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Senator Bob Corker announces plans to leave Senate after second term ends

This Sept. 19, 2017 photo shows chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., pausing before a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the nomination of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to become the US ambassador to Russia, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Corker says he will not seek re-election. In a surprise announcement, the two-term lawmaker said that after discussions with his family, “I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018." (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has announced that he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate, but will leave the Senate after his current term expires at the end of 2018.

Corker released the following statement on Wednesday:

“After much thought, consideration and family discussion over the past year, Elizabeth and I have decided that I will leave the United States Senate when my term expires at the end of 2018.
“When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms. Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.
“I also believe the most important public service I have to offer our country could well occur over the next 15 months, and I want to be able to do that as thoughtfully and independently as I did the first 10 years and nine months of my Senate career.
“Serving the people of Tennessee in this capacity has been the greatest privilege of my life. And as I spent the month of August traveling across our great state, I was reminded that we live in a unique place full of people who care deeply about the direction of our country.
“I am grateful to the people of Tennessee for the opportunity to serve my state and country. I have been fortunate to do so with an extraordinary staff, and I want to thank them for their incredible dedication. I know that we will continue to have an impact for the remainder of our term, and I look forward to finding other ways to make a difference in the future.
“Finally, I want to thank my wife, Elizabeth, and our family, who have made many sacrifices in allowing me to serve. Nothing I have done would have been possible without their love and support.”

The 65-year-old lawmaker, who recently had been encouraged by President Donald Trump to seek a third term, made the surprise announcement hours before a showdown vote in an Alabama Senate runoff that pitted the establishment favorite against firebrand Judge Roy Moore.

Senator Corker's Chief of Staff Todd Womack spoke with The Tennessean about Corker's bombshell announcement:

“He has gone through a process – his own process – of making a decision, and that has been going on for the last several weeks. I think he always thought he would only serve two terms. His philosophy on public service is you get in, you serve and then you hand it off for somebody else to have an opportunity to serve. That has always been in the back of his mind.”

Corker reached his final decision Tuesday morning and informed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Tennessee colleague, Sen. Lamar Alexander. At 3:30 p.m, Corker broke the news to President Donald Trump during a phone call while Trump was traveling aboard Air Force One.

Corker has helmed the Foreign Relations panel, playing a significant role on Russia and Iran sanctions, and was considered a possible secretary of state in the Trump Cabinet before the president tapped Rex Tillerson. A member of the Banking Committee, Corker played a key role on financial legislation.

Corker had a $6.5 million balance in his campaign account at the end of the last reporting period, the most among GOP senators facing re-elections next year. Corker has increased his cash on hand by $1 million, according to his office.

The senator had criticized Trump after he blamed both white nationalists and anti-racist protesters for the violence at an August rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Corker questioned whether Trump had shown the "stability" and "competence" to succeed in office.

Trump responded on Twitter, "Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18." Trump added, "Tennessee not happy!"

Corker's detractors in Tennessee have been keen to highlight the discord between senator and the president, who remains highly popular in the state.

But Corker has downplayed any notion of a rift between himself and Trump, telling reporters last week that "for people to try to act as if there is daylight between us as a result is just not true."


Responses

Politicians and fellow Senators have weighed in with their responses to Corker's announcement.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam released a statement Tuesday thanking Senator Corker for his service.

Fellow Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander released the following statement:

“Even when he’s been investigating smugglers’ tunnels near the Gaza strip, talking to foreign leaders, or giving advice to President Trump, Bob has never let his feet leave the ground in Tennessee. He says what he thinks, does what he believes is best for Tennesseans, and has helped lead his colleagues on complicated issues involving the federal debt and national security. His absence will leave a big hole in the United States Senate, but I know he’s carefully weighed his decision, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he tackles next.”

We reached out to former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, who said he hopes this isn't the end of politics for Corker.

News Channel 9 reached out to Tom Griscom, White House Communications Director under the Reagan administration, so decode some of Corker's statements.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham took to Twitter to express his sadness at Corker's planned departure:

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) commended Corker for his work as a friend and fellow Senator.


Bids for Corker's Senate seat

The Tennessean reports a number of possible candidates are in the discussion to run for Senator Corker's seat:

Republicans

Governor Bill Haslam

Status: Unclear

In February of this year, Governor Haslam did not rule out a potential run for U.S. Senate. In a Tuesday request, a spokeswoman for Haslam only spoke about Corker's service and did not elaborate on his thinking for 2018.


U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn

Status: Unclear

The longtime conservative Brentwood lawmaker's name has been on the rise in the national scene in recent years, including having a prominent speaking slot at the 2016 Republican National Convention. On Tuesday, her campaign Twitter page unveiled a new "Stand with Marsha " logo with a state emblem, perhaps suggesting a move is near.


State Sen. Mark Green

Status: Undecided

The Clarksville Republican has flirted with the idea of running for the seat — and had been seen as a possible challenger against Corker. Green met with former White House aide and Trump campaign strategies Steve Bannon on Monday at a campaign rally for Alabama candidate Roy Moore. Green is considered a possible candidate for Blackburn's congressional seat if Blackburn were to run for the U.S. Senate.


Andy Ogles

Status: In

Conservative activist Andy Ogles announced within the past two weeks that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Senator Corker. Ogles headed the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch's network that has often displayed a willingness to take on Republicans - including President Donald Trump - when their policies aren't deemed conservative enough. The group announced plans in June to spend up to $400 million in the 2018 midterm elections.


Joe Carr

Status: Undecided

The frequent Republican candidate, who challenged U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Black in recent elections, has tossed around the idea of running for the seat in recent weeks. Carr said Tuesday, "I will be making an announcement shortly."


Former U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher

Status: Unclear

The farmer from Frog Jump opted to leave congress last year but still has a sizable war chest he could use in a run for the seat.


Dr. Manny Sethi

Status: Undecided

An orthopedic trauma surgeon at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Sethi founded Healthy Tennessee, a nonprofit that holds health fairs and clinics around the state that focuses on prevention and how to be healthier. Sethi has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice in the last year to testify before the U.S. Senate and speak on a White House panel on reforming the Affordable Care Act. He addressed rally-goers when President Donald Trump visited Nashville.


Other congressional Republicans

When we asked Congressman Chuck Fleischmann on Tuesday whether he had any plans to run for Senator Corker's seat, Fleischmann's office said that at this point he hasn't given it much thought.


Democrats

Prominent businessman Bill Freeman

The Nashville real estate mogul and 2015 Nashville mayoral candidate had been considering a run for governor but declined to enter the race earlier this year.

“My intention is to help Mackler run in his race, but the deck has been shuffled. It’s a new game today," he said. "I want to see what Republican steps up, who runs, and whether any other Democrats run.”


James Mackler

Status: In

The Nashville attorney and Iraq war veteran launched his campaign earlier this year.


Depend on us for more details as we learn them.

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