John Cornyn says he's supporting Ted Cruz for re-election in 2018

Texas' senior U.S. senator is breaking the thaw: John Cornyn says he is endorsing Ted Cruz for re-election in 2018.  

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (center) and Ted Cruz (right) join Tribune CEO Evan Smith for the closing day of The Texas Tribune Festival on Sept. 24, 2017.

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

After previously withholding his endorsement, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Sunday he's supporting Ted Cruz for re-election in 2018. Cornyn also said he's running for re-election himself in 2020. 

In a joint session with Cruz at the Texas Tribune Festival, Cornyn called the junior senator "enormously constructive" in the Senate and pledged to support him as he seeks a second term. Cornyn said he recently had breakfast with Cruz and they agreed it was important to set aside their differences — mainly on tactics, not policy — in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

“I think it’s really important, particularly in light of the challenges brought by this huge natural disaster, that we stand together as a Texas delegation and there’s no space between Sen. Cruz and me when it comes to doing work for our state," Cornyn said. "So I told him I’d support him in his re-election, and I think it’s important to do so to send the message that Texans, when it comes to something like the recovery after this natural disaster, that we are going to stand together and not be distracted."

Cornyn had previously declined to endorse Cruz for re-election, saying he was "not going to get involved in any primary races, particularly with my colleagues in the Senate." And Cruz refused to back Cornyn when he was seeking re-election in the 2014 primary. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cornyn also said Sunday he intends to run for a fourth term in 2020, citing his seniority as a perk that continues to benefit Texas — including during the response to Harvey. 

"I'm the vote-counter for the Senate, the majority whip, and I think it's frankly helpful given my seniority and my position in leadership to continue to serve as long as the people of Texas will have me," Cornyn said.

In 2018, Cruz is facing a challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso. Cruz has been generally tight-lipped about O'Rourke, but he went further than usual at the festival while responding to a question about his opponent.

"I don't think Texans want a far-left Democrat in the Senate," Cruz said.

The joint interview came as Republicans are scrambling to salvage their last-ditch effort to repeal Obamacare. While Cornyn made a pitch for the latest proposal, known as Graham-Cassidy, Cruz continued to assert he was undecided — and was even more explicit at one point, saying Senate leaders still don’t have his vote. 

The Texas Tribune thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Cruz said Graham-Cassidy has some “very good elements” but does not do enough to lower health insurance premiums. He said he and U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, met with the bill’s authors last week and proposed changes. The authors took the changes but removed them a day later, Cruz said.

“Right now they don’t have my vote, and I don’t think they have Mike Lee’s either,” Cruz said.

Watch Smith's full interview with Cornyn and Cruz below.