GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee decided he will not run for re-election after reconsidering his decision to retire last year, his chief of staff said Tuesday.
His decision puts an end to months of speculation that he might reverse his decision to retire.
“Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election,” his chief of staff Todd Womack said in a statement. “However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018.”
Corker had conversations with a few colleagues earlier this month about whether he should reconsider his decision to not seek re-election this year, GOP sources told CNN.
Corker’s decision sets up a likely general election between GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a 74-year-old Democrat who has won twice statewide before but last ran for office in 2006.
Blackburn thanked Corker for his “dedicated service” in the Senate in a statement Tuesday.
“I want to thank Senator Corker for his dedicated service on behalf of Tennessee families,” Blackburn said. “Now, we can unify the Republican party and focus on defeating Democrat Phil Bredesen in November.”
Former Rep. Stephen Fincher had also entered the Republican primary, but dropped out last week, encouraging Corker to run.
News that Corker would stand by his decision to not seek re-election was first reported by Politico on Tuesday.
Corker, who was at one time among those considered a candidate to be President Donald Trump’s secretary of state, was critical of the President before announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election in September. The relationship’s fallout started over the summer, when Corker criticized Trump’s response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, when the President placed equal blame on anti-white supremacist demonstrators and neo-Nazi sympathizers. Trump responded by bashing Corker on Twitter, but the two men met at the White House in the fall after the controversy died down. Sources familiar with their discussions confirmed to CNN in January that Corker had repaired his relationship with the commander in chief.
“When he ran for the Senate in 2006, he told Tennesseans that he couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms because he has always been drawn to the citizen legislator model and believes public service should be missional,” Womack said in the statement on Corker Tuesday. “This has been the greatest privilege of his life and he is forever grateful to the people of the Volunteer State for the opportunity to serve our state and country.”
CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.