U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was not a big Donald Trump booster. The Texan, in his political and personal temperament, is very much the president-elect’s opposite. But amid the appearance of some disarray in the incoming Trump administration’s transition to power, Cornyn, freshly re-elected Wednesday to be the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, spoke sanguinely of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform America thanks to the iconoclastic billionaire populist.
“We see this election on Nov. 8 as an historic opportunity to make real progress on behalf of the American people,” Cornyn said at a news conference with the Republican Senate leadership after the Texan was returned by his party to his post as the Senate majority whip.
In a subsequent conference call with Texas reporters, Cornyn said that, while he awaits the details on how Trump will “drain the swamp” in Washington, Trump has already profoundly altered the psychic and political landscape in the nation’s capital.
“Frankly his campaign has been like a neutron bomb here in Washington, D.C.,” Cornyn said. “The buildings are still standing, but there are a lot of casualties here in the political class who believed and thought that they knew better than the American people what was good for them. So there is no doubt in my mind that this is going to shake up things in Washington, and I believe that was necessary and one reason why Mr. Trump was so successful.”
Cornyn noted that “only 14 times since after World War II has a single party controlled both houses and the White House. Out of those 14 times, Republicans have only done it three times. So this is an historic opportunity for us to be able to propose and debate and actually see and realize the solutions that we’ve been arguing for for a long time but which have been shut out or even ignored by the Obama administration.”
And, Cornyn said, the Trump victory and the political terrain will make it hard for Democrats to go the obstructionist route.
“A lot of Democrats have seen the disaster to their party in the last eight years since President Obama was elected, losing so many state legislatures and governorships and seeing their diminished numbers in the Senate go from 60 in 2009 down to 48 today,” Cornyn said. “This has not been a good path for them politically, so I think it is going to induce people to try to find ways to build consensus and move this country forward.”
In 2018, Democrats will have to defend 25 Senate seats, and Republicans only eight, and Cornyn said, “there are 10 states where Donald Trump won by 55 percent or more, where a Democratic senator will be running for re-election.”
“I think the dynamics of that will have a very big impact on our ability to get things done in the Senate,” Cornyn said.
Of headlines suggesting that the Trump transition was having its bumps and stumbles, Cornyn said, “My impression is the Trump team was not totally prepared for the transition and they are scrambling” after “a surprising election.”
Cornyn praised the choice of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff.
“I know him very well,” Cornyn said. “He’s a very steady and wise hand.”
Of the controversial choice of Stephen Bannon, who went from chairing Breitbart News to chairing the Trump campaign and now is Trump’s choice as his chief strategist in the White House, Cornyn said, “I have never met him,” and left it at that.
He said he had no inside information on speculation that fellow Texan, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who met with Trump on Tuesday, was being considered for attorney general. Cruz offered no clues Wednesday.
Cornyn highlighted points of both agreement and disagreement with Trump.
Cornyn said he expected that as soon as Trump takes office the Senate will act swiftly on judicial nominees, including whomever Trump picks to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court.
He predicted Congress would use the Congressional Review Act to undo recent Obama administration rule-making.
Cornyn foresees agreement on tax reform.
And, first and foremost, “I also expect us to repeal Obamacare and to begin a transition to replace that flawed health care bill.” He said the replacement legislation could include popular measures Trump likes, such as allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans into early adulthood, and to maintain the prohibition on insurance companies’ denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
Cornyn said one clear difference he has with Trump, and an important one to Texas, is trade.
“I’m very much pro-free trade,” Cornyn said, noting that Texas economy depended on trade agreements, including NAFTA.
He said he was also not sure about Trump’s enthusiasm for term limits.
In his experience, he said, “elections are very effective means of imposing term limits.”
Of Trump’s blustery public persona, Cornyn said, “My experience in private settings is he is a very reasonable, intelligent guy. He doesn’t have a lot of governing experience and that’s one reason he was elected, because people wanted an outsider.”