Mitch McConnell wins election by secret ballot to continue leading Republicans in the Senate


Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell won a leadership election by secret ballot after days of finger pointing Republican midterm losses, making him the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history.

McConnell defeated Florida Sen. Rick Scott, his first challenger in his 15 years at the top of his conference.

McConnell won the leadership vote 37-10-1 and told a news conference he was “pretty proud” of the result.

“I don’t own this job. Anyone who wants to run for that can feel free to do so,” McConnell said. “I am in no way offended by having an opponent or having a few voices in opposition.”

Asked whether the challenge to his leadership makes him more or less likely to step down after next year, when he will break the record for longest-serving Senate leader, McConnell said: “Look, I’m not going anywhere.”

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming officially announced the GOP leadership slate after the election, including that Republican Sen. John Thune will continue as whip. Montana Sen. Steve Daines will replace Scott as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s Senate campaign arm. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst will become the next political chair, replacing Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, who is retiring at the end of his term. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will become vice chair of the GOP conference.

The race for Senate GOP leader underscored the simmering discontent among Republican senators who have failed to regain the majority despite a favorable national political environment.

“I voted for change,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who voted for Scott. “I accept the results of the conference and hope we can be better.”

The Florida Republican said in a statement that he would continue.

“While the results of today’s election were not what we had hoped for, this is far from the end of our fight to make Washington work,” Scott said.

Several Republican senators came out of the meeting saying the open dialogue was cathartic.

“This was the best conversation we’ve had as a group in the Senate since I’ve been here,” said Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Brown, who endorsed Scott over McConnell. “It was interactive. It clarified what we were going to be about as a faction.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the GOP leadership team, said he understands some of the frustrations members feel about the Senate process, which he says is not as inclusive as it used to be.

“I think there’s a desire for better communication and more collaboration and more input,” Cornyn said. “People are not elected to the United States Senate to be shut out of the discussion, and that’s essentially what happens when bills are written in the leadership conference.

Brown and Cornyn were tasked with counting the secret ballots. Cornyn joked that they had to “make sure there was no mischief”.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley said the lengthy meeting was “lower intensity” than another on Tuesday, joking that it was someone’s strategy to make Wednesday’s room “freezing cold.”

After Tuesday’s tense, hours-long meeting — the Republicans’ first in-person meeting since their disappointing midterm elections — Scott told reporters he plans to challenge McConnell for the top job.

“I’m running for leader,” the Florida Republican told reporters. “I’m not happy with the status quo and that’s why I think we should have an option.”

Throughout this year, Scott and McConnell have had a long-simmering messaging conflict, prospects and how to spend resources this election cycle. The two disagree about the quality of their candidates, whether to run in the GOP primary, whether to present a platform or keep the focus on President Joe Biden and where to run.

After losing Wednesday’s leadership election, Scott said he would continue to advance his plan to “save America,” a program that has been criticized by McConnell and President Joe Biden, who said he would target Social Security and Medicare.

“I will never stop fighting to finally take action to protect Social Security and Medicare and keep the promise of these programs for our children and grandchildren,” Scott said in his statement. “I never thought for a moment that this fight would be easy, but I am optimistic that together Republicans can save America with the principles that unite us against the dangerous path Democrats have taken it down.”

Wednesday’s vote comes after Scott and a handful of conservative senators called for the leadership election to be delayed until after the Georgia runoff, underscoring Senate Republicans’ frustration with the outcome of the 2022 election. That effort to delay the vote failed on time of the closed-door meeting, even though 16 GOP senators voted to delay the GOP leadership election, according to a source familiar with the matter.

And while Scott had little chance of succeeding in his bid to become leader, his declaration was accepted as a protest vote.

Asked by CNN why McConnell won, Hawley, who voted for Scott, expressed sarcasm.

“Because the conference doesn’t want to change course,” Hawley replied. “They want to do what we do. It works so well.”

During a closed-door meeting with fellow Republicans on Tuesday, Scott got into a heated exchange with McConnell.

“Sen. Scott disagrees with the approach that Mitch has taken in this election and over the last several years, and he has made that clear, and Senator McConnell has criticized Senator Scott’s management of the NRSC,” Hawley told reporters about the exchange.

Cornyn, meanwhile, said after leaving Tuesday’s closed-door meeting that he was eager to overcome differences with fellow Republicans and hold the leadership election.

He said he thinks Republicans’ focus should be on helping Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker in his Dec. 6 runoff against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“I think the best thing we can do is put this behind us,” Cornyn told CNN. “Because you guys are going to keep writing about it for the next three weeks, and it’s going to distract from the Georgia runoff, which I think should be our undivided focus.”

For Democrats, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that their caucus election will be Dec. 8, according to a source familiar with the Senate Democratic luncheon on Wednesday.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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