High on the list for the panel early next year will be nominations, including Obama’s choice for secretary of state and possibly U.N. ambassador.
For all of Republican Sen. John McCain’s recent bluster about Rice and her initial, much-maligned account after the deadly Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, it is Corker who will render his judgment and provide a crucial vote on her prospects. Corker has described Rice as more of a political operative but has avoided saying definitively where he stands on the potential nominee.
While other Republicans criticized Rice after her comments based on talking points prepared by intelligence officials, Corker traveled to Libya the first week of October to meet with officials there and learn more about what happened. The senator has traveled to 48 countries since he joined the committee.
‘‘He’s viewed as conservative, but he’s independent,’’ said former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist.
After being appointed state finance commissioner by Sundquist, it was Corker who brought together various factions and helped Tennessee lure the Houston Oilers to the state. To complete the deal, Sundquist had to work with Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat he had just defeated in the gubernatorial race.
Corker was like a child trying to make peace between warring parents. It paid off with the arrival of the Tennessee Titans in 1997.
One of Corker’s first jobs was good training for moving immovable objects, whether home-state politicians or members of the Senate. In college, Jimmy Haslam and Corker had a small business doing odd jobs, including removing tree stumps.
‘‘I always give them both a hard time that the biggest thing they removed was the axle from two or three trucks that they ripped out trying to get the stumps out,’’ said Gov. Bill Haslam. ‘‘They were better at axle removal.’’