McConnell, who was re-elected to the post by a 37-10 vote, has spent more than a decade keeping his conference largely in step, but it’s not yet clear how the changing makeup of the chamber will affect his ability to lead.
“This job is not mine,” McConnell said after winning the election by secret ballot following a nearly three-and-a-half-hour discussion in which some senators raised objections to his style of speaking. leadership. “I’m not offended at having an opponent or having a few voices in opposition.
“And I’m pretty proud of 37-10,” he added.
McConnell has faced and survived tumult within his caucus in the past. He clashed with Jim DeMint, a former South Carolina senator associated with the Tea Party movement, whose political allies later funded an unsuccessful primary challenge against McConnell in Kentucky. And on Wednesday, McConnell said he faced grimmer political outcomes than the 2022 midterm elections had before.
“I was here in 2008 – talking about getting banged up,” he said. “We were 40. Forty. It took us six years to get out of the hole. I’m disappointed with the result this year, but 50 is much better than 40.”
Still, many Republicans are eager for more of a say in McConnell’s decision-making, which could spell headaches for the leader as he leads the minority in a presidential election cycle. .
“I think what you’ll see is more activism from across the conference,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (RN.D.) said. Several members expressed frustration at being left out of “backroom deals” on legislation and wanted to see a more inclusive process within the conference, he added.
“Mitch took it to heart,” Cramer said of the review.
Scott and McConnell’s allies have traded insults since Senate Republicans failed to secure a single midterm seat. McConnell warned last summer that Senate Republicans had a “candidate quality” problem, after Trump backed some first-time candidates in key battlegrounds who struggled in their races. Scott, the chairman of the Republican National Senate Committee, criticized McConnell for not releasing a Republican agenda before the midterms, and Trump also sought to blame the longtime leader.
Others raised questions about Scott’s handling of the NRSC and demanded an audit or post-mortem of how he handled the funds this cycle.
Those tensions led to the first challenge against a Senate leader from either party since 1996. But McConnell’s eventual victory has never been in doubt, even though a few of its members are more virulent in their criticisms of him in relation to the past.
“He’s incredibly thick and resilient, but he’s also fiercely competitive,” said Brian McGuire, a former McConnell chief of staff, who predicted McConnell would be “energized” by the skirmish. He pointed out that Republicans have re-elected McConnell as leader again and again even as the party has changed tremendously over the past 15 years.
At a press conference after the vote, McConnell said he briefed members on the “tools” they could use to force caucus talks, and pointed out that the group meets three times a week. week, when any member could raise concerns.
But the leader clarified that he did not plan to change his way of doing things.
“There is nothing to negotiate,” he said.
McConnell is also losing longtime allies next year due to retirements. Republican Senators Rob Portman (Ohio), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), Richard Burr (NC) and Richard C. Shelby (Ala.) are all retiring and, in some cases, are replaced by Republicans who raised questions about McConnell’s leadership.
Eric Schmitt, who replaces Blunt, distanced himself from McConnell over the summer, saying he didn’t approve of him for leadership.
The incumbent senators were not only loyal soldiers, but many of them could also be counted on to take the tough votes needed to keep the government going. Raising the debt ceiling, for example, is necessary to avoid defaulting on federal government obligations, but can be used as a weapon in a Republican primary.
Scott, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), all conservative firebrands, were the most vocal in their criticism of the leader . . But some more surprising voices, including the senses. Lindsey O. Graham (SC) and Marco Rubio (Florida) also criticized McConnell or earlier called for a postponement of the leadership election, suggesting McConnell faces a broader note of challenge.
“We have to do something different,” Hawley said after Wednesday’s vote.
Scott said he would continue to fight after his loss and argued that Republicans have yet to come up with a clear policy agenda. He announced his challenge to McConnell on Tuesday during a broadcast of hours of grievances among party members frustrated by their inability to win back the chamber.
“My resolve to stand up for what Republicans across this country stand for has never been stronger than it is today,” Scott said in a statement, and vowed to continue fighting for reform. social security and medicare and other priorities. Democrats used an earlier platform released by Scott that included reauthorization votes for those programs and tax hikes on low-income people to attack Republican candidates midterm.
McConnell’s victory came just a day after Trump announced his re-election offer. The leader appeared to criticize the former president without naming him, saying moderate voters were turned away from the party because they associated him with “chaos” and “negativity”. He said he wants to achieve unspecified but bipartisan goals in the next Congress if President Biden is willing to work with Republicans.
“A Windy Place to Be”
McConnell has been the Senate Republican leader for nearly 16 years and will become the longest-serving Senate leader for either party in the next Congress.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), an ally of McConnell, said criticism comes with the territory. “It has a lot to do with being a leader. Someone has to make a decision and all 50 senators will disagree on any given decision. »
Cornyn also noted that adopting a detailed agenda, as Scott advocated, would be difficult for the conference, given that senators focus on different issues depending on their states.
Trent Lott, a former senator and majority leader who later served as a minority whip under McConnell, said dealing with criticism from fellow Republicans was only part of the job.
“House and Senate leadership in Washington is a windy place,” Lott said. “Just look at the record of what happened to former speakers and former majority leaders. It’s pretty hard to ride this bucking bronco over six or seven years old.
Paul Kane, Leigh Ann Caldwell and Theodoric Meyer contributed to this report.