All but confirmed for the past several months, Sen. Bob Corker’s rise to his party’s top post on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was validated Tuesday, as Senate Republicans named the former Chattanooga mayor to represent their party’s interests on the key Senate committee.
Corker, who began his second term this month, had been widely expected to assume the post vacated by former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., after Lugar was handed a loss in his 2012 primary. As ranking member, Corker will be working alongside the committee’s chairman, helping guide legislative and oversight responsibilities from a GOP perspective.
In a conference call with reporters, Corker said he was “energized” by his new role. The senator has had months to prepare, meeting with key figures on Capitol Hill and drawing from visits made to 48 countries during his first term.
The senator will hit the ground running Wednesday, as he participates in a committee hearing in which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will testify about the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. On Thursday, Corker and his colleagues will consider the nomination of Sen. John Kerry, the current chairman on Foreign Relations recently tapped by President Barack Obama to be Clinton’s replacement.
Still, the senator said Tuesday that despite the energy required to maintain a global focus, his role on the committee would be in the working interest of his Tennessee constituents.
“As I go around the state, we hear a lot of questions,” Corker said. “People ask, ‘Why is this relevant to taxpayers?’ I think that taxpayers in the state of Tennessee want to know that they’re getting the most out of the State Department and that our foreign aid is getting delivered effectively and efficiently in a way that is in line with our national interests.”
The senator also mentioned trade issues and U.S. military engagements around the globe as other ways that his work on the committee would pertain to voters in Tennessee.
“The position gives me a seat at the table regarding our engagements around the world and also more involvement regarding our men and women in uniform,” he said.
But despite increased interaction with officials on the global stage, Corker hesitated when asked if he thought he would be able to directly influence foreign investment in Tennessee.
“I don’t think it’s going to make it any different,” Corker said. “I could try to exaggerate the effect that this would have on that kind of thing . But we’re already pretty aggressive in that sphere. The governor is usually the quarterback on those sorts of things . I don’t see how we could be any more engaged.”
Nationwide, however, Corker’s role on the committee could help bolster investment from other countries. Last June, the senator co-introduced a bill with Kerry, designed to make the U.S. more attractive to competing international companies.
Along with his work on upcoming hearings, Corker said one of his first priorities as ranking member on the committee would be to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of both the State Department and USAID, the agency tasked with providing economic development and humanitarian assistance around the world in conjunction with America’s foreign policy goals.
Also a member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Corker said he hoped his work on fiscal issues would provide a convenient “intersection” to help shape his work on Foreign Relations. The senator said he and his staff had been preparing for additional time required by both committees.
“The fiscal issues are a place where we’ve invested time and resources to make sure we’re at the center of that and involved, and we’re going to continue to be involved,” he said. “If you look at America and you look at the world, the No. 1 threat we face is our fiscal issues. Our foreign policy needs to start at home . there’s no question there will be overlap.”
Corker’s appointment is expected to be ratified in coming days.
Updated @ 8:24 a.m. on 1/23/13 for clarity.