Mitch McConnell facing pressure to step aside immediately: ‘Why wait?’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is facing pressure from House and Senate Republicans to step down now as opposed to this fall after the top Senate Republican announced he planned to leave leadership in November.

McConnell said on Wednesday he would serve his last term as Republican leader until November, with elections planned shortly after and a new leader taking the helm in January. However, hard-line conservatives in both chambers are pushing the Kentucky Republican to step aside now, particularly those whose relationships with McConnell have soured in recent months.

Among those calling for McConnell to depart from leadership immediately is Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), a rising star among Republicans who has had a rocky partnership with McConnell for many months. 

“I called on McConnell to step down over a year ago,” Hawley said in a post to X. “This is good news. But why wait so long – we need new leadership now.”

McConnell has led Republicans in the Senate since 2006, winning nine straight elections to maintain his position since then. Last year, he defeated Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who challenged him for the party leadership position. Scott has already indicated he may run to replace McConnell this fall, saying he has “long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate.”

On the House side, the Freedom Caucus released a statement calling McConnell the Democrats’ “Co-Majority Leader.”

“Our thoughts are with our Democrat colleagues in the Senate on the retirement of their Co-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ukraine),” the caucus said. “No need to wait till November … Senate Republicans should IMMEDIATELY elect a *Republican* Minority Leader.”

McConnell’s standing with some right-flank Republicans has faltered in recent months, particularly due to his unwavering support of Ukraine in its war against Russia. GOP senators rebuked McConnell and other Republican leaders in early February for their support of a Ukraine-border bill that ultimately sank in the Senate. Eventually, the upper chamber was able to pass a foreign aid supplemental bill, which has received severe backlash in the House for failing to acknowledge what they say is a lack of attentiveness at the southern border.

“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,” McConnell said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who has floated ideas for McConnell to step down in recent weeks, thanked McConnell for his “long and honorable tenure” as leader in a statement to the Washington Examiner, adding that he “respects his judgment” in choosing to step down. It is unclear whether he will support fellow senators like Hawley in calling for elections sooner rather than later.

However, McConnell said he will continue serving as senator for Kentucky and will continue to face his opposition the way he always does.

Several members who have repeatedly called for new leadership have also criticized McConnell for being “out of touch” with voters. The most likely members in line to replace McConnell are the “Three Johns”: Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), and John Cornyn (R-TX). If more than one senator decides to run for leader, it could shape up to be the most competitive Senate leadership election since the 1990s, per NPR.

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Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, celebrated McConnell’s announcement on X and endorsed Scott.

“Mitch McConnell stepping down provides a great opportunity for true conservative leadership in the Senate,” Good said. “@SenRickScott would make a great Republican leader.”

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