WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Mitch McConnell won re-election as Republican leader Wednesday, quashing a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the GOP Senate campaign leader criticized after a disappointing performance in the midterm elections who kept Senate control with Democrats.
McConnell, of Kentucky, easily brushed off Scott’s challenge in the first-ever attempt to oust him after many years as GOP leader. The vote was 37 to 10, the senators said, with another voting senator present. McConnell is set 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-door 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 lunch of GOP senators on Tuesday, Scott and McConnell had exchanged what their colleagues described as “candid” and “animated” barbs. The 10 Republican senators who joined Wednesday’s uprising against McConnell and voted for Scott included some of the most conservative figures and those aligned with former President Donald Trump.
“Why do I think he won?” said Sen. 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 in the aftermath of the midterm elections that left the party divided over Trump’s hold on the party. Accommodation GOP leader Kevin McCarthy won the nomination of colleagues to run for the presidency of the Chamber, with Republicans seizing the majority in the House on Wednesday, but he faced stiff opposition from a core of right-wing Republicans unconvinced of his leadership.
Scott said in a statement that while “today’s election results were not what we hoped for, it is far from the end of our fight to make Washington work.”
Retreating to the Capitol’s Old Senate Chamber for the private vote, senators first considered, then rejected, a motion by Scott’s ally, Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, to delay votes to the leadership until after the second round of the December 6 elections 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 “cordial discussion, but a serious discussion” about how minority Republicans can work effectively.
In all, 48 new and old GOP senators cast ballots. Retired Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska missed the stay-at-home vote after his office said his wife was recovering from a non-threatening seizure.
The senators also elected the other GOP leadership positions. McConnell’s top positions remained steady, with Sen. John Thune, RS.D., as GOP whip, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in third place as chairman of the GOP conference. GOP. Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines was elected to take over Scott’s campaign operation.
Scott’s challenge, who has been urged by Trump to take on McConnell, has deepened a long-running feud between Scott, who led the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm this year, and McConnell over the party’s approach to trying to recover the majority in the Senate.
Wayward conservatives in the chamber have denounced McConnell’s handling of the election, as well as his iron grip on the Senate Republican caucus.
Trump has been pushing for the party to drop McConnell ever since the Senate leader delivered a scathing speech accusing then-President Trump. January 6 uprising at the United States Capitol.
McConnell pushed back forcefully, blaming Republican problems on what he called “candidate quality” after many of his favorite candidates were replaced by Trump-backed Republicans on the ballot.
McConnell said Republicans were fielding the kind of candidates that “frightened” independent and moderate voters.
These voters were of the view that “we are not dealing with issues responsibly, and we are spending too much time on negativity, attacks and chaos,” McConnell said earlier this week. “They’ve been scared.”
Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who led efforts with Cruz to postpone the election, spoke for a while on Wednesday, as did his ally Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, according to people familiar with the private meeting. The question I posed to the two leading candidates is, “What issues are we prepared to fight on,” Cruz said.
Among the many reasons Scott listed for mounting a challenge is that Republicans compromised too much with Democrats in the last Congress – producing bills that President Joe Biden considered successes and that Democrats ran in the 2022 elections.
The feud between Scott and McConnell has been going on for months and came to a head as election results showed there would be no Republican wave in the Senate as Scott predicted, according to top Republican strategists who were not authorized to discuss internal issues by name and insisted on anonymity.
The feud began shortly after Scott took over the party committee following the 2020 election. Many in the party viewed his rise as an effort to build his national political profile and donor network ahead of a potential presidential bid in 2024. Some were angered by the committee’s promotional material that was heavy on Scott’s own biography, while focusing less on the candidates running for office.
Then came Scott’s release of an 11-point plan earlier this year, which called for modest tax increases for many of the lowest-paid Americans, while opening the door to cuts in Social Security and of Medicare, which McConnell quickly repudiated even as he refused to offer his own agenda.
The feud was prompted in part by frayed confidence in Scott’s leadership, as well as the poor finances of the committee, which was $20 million in debt, according to a senior Republican consultant.
The Democrats have postponed their internal elections after Thanksgiving.
Follow AP coverage of the 2022 midterm elections at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections. And check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the midterm issues and factors at play.