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Sen. John Cornyn (R)

Texas

Leadership: Senate Majority Whip

N/A

cornyn.senate.gov

Biography

Elected: 2002, 2nd term.

Born: February 2, 1952, Houston, TX

Home: San Antonio, TX

Education: Trinity U., B.A. 1973, St. Mary's Law Schl., J.D. 1977, U. of VA, L.L.M. 1995

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1977-84.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Church of Christ

Family: Married (Sandra Hansen) , 2 children

Republican John Cornyn, the senior senator from Texas, was elected to the Senate in 2002 and reelected in 2008. He rose quickly through the party ranks and became minority whip—the second-ranking GOP leadership post—in 2013 after two terms as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. When his party retook control of the Senate, he retained the whip job behind Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a similarly savvy inside operator.

Cornyn was born in Houston and spent much of his childhood in San Antonio. His father was an oral pathologist in the Air Force stationed in Japan, where Cornyn went to high school. After his father retired from the service, the family settled in San Antonio. Cornyn graduated from Trinity University and St. Mary’s University School of Law, both in San Antonio, in the 1970s. He practiced law for five years with a firm that defended doctors and insurance companies in medical malpractice cases. In 1984, he ran for district court judge on the Republican ticket in Bexar County and,at age 32, upset a strong favorite in the race. In 1990, Cornyn was elected to the state Supreme Court. In 1995, he wrote a 5-4 decision upholding the “Robin Hood” school finance system, in which property-wealthy school districts had to send money to property-poor districts.

In 1997, he resigned from the court to run for attorney general, defeating two better-known opponents in the Republican primary. In the general election, he faced a grizzled veteran of Texas politics, Jim Mattox, a populist Democrat, former U.S. House member from Dallas, and the second-place finisher to Ann Richards in the 1990 runoff for Texas governor. Cornyn won 54%-44%, becoming the first Republican attorney general in Texas since Reconstruction. He argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including the Santa Fe Independent School District’s defense of reading the Lord’s Prayer at football games. (The high court nixed it.)

When GOP Sen. Phil Gramm announced that he would not seek reelection in 2002, Cornyn got into the contest to succeed him, and had no serious opposition in the Republican primary. Democrats nominated Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, the son of the first black mailman in Austin, a teacher, and former aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. He had been elected mayor of Dallas in 1995, and reelected in 1999 by a wide margin. In the primary, he overcame challenges from former U.S. Rep. Ken Bentsen of Houston, the senator’s nephew, and Victor Morales, who had been the Democratic nominee against Gramm in 1996.

In the general election, Cornyn ran as a supporter of President George W. Bush. He called for making Bush’s 2001 tax cuts permanent, for extending the research and development tax credit, and for raising Texas’ share of gas tax funds from 90.5 cents to 95 cents of each dollar of gas tax revenues. He supported government vouchers for private school tuition, individual investment accounts as part of Social Security, and color-blind standards for college and university admissions. Kirk took opposite stands on most issues, but portrayed himself as a moderate Democrat who would support Bush on many issues.

Republicans ran ads linking him to Hillary Clinton, then a New York senator, and liberal out-of-state contributors. Kirk campaigned with a sense of humor, making fun of his bald pate, but he made some mistakes. He refused to disclose his income tax returns, except for allowing reporters one peek at his 2001 return. Cornyn came out in favor of a bill in the Texas legislature requiring district attorneys to seek the death penalty for killers of law enforcement officials after the Austin-based district attorney had not sought the death penalty for the killer of a Travis County sheriff’s deputy. Kirk said Cornyn was acting like he was running for district attorney, and then apologized to a convention of law enforcement officials a few days later. Meanwhile, Cornyn met with the deputy’s widow. In the high-spending contest, Kirk spent $8.9 million to Cornyn’s $9.5 million.

Democrats operated on the assumption that Kirk had to win 85% of African-Americans, 65% of Hispanics, and 35% of whites to win. He clearly achieved the first and probably achieved the second of those goals, but failed by a solid margin to achieve the third. Cornyn won 55%-43%—almost the same percentages as in his race for attorney general in 1998 and a fair reflection of basic party identification in Texas in recent years. Kirk carried historically Republican Dallas County 50%-49%. But Cornyn carried the entire Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, 58%-41%. Cornyn also won metro Houston, 55%-43%, and the combined San Antonio and Austin metro areas, 51%-47%. He became the first Texas senator to come from San Antonio, once the state’s largest city.

