Two years ago, Sen. Bob Corker wondered aloud whether the standstill Senate was worth a grown man’s time.
Now the combination of Republicans’ political fortunes in last November’s elections and brutal terrorism overseas has put the two-term Tennessee lawmaker in the limelight. He heads the Foreign Relations Committee and is in charge of the weightiest question to face members of Congress: whether to authorize war.
“I think all of us want to be productive in life. It was like watching paint dry,” Corker, 62, said of his first eight years in the polarized Senate. “Yes, I do find myself in this second term in a very different place. I’m very glad I ran for re-election.”
Less than two months into the Republican-led Congress, Corker is shouldering closely-watched global and political challenges. He is the face of the Senate’s response to President Barack Obama’s formal request to Congress for a new authorization for the use of force against Islamic State militants. And he is certain to play an outsized role in the congressional response to negotiations involving the U.S., other Western powers and Iran over its nuclear program.
As early as next week, Corker will gavel open Senate hearings on U.S. military intervention — a proxy, in some ways, for the broader debate over the nation’s role in overseas conflicts in the post-Sept. 11 age of terrorism.
The affable shopping center builder and former mayor of Chattanooga also carries a hefty share of his party’s drive to show the nation and the world that the new GOP majority can govern.
There’s no tougher or more visible test of the party’s lawmaking acumen than Obama’s draft war powers request, which landed on Capitol Hill with a thud.
The U.S. military has waged an extensive campaign against the extremists for months, deploying more than 2,700 troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces and conducting airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. Obama wants new authority to use against the Islamic State group, which has sparked international outrage with videos of their beheadings of hostages and burning of a Jordanian pilot.
Saying he was determined to avoid another long ground war in the Middle East, Obama submitted a use-of-force proposal last week that would expire after three years and bar the sustained commitment of American ground forces. The fight would be unbounded by national borders.