Sen. Bob Corker coasted to re-election and boosted his political stock in 2012, as the former Chattanooga mayor sought to play a role in discussions surrounding some of the year’s biggest fiscal and foreign issues.
Corker began the final year of his first term in the crosshairs of a group opposing his co-sponsorship of a bill to thwart online piracy-commonly known as SOPA. The senator later said he supported the legislation because it was primarily aimed at foreign websites-but the bill wound up being shelved.
It quickly became clear that, in this year’s election, Corker would not face a threatening challenger for his Senate seat from neither Democratic opponents nor members of his own party. The reality was ensured when Mark Clayton, who was latter dubbed “America’s worst candidate” by The Washington Post, snagged Tennessee’s Democratic nomination, embarrassing party officials and ensuring a Corker victory.
A member of the Senate Banking Committee, Corker suggested gradually unwinding government support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, with the ultimate goal of wholly privatizing mortgage-backed securities within 10 years. The senator also offered plenty of criticism for a $6 billion trading debacle by JPMorgan & Chase but was less hostile when questioning the firm’s CEO-earning him a sarcastic “thumbs up” from “Daily Show” host John Stewart.
Corker indicated serious interest in a looming mix of tax increases and spending cuts-now referred to as the fiscal cliff-and questioned Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on his plans for a response to a potential crisis, attempting to give the chairman an opportunity to put the blame on a gridlocked Congress. The senator would later write that Bernanke should “show more humility” and take a hard line with Congress on managing the nation’s interest rates.
When Bernanke announced the Fed would unleash a third round of quantitative easing in September, Corker said he was nothing short of disappointed.
In the background, the senator was putting the final touches on a comprehensive fiscal reform package, which he would market as a bipartisan solution as negotiations grew in November. Corker initially indicated he would shelve the plan but later began openly circulating the details of how $4.5 trillion could be cut from the national deficit over the next decade.
Despite hoping that his proposal would be a “helpful road map” for primary negotiators, the senator’s bill failed to gain traction. In December, Corker conceded that Republicans ought to consider allowing tax rates be increased on the top 2 percent of wage earners and later introduced a bill geared at giving Republicans the upper hand in future fiscal negotiations next year, specifically the debt ceiling.
Corker’s work in 2012 wasn’t limited to just fiscal dealings, however. The senator’s path to a higher position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee became clear after the defeat of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar-the committee’s ranking Republican.
With the defeat of Lugar in the spring and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney last fall, Corker’s path to being the ranking minority member became all but assumed. Preparing for his role, the senator made multiple trips to the Middle East-one of which included a stop in Libya in the weeks following a terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Corker was not shy in condemning the response of the Obama administration to the attack that killed a U.S. ambassador and three staffers, repeatedly taking officials to task on both letters and TV interviews. The senator also introduced legislation calling for a report on the attack and extended his criticism into the evaluation of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who at the time was high on the president’s list of candidates to be secretary of state.
The likelihood of Corker’s move up the ladder on the committee was also enough to lead the senator to step down from his post on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in November.
Updated at 5:10 p.m. on 12/26/12 to correct a minor typo.