Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, will resign from his leadership post in January.
The Tennessee Republican, who has served as Republican Conference Chairman for nearly four years, announced his plans in a letter to colleagues Tuesday morning. He noted that he plans to run for re-election in 2014.
“Stepping down from leadership will liberate me to spend more time working for results on the issues I care most about,” Alexander wrote. “I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues. There are different ways to provide leadership within the Senate. After nine years here, this is how I believe I can now make my greatest contribution. For these same reasons I do not plan to seek a leadership position in the next congress.”
In remarks on the Senate floor formally announcing the move, Alexander vowed he would be "more, not less aggressive on major issues" and suggested that he would focus his efforts on working across party lines.
"The United States Senate requires 60 votes to achieve a result on serious issues and 60-vote results simply cannot be found among only Republicans, or only Democrats," he said.
Alexander, a former governor and secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush, has served in the Senate since 2003; he ran unsuccessfully for the GOP’s presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000.
His resignation from Senate leadership clears the way for National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) to run for the No. 2-ranking position of Republican Whip in the next Congress following the retirement of the current minority whip, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Alexander had previously announced that he would run for the whip spot.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a rising star in the party and the fourth-ranking Senate Republican, could also enter the race.
In remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called Alexander “a unique person in this body” who “accomplishes a great deal and ... gets credit for not a lot.”
“I don’t know all the reasons for his doing this, but I want the record to be spread with the fact that I have found Lamar Alexander to be one of the most thoughtful people I have ever served with in the Senate,” Reid said. “And (there are) many issues that he gets no credit for that were the result of his ability to see the big picture.”
Several of Alexander's GOP colleagues also praised him in remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said it was difficult to think of anyone more accomplished and likable than the Tennessee Republican.
The full text of Alexander’s letter is below.
September 20, 2011
Next January, following our annual retreat, I will step down as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. At that time, I will have completed four years or the equivalent of two two-year terms.
I have enjoyed serving on the leadership team and thank you for the privilege. My goal has been to help the leader and each individual Republican senator to succeed, to look for consensus within our caucus, and to suggest our message.
Stepping down from leadership will liberate me to spend more time working for results on the issues I care most about. I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues. There are different ways to provide leadership within the Senate. After nine years here, this is how I believe I can now make my greatest contribution. For these same reasons I do not plan to seek a leadership position in the next congress.
I said to Tennesseans when I first ran for the Senate that I would serve with conservative principles and an independent attitude. I will continue to serve in that same way. I am a very Republican Republican. I intend to be more, not less, in the thick of resolving serious issues. And I plan to run for re-election in 2014.