Cornyn often is described as “genial,” and generally favors reasoned language over angry rhetoric. “He’s quiet by nature and isn’t excitable,” his friend Jim Lunz, a retired San Antonio businessman, told The New Republic. “So when he does speak, you are more inclined to listen to what he has to say.” Because of his reputation, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told NPR in December 2014 that Cornyn was "the best guy in the [GOP] conference to bring us together" as Republicans preprared to assume the majority. "Nobody doubts his conservatism," Graham said. "But he's a very practical, let's-move-the-ball-forward kind of guy."

In a sign of his formidability, Cornyn was named in January 2015 to chair the Finance Committee's panel on international trade, an issue expected to be one of the main areas in which the two parties can find common ground.

Cornyn has sought to work with his new GOP colleague Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite who had initially declined to endorse Cornyn’s bid for whip. He helped Cruz to land a seat on the Judiciary Committee, and initially signed on to his colleague's effort to shut down the government to de-fund the Affordable Care Act. Cornyn subsequently withdrew his support and criticized the highly controversial tactic. But The Dallas Morning News' editorial page said in January 2015 that too often he was guiilty of "straying from his signature sound judgment and allowing the party’s extremists, including Cruz, to set an agenda that feeds gridlock."

As immigration reform heated up in 2013, Cornyn remained a skeptic about comprehensive reform, a high priority for the party. He said giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship remained premature and insisted on focusing on border enforcement. Frank Sharry, founder of the pro-immigration group America's Voice, complained in the Huffington Post that Cornyn "is famous for posing as a reformer even as he works to derail reform."

When a crisis involving Central American refugees along the border became a major controversy in 2014, Cornyn joined with Texas Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar on a bill expediting the deportation of undocumented children from countries other than Mexico and Canada. Democrats and immigration advocates criticized the bill, saying an easier deportation process would return the children to potentially dangerous situations back home. In January 2015, Cornyn joined Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin on a tough border-security bill similar to one debated in the House.

On a less-contentious issue, Cornyn worked with the Senate Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in 2014 on a measure aimed at strengthening the Freedom of Information Act. The two men agreed to water down the bill in the hope of getting it passed in the lame-duck session, but even though it moved through the Senate without opposition, House Speaker John Boehner refused to bring it up for a vote. 

Cornyn in 2015 also took over as chairman of Judiciary’s Constitution Subcommittee, which he had led in his first term. He was a lead sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which got less than 50 votes. He also supported amendments to expand the rights of crime victims and to overturn a federal court’s decision banning the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. He also took a lead role in seeking to confirm Bush appellate court appointees.

In more recent confirmation battles on the committee, Cornyn in May 2009 said it was “terrible” for former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to characterize Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s self-description, “wise Latina,” as racist, but he voted against her confirmation in July, as he did against the nomination of Elena Kagan in 2010.

In a split with the Bush administration in 2007, Cornyn criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his handling of the firings of U.S. attorneys. He worked on a bipartisan basis with Democratic Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont on strengthening the Freedom of Information Act, which guarantees the public the right to view public documents. One of Cornyn’s first successful bills reduced, from three years to one year, the waiting period for citizenship for legal immigrants serving in the armed forces. In 2006, he voted for the 700-mile border fence pushed by House Republicans, though he questioned whether it would be a “practical use” of federal money. In spring 2007, as Republicans and Democrats in the Senate tried to negotiate an immigration bill, Cornyn took part in the talks but skipped the unveiling of the final bill. Arizona Republican John McCain angrily accused him of raising arcane legal issues to scuttle the bill. Cornyn said of the talks, “I didn’t so much walk away as got chased away.” His amendment to bar illegal immigrants convicted of identity theft from legalization processes was defeated 51-46. From then on, he opposed the larger immigration bill.

Cornyn emerged as a leading critic of the Obama administration’s “Operation Fast and Furious” program, an ill-fated plan that allegedly allowed guns to cross the border into Mexico as a way to track drug cartels, but that were later linked to fatal shootings. In October 2011, Cornyn’s bill blocking the Justice Department from undertaking future Fast and Furious-type programs passed the Senate, 99-0. He later called for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign over the matter. Cornyn also exercised his oversight powers in criticizing Ashton Carter, the head of weapons acquisition at the Pentagon. In August 2011, he sent a letter to Carter expressing disappointment for his “lack of commitment to the success” of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which originated at a Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth. After Cornyn said he received assurances from Carter that the “F-35 will form the backbone” of U.S. air combat, he voted to confirm Carter as deputy defense secretary.

