Lamar Alexander quits GOP leadership

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, is stepping down from his leadership position in the GOP. The moderate Republican announced on Tuesday that he will give up his position of chair of the Senate Republican Conference as of January 2012, CNN reports.

The 71-year-old Alexander, a former Tennessee Governor, said he still plans to run for a third Senate term in 2014.

In remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, Alexander said: “I will step down after four years as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. At that time, my colleagues will have elected me three times and I will have completed the equivalent of two two-year terms. Stepping down from leadership will liberate me to spend more time working to achieve results on the issues I care the most about.”

Those issues include reining in health care costs, curbing spending and creating jobs, he said, according to The Associated Press.

“In the leadership, you always give up some of your independence in exchange for a seat at the table,” Alexander told the AP in a brief hallway interview. “I am giving up my seat at the table in exchange for some more independence.”

According to the AP:

It was an implicit rejection of the partisanship that has become the rule in a chamber designed to resolve the nation’s toughest public policy questions.

But it wasn’t clear, either, that Alexander would win an election to be the vote-counting whip under GOP leader Mitch McConnell, who set the tone early on by declaring the Republicans’ top political priority would be denying Obama a second term in the White House.

The GOP whip, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., recently retired, opening up the No. 2 job. Now it’s expected that Senate GOP campaign chairman John Cornyn of Texas will step into that role, the AP reports.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, a conservative often discussed as a future presidential contender, immediately announced a bid for Alexander’s seat, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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