Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants his deputy, Sen. John Cornyn, to stay in the Republican leadership ranks once terms limits force the Texan to give up the number two job at the end of the year.
Cornyn said Thursday he will stay and use that position to launch an eventual run for GOP leader, once McConnell leaves the post.
The move resolves a long-simmering question inside the corridors of the Capitol about what Cornyn, an ambitious and energetic politician, would do next.
"I'm term limited out of my current position having served as whip for six years. (Sen. John) Thune and (Sen. John) Barrasso are too. But obviously they are moving up the food chain," Cornyn said, speaking about the number three and four members of elected GOP leadership who are expected to move up once Cornyn leaves.
"It's like musical chairs and there isn't a chair for me right now," Cornyn added. "So, I've talked to Sen. McConnell about that and he's asked me to continue to stay at the leadership table."
The Hill first reported that McConnell wanted Cornyn to stay on in a position that would be appointed by McConnell not elected by the GOP conference.
"I'm going to ask him to stay at the leadership table and continue to play a leadership role," McConnell told the newspaper, indicating he didn't know what title Cornyn might get. "He's been an invaluable whip and will continue to be that way in the new Congress."
Asked if he would eventually like to be GOP leader, Cornyn said yes.
"People are aware that I would like to succeed him," Cornyn said. "Obviously we are not trying to push him out, that's for sure. But if at some point he should decide to do something else than I would be interested in that position. But it's an elected position so nothing is for certain."
It's not clear when McConnell, who next week will surpass former Sen. Robert Dole of Kansas as the longest-serving Republican leader in history, will leave. He is 76 and up for re-election in 2020. He has been leader since 2007. McConnell told the New York Times earlier this year that he plans to seek re-election.
Once McConnell does give up the top post, Cornyn is unlikely to be the only GOP senator to seek the job.
One senior Republican, speaking anonymously, said that in addition to Cornyn, he expected Thune of South Dakota, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who is also a member of the leadership, as well as one or two other GOP senators -- possibly one junior member -- to all run for the job.
This person said it's very hard to tell at this point which of the senators might have an edge and said the race could be difficult on Cornyn, Thune and Blunt, because they are close friends and work well together.
But only one person can win.
"I'm interested in continuing to serve the conference in the whip position," Thune said when asked if he would run against Cornyn for the top job. "Everything beyond that is just speculation."
An aide to Blunt did not respond immediately to a request for comment about his intentions.