Cornyn began his campaign for reelection in 2008 with polls showing he was less popular than fellow Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. But Democratic attempts to attract a well-known challenger failed. Their nominee was Houston state Rep. Rick Noriega, who had served with the Texas Army National Guard in Afghanistan. He set a goal of raising $10 million, but ultimately raised $4 million to Cornyn’s $16.5 million. Polls consistently showed Cornyn ahead, and neither national party invested in the contest. Cornyn won 55%-43%, the same margin as in 2002. He won 36% of the Hispanic vote, an improvement over 2002. He carried 223 of the state’s 254 counties, running behind only in the Rio Grande Valley and in the counties with the central cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio.

Cornyn had a major role in the Republican leadership in 2010 as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the main political arm of the Senate GOP. Democrats had gained 14 Senate seats in the 2006 and 2008 campaign cycles, when their Senate campaign committee was headed by Chuck Schumer of New York; Cornyn wanted to reverse those results. Cornyn adopted Schumer’s strategy of recruiting candidates who could win in states not naturally inclined to his party. He urged Gov. Charlie Crist to run in Florida and Rep. Mike Castle to run in Delaware. He opposed the candidacy of former Rep. Pat Toomey, who announced he was running again in Pennsylvania against Arlen Specter, who had won their 2004 primary by only 51%-49%. But as the tea party movement gained strength and opposition to Obama administration programs grew, conservatives criticized his treatment of Toomey, a staunch conservative. In April 2009, Specter announced he was switching parties, leaving Cornyn in the embarrassing position of having to support Toomey, now the obvious Republican nominee. Toomey went on to win the seat. In Florida, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio remained in the Republican race against Crist, Cornyn’s chosen candidate, and Rubio proceeded to win the race to swiftly become a significant figure in the national party.

Despite these setbacks, Cornyn succeeded in the chairman’s major duty: raising large sums for the candidates. He brought in $115 million for the season and came close to matching the $130 million raised for the 2010 election by the rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Cornyn managed to surf the conservative tide when it gained strength. When Joe Miller upset Lisa Murkowski in the August primary in Alaska, the NRSC supported Miller against Murkowski’s ultimately successful write-in campaign. When Christine O’Donnell upset Mike Castle in the September primary in Delaware, Cornyn sent in the technical maximum of $42,000 and then left her on her own, correctly calculating that she had no chance of making it a close race. Republicans ended up gaining six seats, many more than seemed likely in January 2009, when insiders were predicting further Democratic gains. O’Donnell lost in Delaware, where Castle would almost certainly have won. Sharron Angle lost in Nevada, and Ken Buck lost narrowly in Colorado.

After the election, Cornyn got another term as NRSC chairman for the 2012 elections without serious opposition. Plainly irritated by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint’s endorsements of candidates whose chances he thought dim in 2010, notably Angle and O’Donnell, he urged colleagues to bring concerns they had about candidates to him. DeMint pledged not to oppose any incumbent Republican senators. Cornyn in turn made it plain that he would be more wary of taking sides in primaries, as he did in the Pennsylvania contest. The result was that several far-right Republicans became nominees: Richard Mourdock in Indiana, Todd Akin in Missouri, and Jeff Flake in Arizona. Flake won his race, but Mourdock and Akin blew what were seen as nearly sure-thing opportunities for Republicans after they made politically disastrous comments about rape and abortion. Democrats ended up winning 22 of the 23 races where they held seats; only Nebraska fell beyond their grasp.

When Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona announced that he would retire at the end of his term in 2012, Cornyn announced that he would run for the position. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee initially said he would run, but later dropped out. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. also briefly considered running for whip, but decided against it, leaving Cornyn’s claim to the No. 2 post in the minority leadership all but assured. In preparation for the job, he took on a greater role in communicating the Republican message. He was the Senate’s most avid Twitter user in 2011.

By January 2015, he had amassed more than 63,000 Twitter followers, and CQ Roll Call described him as "the highest-ranking member of Congress who is regularly doing the tweeting on his own." He even occasionally engaged with his audience, the publication reported, quoting him as saying: “But you can’t have too thin a skin.”

