer / July 2, 2013

Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee speaks on Capitol Hill in this April file photo. His success at finding common ground on border security helped forge a big, bipartisan majority for immigration reform, which passed the Senate 68 to 32 last week.

Molly Riley/AP/File



As Bob Corker ambled down from the Senate chamber last week, he wore a knowing smile: Immigration reform wasn’t going to squeak through the Senate – it was going to pass big.

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On that Monday, an amendment co-authored by Senator Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Sen. John Hoeven (R) of North Dakota passed a procedural hurdle that signaled that more than a dozen Republicans and several previously shaky conservative Democrats would be there in the end, giving the bill the sweeping, bipartisan backing its authors hoped would power the immigration debate forward in the reluctant House of Representatives.

Leaning in to a crush of reporters, the affable Corker was midway through a riff on the amendment when, apropos of nothing, he paused.

“I’ve enjoyed the work I’ve done over the last two weeks on this bill more than anything I’ve done in the United States Senate,” he said with a grin. “I think it’s important work, I’m glad to have been involved in it, and certainly gratified by the vote.”

Rare sentiments, says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey, for a member of a legislative body wracked by gridlock. "Elation is not a common emotion in the United States Senate these days,” he says.

But Corker, a construction entrepreneur and a former mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., draws an electric joy from the pursuit of the deal, and if he has anything to say anything about it, the immigration pact won’t be the only major accord Congress strikes before this term is out.

While Washington's dysfunction almost led him to quit the Senate after one term in 2012, Corker’s dogged effort to broker compromises on a handful of major issues bespeaks a senator who is arguably the body’s happiest warrior, plunging into issues from Benghazi to the budget with aplomb.

“He’s passionate, he cares, he’s trying to figure out how to get to yes,” says Sen. Max Baucus (D) of Montana, a six-term lawmaker famous for infuriating his fellow Democrats in his search for bipartisan solutions. “He reminds me of some of the greats who have been up here with us.”

The Volunteer State’s junior senator seems intent on generating plenty of positive momentum all by himself, taking on enough issues to stuff an ordinary member’s schedule for an entire career.

On the same day the Senate approved the immigration bill, Corker unveiled sweeping legislation with kindred spirit Sen. Mark Warner (D) of Virginia to wind down the government-sponsored housing goliaths, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That bill, which would fundamentally reshape the American mortgage industry, has a bipartisan posse of six co-sponsors on the Senate Banking Committee.


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