Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is on track to become the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history after days of blaming Republicans for their midterm election defeat, winning a secret ballot election.
McConnell beats Florida senator. Rick Scott is his first challenger at the conference in 15 years.
McConnell won the leadership vote 37-10-1 and told a news conference he was “very proud” of the result.
“I don’t own the job. Anyone who wants to run is free to do so,” McConnell said. “I’m not going to be offended by having an opponent or having a few votes against.”
Asked whether challenges to his leadership made it more or less likely that he would step down after next year, McConnell said, “Look, I’m not going anywhere.”
Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. John Barrasso of Wyoming formally announced his slate of Republican leadership positions after the election, which includes GOP senators. John Thune will continue as whip. Senator Steve Daines of Montana will succeed Scott as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of Senate Republicans. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa will be the next policy chair, replacing the Missouri senator. Roy Blunt, who will retire at the end of his term. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will become vice chair of the Republican Conference.
The battle for the Senate GOP leadership underscored simmering discontent among GOP senators who have failed to win back their majority despite favorable political conditions across the country.
“I voted for change,” the South Carolina senator said. Vote for Scott’s Lindsey Graham. “I accept the outcome of the conference and I hope we can get better.”
In a statement, the Florida Republican said he would press ahead.
“While today’s election result was not what we had hoped for, it is far from the end of our fight to make Washington work,” Scott said.
Several Republican senators emerged from the meeting, calling the open dialogue a catharsis.
“This is the best conversation we’ve had as a Senate panel since I’ve been here,” said Republican Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, who backed Scott over McConnell. “It’s interactive. It fleshes out our goals as a caucus.”
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Republican leadership team, said he understood some of lawmakers’ dissatisfaction with the Senate process, which he said was not as inclusive as it used to be.
“I think people are hungry for better communication, more collaboration, more input,” Cornyn said. “People aren’t elected to the U.S. Senate to be excluded from discussions, which is basically what happens when a bill is drafted in a meeting of leaders.
Braun and Cornyn were tasked with counting the secret ballots. Cornyn quipped that they had to “make sure there wasn’t any shenanigans”.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said the lengthy meeting was “less intense” than another meeting on Tuesday and joked that it was someone’s ploy to keep the room “as cold as hell” on Wednesday.
After a tense, hours-long meeting on Tuesday — the first time Republican members have met face-to-face since the disappointing midterm elections — Scott told reporters he plans to challenge McConnell for the top job.
“I’m running for leadership,” the Florida Republican told reporters. “I’m not happy with the status quo, so I think we should have an option.”
Throughout this year, Scott and McConnell have been at odds over messaging, outlook and how to spend resources this election cycle. The two disagree on the quality of the candidate, whether to run in the Republican primary, whether to advance an agenda or focus on President Joe Biden and where to run.
After losing Wednesday’s leadership election, Scott said he would press ahead with his “Save America” agenda, an agenda that has been criticized by President McConnell and President Joe Biden, who said it would target Social Security and medical insurance.
“I will never stop fighting to finally take action to protect Social Security and Medicare and preserve the promise of these programs for our children and grandchildren,” Scott said in the statement. Easy enough, but I’m optimistic that Republicans can save America by uniting together against the dangerous path Democrats are taking.”
Wednesday’s vote came after Scott and a handful of conservative senators called for the leadership election to be delayed until a Georgia runoff, underscoring frustration among Senate Republicans over the outcome of the 2022 election. While 16 Republican senators voted to delay the Republican leadership election, the effort to delay the vote failed during the closed session, according to a person familiar with the matter.
While Scott has little chance of successfully running for leadership, his statement was seen as a protest vote.
Hawley, who voted for Scott, became sarcastic when asked by CNN why McConnell won.
“Because the meeting didn’t want to change course,” Hawley responded. “They want to do what we’re doing. It’s working very well.”
Scott had a tense back-and-forth with McConnell during a closed-door meeting with Republican colleagues on Tuesday.
“Sen. Scott disagreed with Mitch’s approach this election and over the past few years, and he made it clear that Sen. McConnell was critical of Sen. Scott’s management of the NRSC,” Hawley told reporters. Speaking during this exchange.
Cornyn, meanwhile, said after a closed-door meeting on Tuesday that he was eager to overcome differences with his Republican colleagues and hold a leadership election.
He said he thinks Republicans should focus on helping Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker in the Dec. 6 runoff against Democratic senators. Raphael Warnock.
“I think the best thing we can do is put it behind us,” Cornyn told CNN. “Because you’re going to be writing about it for the next three weeks, and it’s going to be a distraction from the Georgia runoff, which I think should be our undivided focus.”
For Democrats, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that their caucus leader election will be held on Dec. 8, according to sources who attended a Senate Democratic luncheon on Wednesday.
This story and title have been updated with additional developments.