Mitch McConnell To Step Down As Senate Republican Leader

“One of life’s underappreciated moments is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter," the 82-year-old said in an emotional speech on Wednesday.
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WASHINGTON ― Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his intention to step down from Senate leadership in November, underscoring the tectonic shift in the Republican Party in recent years away from Ronald Reagan toward the tone and vision of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking from the Senate floor on Wednesday, McConnell grew emotional and reflected on his age and the direction of his party under Trump, the likely 2024 GOP presidential nominee. The Kentucky senator’s influence in his conference has waned in recent years and he has had several health scares that slowed him considerably.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults ― discerning Senate politics is not one of them,” the 82-year-old senator said on the floor.

“One of life’s underappreciated moments is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter. This will be my last term as Republican leader in the Senate,” he added.

McConnell was first elected to the upper chamber in 1984 during Reagan’s administration. He quickly moved up the ranks and became party leader in 2007 after Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist stepped down from the post, earning a reputation as a ruthless Machiavellian tactician. Last year, he fulfilled a longtime goal by becoming the longest-serving Senate leader in history.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks to a Republican luncheon after announcing that he will step down as Senate Republican leader in November on Feb. 28.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks to a Republican luncheon after announcing that he will step down as Senate Republican leader in November on Feb. 28.
via Associated Press

The Kentucky Republican’s tenure as GOP leader has been extremely consequential. He reshaped the federal judiciary with hundreds of conservative judges, denied President Barack Obama the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, and helped Trump to appoint three conservative justices, shifting the balance of power on the high court for the first time in decades. The Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2022 wouldn’t be possible without him, and conservatives are poised to win more legal victories in the years to come.

On the legislative front, there are few laws that Congress has passed in the past two decades that McConnell hasn’t shaped or influenced. He’s been one of the biggest opponents of campaign finance reform, arguing instead for more money in politics. He helped push through Trump’s 2017 tax cuts into law, backed Joe Biden’s infrastructure overhaul, and argued fiercely for U.S. aid to Ukraine and other allies abroad.

But a big part of McConnell’s legacy is his subservience to Trump, who has hurled racist attacks against Elaine Chao, his wife. Although he called Trump morally responsible for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, McConnell shielded the ex-president from being convicted in his second Senate impeachment trial, which would have barred Trump from being able to run for office again. There are now reports that he may consider endorsing Trump’s 2024 presidential run.

“He didn’t show the ultimate courage, which would have been to vote to convict and to find enough other senators so we that wouldn’t be back in this nightmare again with Donald Trump,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), an impeachment manager, told reporters when asked about McConnell’s decision on Wednesday.

It’s not clear yet who will replace McConnell as GOP leader. Possible successors include Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), Senate GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

All three men have different styles and relationships with Trump, the man who they will have to partner in office next year if he returns to the White House. Thune recently endorsed Trump after criticizing him frequently over tone and tactics. Barrasso is viewed as most aligned with Trump and the conservatives in the GOP conference. Cornyn is viewed as more of a dealmaker aligned with McConnell.

McConnell said Wednesday that he intends to serve out his current term until it ends in 2026.

“I still have enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics, and I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm with which they’ve become accustomed,” he said.

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