Mitch McConnell at 80 defies exodus of oldest Capitol leaders as discontent simmers in GOP base

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer step down after decades in top leadership positions, another octogenarian leader across the Capitol is pledging to stay in charge.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 80, who won re-election to a record ninth term as GOP conference leader last week, will not step down from the leadership, his top aides said.

The statement refutes speculation by anonymous Senate Republicans outside his inner circle who predict that Mr. McConnell will not remain in the helm for long, but could remain in the Senate in another role, perhaps in a leadership position within of the powerful credit committee.

“If they were to bet money, if they made a pool, that would be what they would bet on,” a Republican source said, characterizing the chatter between some in the Senate GOP world.

But Mr. McConnell seems to be settling for the long haul.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he told reporters when asked if this would be his last term as leader following his victory in the closed-door GOP Senate election. And those on Capitol Hill who are closest to Mr. McConnell’s thinking told the Washington Times that predictions of his departure are “grossly unfounded.”

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His re-election came just as Ms. Pelosi, 82, and Mr. Hoyer, 83, announced their intention to step down from the House Democratic leadership to allow a new generation to take over. McConnell turns 82 in February, making him one of the oldest party leaders in Senate history.

Some members of his own party’s conservative base are calling for new blood and new leadership at the top of the Senate GOP.

Earlier this month, Mr McConnell faced a mini-revolt within his conference from a group of Republicans who challenged his leadership following disappointing midterm election results that will relegate the party minority for another two years.

Sen. Rick Scott, 69, of Florida, who had served as head of the Senate GOP campaign arm, won the backing of nine fellow Republicans in his effort to unseat Mr. McConnell, representing a significant portion of the conference of 48 members.

Mr McConnell won the race in a closed-door vote, 37-10, but it marked the first challenge to his leadership in 15 years and showed growing discontent with the status quo among the Tory base youngest in the party.

Some party members blamed Mr. McConnell for the midterm losses after his well-funded super PAC diverted critical campaign money from states where GOP candidates stood a chance of winning.

The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund pulled money from Senate races in New Hampshire and Arizona, where Trump-endorsed Republicans Don Bolduc and Blake Masters ran in competition but ultimately lost.

The Senate Leadership Fund spent $5 million in Alaska, paying for advertising that attacked Trump-backed GOP Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka. Mr. McConnell backs incumbent GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate who opposes Mr. Trump.

Last month, the Alaska Republican Party voted to censure Mr McConnell for funding “dividing and misleading ads” against Ms Tshibaka, whom they endorsed in the still undecided race.

However, the PAC barely dodged major swing races, paying a record $178 million in advertising for critical Senate contests in Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where candidates endorsed by Trump were also on the ballot.

In addition to discontent within the Senate GOP ranks, Mr. McConnell faces a 2024 Republican presidential primary led by former President Trump, who is perhaps his main GOP political enemy.

The 76-year-old former president announced another White House bid last week and is likely to be the GOP’s leading primary candidate even if other Republicans weigh in, according to some polls.

Mr. Trump’s entry into the Republican primary promises a constant clash with Mr. McConnell, whom the former president has regularly attacked since Mr. McConnell blamed him for the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Mr McConnell also denounced Mr Trump’s claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by the Democrats.

This month, Mr. Trump escalated his criticism of Mr. McConnell after Mr. Bolduc and Mr. Masters lost their races, which not only cost the GOP a majority in the Senate, but significantly diminished the influence of the former president in the selection of party winners.

“It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault,” Trump said on his Truth social media site. “Spending money defeating big Republican candidates instead of supporting Blake Masters and others was a big mistake.”

Mr. Trump launched multiple racist attacks against Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served as Mr. Trump’s transportation secretary and resigned in the wake of the Capitol riot.

Mr. McConnell, Mr. Trump said, “blew the mid-terms, and everyone despises him and his lovely wife, Coco Chow!”

Mr Trump has accused Ms Chao of enriching the couple through his family’s US shipping company ties to China, but the allegation is unfounded.

Conservative media figures have also attacked Mr. McConnell, including popular radio show host Mark Levin, who frequently criticizes Mr. McConnell and other longtime GOP leaders in the Senate as being out of touch with the grassroots. party.

“It’s time for McConnell and this gang to go,” Mr Levin said two days after the Nov. 8 election. “They take credit for raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars, then blame the Tories (the grassroots) when their efforts fail. We don’t need sermons from them.

Those on Capitol Hill who are betting on Mr McConnell leaving say he could protect himself from conservative broadsides and the Trump world by leaving the leadership but staying in office, where he is able to take the top spot in the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.

The ranking member position was left open after Sen. Richard Shelby retired and while Mr. McConnell is technically next in line for the top GOP job on the committee, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican moderate in Maine and the oldest in the history of the Senate. , should take the job.

Aides laughed at the suggestion that Mr McConnell would try to shoot Ms Collins and snatch the job from her at this point.

Meanwhile, Mr. McConnell’s election to a ninth term as GOP leader, a role he has held since 2007, positions him to become the longest-serving party leader in the Senate when the new Congress will start in January. It was then that he would overtake Michael Mansfield, a Democrat from Montana who was the leader of his party from 1961 to 1977.

Most GOP conference attendees still support Mr. McConnell, who has cemented his legacy in recent years by confirming dozens of conservatives to the federal bench and three justices to the Supreme Court.

What’s more, aides point out, the 2024 map puts 23 Democratic seats up for grabs, many of them in swing states, raising the odds that Mr. McConnell will soon be back at the helm of a Republican majority in the Senate.

“There’s a lot to look forward to,” said a GOP aide.


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