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.
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Just before the final immigration vote, Corker broke away from the Capitol for lunch with a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers led by Senator Baucus and Rep. Dave Camp (R) of Michigan to talk about another mega-goal: a comprehensive rewrite of the nation’s tax code.Skip to next paragraph
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In previous weeks, he’s been among Republican senators who met with Obama administration officials to lay the groundwork for negotiations to head off another calamitous showdown over the federal debt ceiling this fall. (He delivered his own 200-plus-page plan that would have cut the deficit by $4.5 trillion over the next decade, including $1 trillion in new tax revenue and a revamp of Medicare, to congressional leaders in the aftermath of the 2012 election.)
And as the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker and chairman Bob Menendez (D) of New Jersey are trying to reassert some congressional power in the foreign policy realm. Corker will soon travel overseas to investigate pressing American foreign policy issues, but the details of that trip are being withheld for security reasons.
“The executive branch has taken foreign policy totally over; Congress plays almost no role,” Corker says. “And, candidly, people in Congress like it that way because foreign policy issues don’t play so well back home sometimes and you’re never held accountable for the decisions that are made.”
Turning up at the right time
Whether judged by his workload over the past fortnight or in previous legislative successes such as playing a key role in shaping the bailout of America’s auto companies or crafting a chunk of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill with Senator Warner, Corker has been able to cram so much onto his plate by, well, cramming.
Leaning on habits of study and research that helped him build two construction companies into a $20 million fortune (Corker donates the entirety of his Senate salary to the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga), his days are stuffed with briefings “nonstop,” he says.
As a junior member, Corker discovered, the only way to break through the Hill’s often-stultifying seniority system and get a seat at the table on pressing problems is to bring more intellectual and policy firepower than everybody else and hope for the best.
When a senator does not have a top committee post, “the only other way to really be involved is to know more than anybody else about a given topic,” he says. “You never know when the timing is going to hit in a such a way that you’re going to make a difference.”
His approach hasn’t gone unrecognized.
Warner, another executive-minded lawmaker (he was governor of Virginia) with a business background, sought out Corker after admiring how the Tennessean assiduously worked on the auto bailout, including opening direct lines of communication with auto executives. The two sat together at President Obama’s first inauguration and have been fast friends ever since.
Warner attributes Corker’s successes to a chief advantage that those with private-sector backgrounds have over colleagues who are steeped in politics.
“In politics, you can have a whole successful career where you simply point out what’s wrong with the other guy,” Warner says. “In business, no matter how good you are at criticizing the competition, if you didn’t put out a good product, you didn’t sell something, ultimately, you’d go out of business.”