Cornyn's deftness with social media, as well as with the news media, helped make him an overwhelming favorite for re-election in 2014. Even though Cruz declined to endorse him in the primary, he drew no serious tea-party opposition -- just an impulsive last-minute challenge from quirky far-right Rep. Steve Stockman, who made an already uphill task even tougher with accusations of ethics violations and a habit of dropping out of sight for days on end. In heavily Republican Texas, Cornyn's race against Democratic businessman David Alameel was merely a formality, and with even Cruz on board at last, he cruised to a 62%-34% win.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 517
Washington, DC 20510-4305

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 517
Washington, DC 20510-4305

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

5001 Spring Valley Road Suite 1125 E
Dallas, TX 75244

DISTRICT OFFICE

(972) 239-1310

(972) 239-2110

5001 Spring Valley Road Suite 1125 E
Dallas, TX 75244

DISTRICT OFFICE

(512) 469-6034

(512) 469-6020

Chase Tower Suite 1530
Austin, TX 78701-3403

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

Chase Tower Suite 1530
Austin, TX 78701-3403

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

5300 Memorial Drive Suite 980
Houston, TX 77007

DISTRICT OFFICE

(713) 572-3337

(713) 572-3777

5300 Memorial Drive Suite 980
Houston, TX 77007

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

Wells Fargo Center Suite 1230
Lubbock, TX 79401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(806) 472-7533

(806) 472-7536

Wells Fargo Center Suite 1230
Lubbock, TX 79401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

600 Navarro Street Suite 210
San Antonio, TX 78205-2455

DISTRICT OFFICE

(210) 224-7485

(210) 224-8569

600 Navarro Street Suite 210
San Antonio, TX 78205-2455

DISTRICT OFFICE

(903) 593-0902

(903) 593-0920

Regions Bank Building Suite 1004
Tyler, TX 75702-5706

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

Regions Bank Building Suite 1004
Tyler, TX 75702-5706

DISTRICT OFFICE

(956) 423-0162

(956) 423-0193

Bank of America Building Suite 404
Harlingen, TX 78550-6804

DISTRICT OFFICE

(202) 224-2934

(202) 228-2856

Bank of America Building Suite 404
Harlingen, TX 78550-6804

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Staff

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Dave Hanke
Legislative Assistant

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Claire Sanderson
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Jessica Carter
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Ashley Close
Legal Assistant

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Johnathan Porter
Legislative Assistant

Will Lovell
Legislative Correspondent

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Beth Nelson
Legislative Assistant

George Leonardo
Legislative Correspondent

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Matthew Dalton
Military Fellow

Lauren Canfield
Legislative Aide

Dave Hanke
Legislative Assistant

Native Americans

Laura Atcheson
Legislative Assistant

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George Leonardo
Legislative Correspondent

Seniors

George Leonardo
Legislative Correspondent

Small Business

Landon Hairgrove
Legislative Assistant

Johnathan Porter
Legislative Assistant

Social Security

Andrew Siracuse
Legislative Assistant

Claire Sanderson
Legislative Assistant

Salim Alameddin
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Andrew Siracuse
Legislative Assistant

Claire Sanderson
Legislative Assistant

Salim Alameddin
Legislative Correspondent

Technology

George Leonardo
Legislative Correspondent

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George Leonardo
Legislative Correspondent

Claire Sanderson
Legislative Assistant

Trade

Johnathan Porter
Legislative Assistant

Will Lovell
Legislative Correspondent

Transportation

Landon Hairgrove
Legislative Assistant

Andrew Siracuse
Legislative Assistant

Veterans

Matthew Dalton
Military Fellow

Lauren Canfield
Legislative Aide

Dave Hanke
Legislative Assistant

Welfare

Johnathan Porter
Legislative Assistant

Will Lovell
Legislative Correspondent

Women

George Leonardo
Legislative Correspondent

** denotes a leadership staffer

Election Results

2014 GENERAL
John Cornyn
Votes: 2,855,068
Percent: 61.57%
David Alameel
Votes: 1,594,252
Percent: 34.38%
2008 GENERAL
John Cornyn
Votes: 4,337,469
Percent: 54.82%
Richard Noriega
Votes: 3,389,365
Percent: 42.84%
2008 PRIMARY
John Cornyn
Votes: 997,216
Percent: 81.48%
Larry Kilgore
Votes: 226,649
Percent: 18.52%
Prior Winning Percentages
2002 (55%)

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