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With a fresh six-year Senate term ahead of him, John Cornyn gently pushes back on Donald Trump

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U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, stopped in College Station last month during his reelection campaign. Credit: Amna Ijaz/The Texas Tribune

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Fresh off a reelection victory granting him another six years in the U.S. Senate, John Cornyn has, on three occasions this week, strayed from the party line set by President Donald Trump on national security and casting doubt on former Vice President Joe Biden's election victory.

The comments from the senior Texas senator fell far short of full-throated repudiation of Trump’s false claims about the presidential election being stolen or claims without evidence of widespread voter fraud. But Cornyn said this week that he hasn’t “seen anything that would change the outcome” of the race.

“I have every confidence that come January the 20th, we’re going to inaugurate a new president,” he told reporters Monday. “And I think it will probably be Joe Biden.”

Meanwhile, Cornyn expressed disapproval of a pair of decisions Trump made related to national security. On Tuesday, Trump fired top election security official Chris Krebs, who led the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at the Department of Homeland Security. After working to secure the election and protect state and local elections from voter fraud, Krebs publicly debunked Trump’s claims that the election systems were manipulated, calling them “unsubstantiated.” Trump fired him via Twitter soon after.

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Wednesday, Cornyn made clear that he disagreed with the decision while acknowledging that Trump has the power to make it.

“It’s the president’s prerogative, but I think it just adds to the confusion and the chaos,” Cornyn said.

A day earlier, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. will withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq by January, leaving only 2,500 troops in each of the two countries. There are 4,500 troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq. In a statement soon after the decision was announced, Cornyn lamented that Congress had not been consulted and stressed that the armed forces had made “tremendous progress” in the fight against terrorism in recent years.

“A precipitous retreat, which would reverse the progress we have made and fought so hard to make, I think, is deeply troubling,” he said.

Taken together, those comments amounted to an unusual amount of criticism of the president from Cornyn over a short period of time. In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram at the tail end of his reelection campaign, Cornyn compared his relationship with Trump to a wife attempting to change her husband, saying that he did not agree with him on issues such as the budget deficit and the U.S.-Mexico border wall. Still, he said that when he disagreed with the president, he tended to do so in private. And he later disputed claims that he was trying to distance himself from the president.

“Absolutely not,” Cornyn told radio host Chad Hasty in October. “This is spun up by some of these beltway pundits who are trying to create a narrative to damage the president and to damage Republicans. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done supporting the president and his agenda with the tax cuts and Jobs Act, more than 200 federal judges and soon a third Supreme Court justice. I think he’s taken the country in a strong direction. I look forward to serving with him for four more years.”

The most recent comments from Cornyn came as most Texas Republicans are still showing a fealty to Trump, even as he has cast doubt on the election results with unsubstantiated claims of fraud. Many state Republicans have remained silent on Trump’s comments on the election or have followed the president's lead and shared misinformation about whether voter fraud occurred.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who is up for reelection in 2024, has supported Trump’s claims of electoral fraud. He said votes that were “fraudulently cast or illegally cast” should not be counted, encouraging the lawsuits that Trump is pursuing in multiple states. There has been no evidence that fraud has occurred at a level that would affect the results in the presidential election.

“The media does not get to select our President,” Cruz tweeted Nov. 8. “The American people decide who the President is, and we need to make sure all legal votes are counted. With serious disputes in multiple states, we must allow the legal process to move forward.”

But in recent days, two other Texas Republicans have publicly criticized Trump. Neither of the congressmen, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, nor U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, ran for reelection this year.

In a tweet, Hurd expressed his disapproval of the firing of Krebs.

“He was instrumental in us having one of the most secure elections in history despite bad actors trying to influence our elections,” Hurd wrote about Krebs. “His service should have been rewarded, not dismissed.”

Hurd has also publicly criticized Trump for "undermining our political process" by casting doubt on the election results.

Meanwhile, Thornberry, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, vocalized his frustration in pulling troops from Afghanistan.

“I believe that these additional reductions of American troops from terrorist areas are a mistake. Further reductions in Afghanistan will also undercut negotiations there; the Taliban has done nothing — met no condition — that would justify this cut,” Thornberry said in a statement.