After graduating from the University of Mississippi, Wicker served in the United States Air Force from 1976-80, and worked as a political counselor to then-Congressman Trent Lott. He then served in the Mississippi State Senate from 1988-94, when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi's 1st congressional district, succeeding long-time retiring Democrat Jamie L. Whitten, for whom Wicker had once been a Page.
Wicker served in the House from January 1995 to December 2007, when he was appointed by Governor Haley Barbour to fill the seat vacated by Trent Lott. He subsequently won the 2008 special election for the remainder of the term and was re-elected to a full term in 2012. He served as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 114th U.S. Congress.
Wicker was born on July 5, 1951, in Pontotoc, Mississippi, the son of Wordna Glen (née Threadgill) and Thomas Frederick Wicker. In 1967, the 16-year-old Wicker worked as a United States House of Representatives Page for Democratic Congressman Jamie L. Whitten of Mississippi's 1st congressional district. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science and a law degree from the University of Mississippi where he was a member of the Sigma Nu fraternity. Wicker was the student body president at Ole Miss.
After graduation, Wicker served as an officer in the United States Air Force from 1976 to 1980. Starting in 1980, he was a member of the Air Force Reserve; he retired from the reserve in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel. Wicker served as a judge advocate.
Wicker began his political career in 1980 as House Rules Committee counsel to Republican Congressman Trent Lott. He was then elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1987, spending $25,000 to win the race. He represented the 6th district from 1988 to 1994, which included Tupelo.
In 1994, Democratic U.S. Representative Jamie L. Whitten declined to seek re-election; he had represented the 1st District for 54 years, longer than any other congressman at the time. Wicker ran to succeed him, spending $750,000 over the course of the election. He finished first in a crowded six-way Republican primary with 7,156 votes (26.62%) and proceeded to a runoff with attorney Grant Fox, who received 5,208 votes (19.37%). Former U.S. Attorney Bob Whitwell finished 600 votes short of the runoff with 4,606 votes (17.14%), 1992 nominee Clyde E. Whitaker came fourth with 4,602 votes (17.12%), 1986 nominee Larry Cobb came fifth with 4,162 votes (15.48%) and 1990 nominee Bill Bowlin took the remaining 1,147 votes (4.27%). In the runoff, Wicker defeated Fox by 11,905 votes (53.07%) to 10,527 (46.93%).
In the general election, Wicker defeated Fulton attorney Bill Wheeler by 80,553 votes (63.06%) to 47,192 (36.94%), making him the first Republican to represent the 1st district in over a century. However, this was not considered an upset, as the 1st has always been a rather conservative district (especially in the Memphis suburbs). The district had only supported the official Democratic candidate for president once since 1956, when Jimmy Carter carried the district in 1976. Although Whitten had a nearly unbreakable hold on the district, it had been considered very likely that he would be succeeded by a Republican once he retired.
Wicker was re-elected six times without serious difficulty, never dropping below 65 percent of the vote. In 2004, he was unopposed by a Democratic candidate, facing only Reform Party nominee Barbara Dale Washer, whom he defeated by 219,328 votes (79.01%) to 58,256 (20.99%).
Assuming office in 1995, he was President of the freshman class, which included 53 other new Republican Congressmen, elected as part of the 1994 "Republican Revolution".
He was a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He was also deputy Republican whip.
In Congress, Wicker worked on issues related to medical research and on economic development for his home state. He advocated private-public partnerships to bring investment to rural areas. Wicker also worked for veterans' issues while serving as a member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee. In his final year as representative, Wicker topped the list in earmarks.
In 2007, Wicker was criticized after securing a $6 million earmark for a defense company whose executives had made significant contributions to his campaign.Senate Committee on Armed Services
Subcommittee on Airland
Subcommittee on Personnel
Subcommittee on Seapower (Chairman)
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet (Chairman)
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard
Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety
Subcommittee on Green Jobs and the New Economy
Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health
Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure
United States Senate Committee on Rules and Administration
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Congressional Human Rights Caucus
Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus
International Conservation Caucus
Interstate 69 Caucus (Co-Chair)
Tennessee Valley Authority Congressional Caucus
On November 26, 2007, U.S. Senator Trent Lott announced that he would resign before the end of the year to become a lobbyist. At a press conference on December 31, 2007, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour appointed Wicker to fill the Senate seat vacated by Trent Lott on December 18, 2007. He was sworn in by the clerk of the U.S. Senate just prior to that news conference.
