Two senior Republicans close to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have joined the Trump transition team, including one of Corker’s staffers, drastically improving the senator’s chances for a Cabinet post in a potential Donald Trump administration.
Corker recently approved a temporary leave of absence for John Rader, counsel for Corker’s committee, so that he can work on presidential appointments for the transition team, which is headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Corker has been rumored to be seeking an appointment as either treasury secretary or secretary of state.
“John is taking a leave of absence to assist in the transition, which is an effort sanctioned by the federal government for both campaigns,” Corker’s chief of staff, Todd Womack, told me.
Rader, who has worked for Corker since last year, previously worked as an aide for Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R). Three senior Republicans told me he will be the Trump transition team’s deputy director for presidential appointments, working directly under another Tennessee political figure, William Hagerty. Hagerty was director of presidential appointments for the Mitt Romney presidential transition team in 2012 and asked Rader to help him this time around. Corker’s office did not put Rader up for the job.
Pursuant to a 2010 law signed by President Obama, both presidential nominees receive federal support and funding for their transition preparations. Hagerty and Rader would have a huge role in selecting and vetting candidates for more than 4,000 presidential appointments Trump would need to make if he is elected.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks told me that no final decisions have been made on transition team officials. But GOP officials told me Rader has already left his Capitol Hill job to work with the Trump transition team.
The fact that two Tennessee political officials are expected to be at the top of the Trump appointment effort is good news for Corker, who has been in close contact with the Trump campaign for several months. After being vetted for the vice president role, Corker said in July he took himself out of contention because he didn’t want that particular job.
“There are people far more suited for being a candidate for vice president, and I think I’m far more suited for other types of things,” Corker told The Post.
Sources close to Corker told me that his first choice is to be treasury secretary and his second choice is to be secretary of state. Corker told the Tennessean last month that he could see himself in either of those roles.
“That’s not the kind of thing you lobby for certainly. That’s somebody else’s decision,” he said. Now he will have two friends, including one former staffer, in a position to influence that decision.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) floated Corker’s name for both jobs in Time magazine in April 2015.
“His tough-minded pragmatism and grasp of economics have restored prestige to the Foreign Relations Committee and are reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s skilled team. If he is not President himself, Corker is an obvious choice for Secretary of State or Treasury,” Alexander wrote.
Corker has been coy about whether he is actively seeking a Cabinet job in the Trump administration. Another Republican official rumored to be in contention to be Trump’s secretary of state is Ambassador John Bolton.
“If the president calls you to serve, certainly it’s your responsibility to sit down and strongly consider that,” Corker said last month, adding that he and the Trump campaign leadership had “a candid conversation” about other jobs he might be right for.
Since then, senior Republicans have been distancing themselves from Trump as the GOP nominee continues to make controversial statements, including many related to foreign policy and national security. Just this week, Trump completely misstated the facts about the Ukraine crisis and engaged in a war of words with the family of a Muslim American soldier killed in the Iraq War, against the advice of his own campaign advisers.
Corker may believe it is his duty to try to steer the Trump administration toward good policy if Trump is elected and if Trump asks for his help. But Corker is also aware that he risks ruining his brand and his chances for higher office, including governor of Tennessee, if he is seen as too close to Trump as Trump goes to war with the rest of the GOP.