McConnell re-elected GOP chief in Senate: ‘Ain’t going nowhere’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Mitch McConnell was reelected as Republican leader on Wednesday and dismissed a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the Senate GOP campaign leader, who was criticized after a disappointing performance in the midterm elections that eroded Senate control kept with the Democrats.

Kentucky’s McConnell easily repulsed Scott’s challenge in the first-ever attempt to oust him after many years as GOP leader. The vote was 37-10, the senators said, with one other senator in attendance. McConnell is poised to become the Senate’s longest-serving leader when the new Congress convenes next year.

“I’m not going anywhere,” McConnell said after the nearly four-hour closed meeting. He said he was “quite proud” of the result but acknowledged the work ahead. “I think everyone in our conference agrees that we want to do our best.”

At a GOP senators luncheon Tuesday, Scott and McConnell had exchanged what colleagues described as “open” and “live” barbs. The 10 Republican senators who joined the revolt against McConnell on Wednesday and voted for Scott included some of the most conservative figures and those associated with former President Donald Trump.

“Why do I think he won?” said Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., among McConnell’s critics. “Because the conference didn’t want to change course.”

The unrest in the Senate GOP is similar to the uproar among House Republicans following the midterm elections, where the party was divided over Trump’s hold on the party. GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy won the peer nomination to run for House Representative with Republicans taking a majority in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, but he faces stiff opposition from a core group of right-flank Republicans, who are not convinced of his leadership.

Scott said in a statement that while the “results of today’s election were not what we had hoped for, this is far from the end of our fight for Make Washington Work.”

Retreating to the Capitol’s Old Senate chamber for the private vote, senators first considered a request by a Scott ally, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, and then declined to hold voting on leadership until after the March 6 runoff December in Georgia between Republican Herschel Walker and incumbent Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, who will determine the final composition of the Senate.

Cruz said it was a “heartfelt discussion, but a serious discussion” about how minority Republicans can operate effectively.

A total of 48 new and returning GOP Senators voted. Retired Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse missed the vote to stay home after his office said his wife was recovering from a non-threatening seizure.

The senators also elected the other GOP leadership posts. McConnell’s top positions remained stable, with Sen. John Thune, RS.D., as GOP whip and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in third place as GOP conference chair. Republican Montana Senator Steve Daines was elected to take over the campaign operation from Scott.

Scott’s challenge, who was urged by Trump to face McConnell, escalated a long-simmering feud between Scott, who led the Senate Republican campaign arm that year, and McConnell over the party’s approach to regaining the Senate majority.

Uneasy conservatives in the chamber have criticized McConnell’s handling of the election and his iron grip on the Republican faction in the Senate.

Trump has been urging the party to drop McConnell since the Senate leader delivered a scathing speech blaming then-President Trump for the Jan. 6 riot in the US Capitol.

McConnell has vigorously pushed back, attributing Republican problems to what he has described as “candidate quality” after many of his favorite candidates in the vote were replaced by Trump-backed Republicans.

McConnell said Republicans fielded the kind of candidates that “terrified” independent and moderate voters.

Those voters felt that “we didn’t handle issues responsibly and spent too much time on negativity, attacks and chaos,” McConnell said earlier this week. “They were scared.”

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, who is leading efforts with Cruz to get the election postponed, spoke for some time Wednesday, as did his Utah ally Sen. Mike Lee, according to people familiar with the private meeting. The question I asked both leadership candidates was, ‘What issues are we willing to fight on,'” Cruz said.

Among the many reasons Scott listed for a challenge was that the Republicans had compromised too much with the Democrats in the last Congress — producing bills that President Joe Biden has called successes and which the Democrats will vote for in the 2022 election continued.

The feud between Scott and McConnell has been raging for months, simmering as election results showed there would not be a Republican Senate wave, as Scott had predicted, so senior Republican strategists, not empowered to discuss internal affairs by name, and insisted on anonymity.

The feud began not long after Scott took over the party committee after the 2020 election. Many in the party viewed his rise as an attempt to build his national political profile and donor network ahead of a potential presidential bid in 2024. Some were angered by committee promotional materials that focused heavily on Scott’s own biography while focusing less on the candidates up for election.

Then came Scott’s release earlier this year of an 11-point plan that called for a modest tax hike for many of America’s lowest-paid, while also opening the door to cuts to Social Security and Medicare, which McConnell was quick to dismiss, though he declined to have one of his own offer an agenda.

The feud was fueled in part by shaky faith in Scott’s leadership, as well as poor finances at the committee, which a senior Republican adviser said was $20 million in debt.

The Democrats have postponed their internal election until after Thanksgiving.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. Learn more about the issues and factors at play in the midterms at https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections.

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