This week, John Cornyn, the Lone Star State’s senior senator freshly sworn-in for his third term, got a new nameplate on the door to his Washington office.
It reads: Majority Whip.
In D.C. circles, that’s a pretty big deal. The majority whip is the second in command for his or her party in the “deliberative” house of Congress.
Cornyn served as minority whip for the previous two years, but the GOP’s definitive victory in November has secured him a much better role in the 114th Congress.
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In the post, he will be responsible for “whipping” up votes on major issues and bills that fulfill the GOP agenda.
It’s a job that’s both highly visible and widely coveted, because it yields a tremendous amount of power.
But when working for a legislative body that most Americans view with unfettered dissatisfaction, that might not sound like much of a promotion.
The optimism of the New Year seemed to never take root among the American public. The belief that Congress and the White House — now completely divided by party — will make progress on solving serious national problems is held by a small minority of idealists who are probably willfully ignoring the last several years of partisan gridlock.
And while we’d all like to forget those years and move on, there’s a palpable sense among voters that Washington is never going to function as it should.
That’s a sentiment not lost on the 62-year-old Cornyn, who says he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky plan to change the way the Senate operates.
McConnell has already promised to devolve more power to committee chairmen and to allow for more floor debate on legislation.
That’s a stark departure from outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid, who Cornyn has relentlessly criticized for causing one legislative logjam after another.
And it would make the Senate environment for Cornyn quite a bit easier to maneuver, as he works to build party and even Democratic support for a variety of proposals. While the party has named passing the Keystone XL pipeline as a top agenda item, Cornyn has also listed priorities ranging from prison reform to combating human trafficking.
The political hurdles of divided government will be difficult to overcome, as will some of the disunion in Cornyn’s own party — a paradigm illustrated by the state’s own congressional delegation.
His junior Senate colleague, the bombastic Sen. Ted Cruz, represents a faction of the party that has unabashedly railed against the establishment leadership, of which Cornyn is a part. It’s possible his biggest challenge as majority whip will be containing the right flank of his party.
Cornyn told the Texas Tribune: “It’s important to Texas, it’s important to me, and I think it’s important to Sen. Cruz that we work together and try to do everything that we can for the people that sent us here.”
In his role as whip, he’ll have a lot more people to please. But used shrewdly, his new-found power could help change Washington for the better.