NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says it's "more likely than not" that President-elect Donald Trump will pick someone other than him as secretary of state.
"Look, I know I'm in the mix, but I also know that there are some people who've spent a great deal of time with the president-elect throughout the course of the campaign," the former Chattanooga mayor said. "I know there are some long-term friendships and these are people that also are being considered for this position."
In an interview Wednesday, Corker also defended Trump's transition operation.
"When President Obama came in, he announced, I guess, Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and his national security team on Dec. 1," Corker said. "And the election this year, as you know, was actually a little bit later than the norm in November. So it's still early and he could announce very quickly who the [secretary of state] person is going to be."
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and one-time U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton are also said to be in contention.
Trump considered Corker as a potential vice president before the senator withdrew his name. If Corker isn't chosen, Trump's pick will be dealing in January with Corker in his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when he will preside over the confirmation hearings.
Corker declined to delve into the qualifications or likelihood of confirmation for Giuliani and Bolton, including news accounts of Giuliani's public affairs firm having lobbied for interests including exiles from Qatar, Venezuela and Iran.
Since he'll be involved in the confirmation hearings, Corker said, "I just don't think it's appropriate for me to weigh in or handicap people or give any input right now relative to the strengths and weaknesses.
"Once someone is nominated, typically what happens is they'll sit down and spend a great deal of time with me in the office and talk through things."
Republicans have a 10-9 majority over Democrats on the Foreign Relations panel. And one member, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has been highly critical of Bolton and somewhat critical of Giuliani.
"We don't even know who the nominee is, so to begin talking about how the vote outcome might be is like way premature right now," Corker said. " Obviously, it is an important position, as is treasury. We'll see what happens. I'm very honored to be in the mix."
Corker has previously indicated interest in the post of treasury secretary.
The senator also said it's too early to ask whether his future could include a bid for a third Senate term or even a run for Tennessee governor in 2018 should Trump not nominate him.
"But we'll know, I'm sure, in the next couple of weeks who the [State Department] nominee is. So that will be behind us one way or the other. And then it will be time to sit down and begin thinking about the future and what I ought to attempt to do."
Asked about a gubernatorial bid, a move that could scramble the political picture in Republican-dominated Tennessee, Corker said, "I don't want to go down the path."
"The first thing we will do is sit down and think about what our future should or should not be in the United States Senate. And once that decision is made [t]he voters in our state are the ultimate deciders of these things.
"But you know, do we attempt to try to serve again? What we do is something that we'll certainly be thinking about over the course of the next several months."
Corker will enter his third year as Foreign Relations Committee chairman and his term is capped at six years, should Republicans remain in power. If power shifts to Democrats, he would have six years as ranking member.
He's also the third ranking Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. With 2016 being the sixth and final year of Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby's tenure as chairman of the powerful panel, Sen. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, is expected to succeed him. And Corker could eventually be in a position to follow.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-005. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.