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Mitch McConnell succession race begins after Senate GOP leader says he’ll step down

Mitch McConnell’s shocking announcement Wednesday afternoon that he will step aside as Senate Republican leader after the November elections has sparked a mad dash among a divided GOP conference to replace him.

With no successor clearly apparent, McConnell announced in a floor speech he would step back and allow “the next generation of leadership” to make its mark in the upper chamber — and several had no qualms about making their ambition known soon after.

“I turned 82 last week, and the end of my contributions are closer than I prefer,” McConnell said, his voice breaking at times. “I’m filled with heartfelt gratitude and humility for the opportunity.”

“If you would have told me … that I would stand before you as the longest serving Senate leader in US history, frankly I would’ve thought you lost your mind,” he added. “To serve Kentucky in the Senate has been the honor of my life, to lead my Republican colleagues has been the highest privilege.”

Mitch McConnell was the longest-serving party leader in the Senate. Shutterstock

Speculation quickly turned to three Johns potentially waiting in the wings: John Thune (R-SD), John Cornyn (R-Texas), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)

“John,” Sen. JD Vance (R-Ohio) joked to reporters when asked whom he would back, without specifying which one.

All three Johns either currently serve or have served in key leadership roles within the Senate GOP. Thune, the Senate minority whip, is McConnell’s current second-in-command, while Barrasso serves as the chair of the Senate Republican conference and Cornyn spent four years as Senate majority whip after the party re-took the chamber in 2014.

John Cornyn is widely expected to consider a bid to replace Mitch McConnell. AP

“I think today is about Mitch McConnell, but I’ve made no secret of my intentions,” Cornyn teased to reporters.

Thune, who lauded McConnell as “a fierce defender of the Senate,” is technically next in line for the role, but all indications suggest that he’ll have stiff competition on his hands if he seeks to take the next step.

John Thune is another top contender to succeed the outgoing Senate Minority Leader. AP

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who stood by McConnell during recent fights over Ukraine funding and US border security, called the Kentuckian “a true legend” and said any successor would have “very big shoes to fill.”

“Under his historic leadership, the Senate secured a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, passed historic tax reform, and enacted bipartisan legislation to save our economy from the brink at the start of the pandemic,” Tillis said in a statement.

“He has stayed true to President Reagan’s principle of peace through strength as a stalwart supporter of NATO and Ukraine’s fight for freedom against Russian aggression. I will always be grateful for Mitch’s friendship, advice, and steadfast leadership of our conference during unprecedented times.”

GOP hardliners mobilize

Not all Senate Republicans were mournful about McConnell preparing to step aside. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) hailed the “good news” after it broke.

“I called on McConnell to step down over a year ago,” he posted on X. “This is good news. But why wait so long — we need new leadership now.”

Josh Hawley has been one of Mitch McConnell’s chief critics in the Senate. AP

Seemingly eying the post, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) dropped an icy statement about his longtime foe.

“I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for,” Scott said in a statement that contained no McConnell tribute.

“This is an opportunity to refocus our efforts on solving the significant challenges facing our country and actually reflect the aspirations of voters.”

After the 2022 midterms, Scott mounted an unsuccessful bid to dispatch McConnell as the Senate GOP leader but could only muster 10 votes to the incumbent’s 37, with one abstention.

Rick Scott unsuccessfully attempted to topple Mitch McConnell during the last Senate leadership race. Getty Images

McConnell had served in the upper chamber since the Reagan era, but since former President Donald Trump’s ascendance reshaped GOP, he has found himself increasingly at odds with some members of his conference.

Famously tight-lipped, McConnell is believed to have not spoken with Trump in nearly three years. The octogenarian had been critical of Trump’s actions around the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot and the former president has sporadically hurled racist language at his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Unlike most other congressional Republican leaders, McConnell has declined to publicly endorse Trump this cycle.

Rumors of a brewing mutiny

“There has been a rebellion brewing in the Republican conference over McConnell’s chaotic leadership and abandoning the border security fight at its height of popularity,” a Senate staffer dished to The Post Wednesday.

“Even moderates were getting frustrated, making the 25 votes a real possibility,” the person added, referring to the number of senators needed to force a vote of no confidence in the leader. “He was getting ahead of getting fired.”

Mitch McConnell has served in the Senate since 1985. AP

McConnell has bucked the hardliners of his caucus repeatedly, steering the Senate GOP conference in a noticeably different direction than House Republicans.

For instance, he has been a staunch proponent of Ukraine aid, backed a sweeping border agreement that Republicans tanked earlier this month and helped push through a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill in 2022 that roiled his counterparts in the House ahead of the Republican takeover in the lower chamber.

“It’s no secret that the harder right of the caucus has been frustrated with the way he’s run everything for the past while,” another Republican aide griped, before adding: “I’m not sure how effective a vote to remove him would be without a clear frontrunner to replace him.”

Trump’s allies have also been keen on replacing McConnell with someone who is more closely aligned with the 45th president.

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell have repeatedly butted heads. AFP via Getty Images

“I think in the Senate right now, guys like a JD Vance, people who are willing to actually call out sort of ‘the club.’ I think that’s so important,” Donald Trump Jr. told reporters Friday ahead of South Carolina’s Republican primary.

Trump himself even questioned whether or not he could work with McConnell should he win the presidency on Nov. 5.

The dramatic shakeup in GOP Senate leadership comes as the party stares down a highly favorable map as it seeks to regain Senate control after four years out of power.

Democrats are defending 23 seats, including three held by independents, while Republicans only have to protect 11 in favorable contests.

McConnell, who is the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, was first vaulted to the head of the Republican Conference in 2007, replacing Bill Frist of Tennessee.

He has indicated that he intends to serve out his current term, which ends in January 2027.

Written by SaleemBaloch

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