Wicker ran for the remainder of Lott's term in the November 2008 special election against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, Barbour's predecessor as governor. Wicker defeated Musgrove by 683,409 votes (54.96%) to 560,064 (45.04%). Wicker's resignation from the House also triggered a May 13, 2008 special election to fill the vacancy in the House, which was won by Democratic nominee Travis Childers.
Wicker ran for re-election to a full term in 2012. He was opposed by Robert Maloney and Tea Party activist E. Allen Hathcock in the Republican primary, defeating them by 254,936 votes (89.17%) to 18,857 (6.60%) and 12,106 (4.23%), respectively. In the general election, he defeated Albert Gore, the Chairman of the Oktibbeha County Democratic Party and a distant relative of former Vice President Al Gore, by 709,626 votes (57.16%) to 503,467 (40.55%).
On September 16, 2010, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Wicker as representative of the United States to the Sixty-fifth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
In the Senate, Wicker is a member of the Senate Republicans’ whip team and has repeatedly introduced a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Wicker called the health care overhaul the “great fight for the rest of this term, maybe our lifetimes” and later introduced a bill to enable state officials to challenge the law. In the interest of protecting gun owners, he amended a fiscal 2010 transportation spending bill to allow Amtrak passengers to carry firearms and ammunition in checked baggage.
With Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor, he pushed amendments allowing purchasers of federal flood insurance to add wind coverage to their policies, helpful to a hurricane-prone state. As a member of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) monitoring human rights and other issues, Wicker worked with Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin to push into law in late 2012 a bill imposing penalties on Russians accused of violating human rights. The measure led Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce a subsequent ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian-born children.
In July 2013, Wicker proposed that the Senate meet to discuss a controversial change to filibuster rules. The Senate held the private meeting in the Old Senate chamber to discuss Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat of the so-called "nuclear option", which would change the rules for Senate votes on President Obama's executive branch nominees. Wicker said he hoped the chamber's bipartisan past could serve as an inspiration for the debate about the nuclear option: "I think there are concessions that can be made on both sides. And then I would just hope that, institutionally, we can get away from this mindset."
Wicker supported the Bipartisan Sportsmen's Act of 2014 (S. 2363; 113th Congress), a bill related to hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation in the United States, aimed at improving "the public's ability to enjoy the outdoors." He said that "Mississippians know the importance of efforts to preserve our natural resources for future generations."
He was elected to serve as Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee for the 114th U.S. Congress on November 13, 2014.
Weeks after the 2014 Hong Kong class boycott campaign and Umbrella Movement broke out which demands genuine universal suffrage among other goals, Wicker among bipartisan colleagues joined U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Rep. Chris Smith's effort to introduce Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which would update the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 and U.S. commitment to Hong Kong's freedom and democracy. "U.S. should stand steadfast with the people of Hong Kong in their fight to exercise self-determination,” Wicker, vice-chairman of the Helsinki Commission said. “... speak with a unified American voice in support of universal freedom and democratic values. The Congress and the Obama Administration should act to ensure China honors its longstanding obligation under international law to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy."
On April 16, 2013, a letter addressed to Wicker tested positive for the poison ricin. The letter was detected by postal officials and law enforcement and was prevented from reaching the Capitol. The letter was tested three times, with each test confirming the presence of ricin.
In 2015, Wicker was the only U.S. Senator to vote against an amendment declaring that climate change is real. Wicker, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was the only no vote. The final vote was 98 to 1, with Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader from Nevada, not voting. The amendment affirmed that "climate change is real and not a hoax."
In 2017, he was one of 22 senators to sign a letter to President Donald Trump urging the President to have the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wicker has received over $200,000 from the oil and gas industry since 2012.
The following is a partial summary of Wicker's election results.
Wicker is married to the former Gayle Long of Tupelo. They have three children: Margaret and son-in-law Manning McPhillips; Caroline and son-in-law Kirk Sims; and McDaniel and daughter-in-law Kellee; and five grandchildren: Caroline, Henry, Maury and Virginia McPhillips, and Evelyn Sims. The Wickers reside in Tupelo, where he is a deacon at First Baptist Church Tupelo, where he sings in the choir. He previously served on the Board of Advisors for the Global Panel Foundation, an NGO that works behind the scenes in crisis areas around the world.