Barrasso deciding between GOP leader, whip runs as senators jockey for future posts

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso could throw his cowboy hat in the ring with the other Two Johns — Cornyn and Thune — for the Senate GOP’s top job. There’s a much easier path to promotion, though, as he wrestles with his decision.

The current No. 3 Senate Republican could eschew a run to succeed Mitch McConnell and instead pursue the party’s whip job this fall, elevating him to the No. 2 role, a leadership suite, security detail and being at the heart of Senate floor action every day.

Both Thune, the current whip, and Cornyn, a former whip, are term-limited out of the job. Currently, there are no announced candidates, making the whip position open for next Congress.

Barrasso has not made a public decision on his plans and seems truly undecided, according to people familiar with party dynamics. In contrast to Cornyn and Thune’s launches this week, Barrasso will decide on his own timeline, according to a person familiar with his thinking.

In doing so, he effectively freezes the field for the rest of the down-ballot races. Under party rules, each senator can pursue only one job in the leadership contests set to take place after the general election.

There are several senators who could get a promotion either way. And with Minority Leader McConnell retiring and Barrasso term-limited from his current job as conference chair, some shake-up is guaranteed.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, the current No. 4 Republican serving as policy chair, could run for the conference chair position, stay where she is or even potentially seek the whip job depending on what Barrasso does.

“Ernst is keeping every option on the table as she discusses with her colleagues the best way she can continue being a voice for Iowans, serving and bringing together the Senate GOP conference, and furthering the conservative agenda,” an Ernst spokesperson said.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas is also taking a strong look at a run for conference chair, the leader of GOP messaging. Both senators are undecided, Republicans say.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.) is being encouraged to run to succeed McConnell by former President Donald Trump, but has demurred because he first has to win back the majority. A strong performance in the Senate races and a Trump presidency could increase Daines’ sway within the conference, but Cornyn, Thune and other potential candidates will have a monthslong head start to make their case.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) is the current vice chair of the conference, joining elected leadership fewer than two years ago. She too could be in the mix for any shake-up, though she said this week there’s plenty of time to figure out the leadership situation and it isn’t top of mind for her.

One more thing: The party will almost certainly have to find a new NRSC chair — Daines is up for reelection in 2026, and senators rarely serve in that job while in cycle.

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