McConnell overcomes leadership challenge after lackluster midterm results


Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined at left by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, speaks to reporters following a lengthy closed-door meeting about the consequences of the GOP performance in the midterm election, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) J. Scott Applewhite/AP

McConnell overcomes leadership challenge after lackluster midterm results

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Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has once again been elected to lead the Senate GOP conference after a contentious vote in which the minority leader was challenged by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), chairman of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm.

Scott’s challenge marked the first contested race for Senate leader for either party since 1996 but is reminiscent of 2014, when Democratic leader Harry Reid (D-NV) faced six “no” votes in his leadership race after Democrats lost the Senate.


In the past, McConnell has always won the full support of his conference, often by acclamation. On Wednesday, the vote was 37-10, with one senator voting present, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who backed Scott, told reporters after the vote. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AK) and John Barrasso (R-WY) made nominating speeches for McConnell, while Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) nominated Scott.

The conference vote stretched well past three hours before ballots were cast for minority leader. Asked why the meeting was taking so long, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds told reporters Republicans were engaged in “good debate.”

The election solidifies McConnell’s legacy, as he will become the longest-serving party leader in Senate history during the next Congress, eclipsing the tenure of Mike Mansfield (D-MT).

Senate Republicans spent roughly three hours on Tuesday in a GOP conference lunch reflecting on the party’s lackluster performance in the midterm elections, exposing tensions among Republicans over what exactly went wrong. The party was not able to flip any Democratic seats and will serve in the minority next session.

Over the past week, GOP leadership has faced calls to delay the conference election until after a Dec. 6 Georgia runoff is decided, but a motion introduced to postpone the vote failed 16 to 32 on Wednesday morning.

Scott at one point predicted Republicans had a pathway to a 55-seat majority and was critical of McConnell, who said late this summer that the fight for the majority would be a incredibly close. The feud that developed between the two senators centered on a disagreement over messaging; McConnell wanted a referendum on President Joe Biden’s agenda, while Scott also wanted to promote a platform of what a Republican Senate would do. Scott introduced his own agenda earlier this year, which McConnell quickly criticized for including tax increases and potentially sunsetting popular safety net programs. Scott has said a lack of a unified agenda cost the party.

Former President Donald Trump, who has publicly attacked McConnell, pushed Scott to run against him.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, McConnell’s explanation for the party’s loss came down to candidates getting “crushed by independent voters.” The minority leader attempted to warn his conference about “candidate quality” earlier this cycle, a reference to GOP nominees endorsed by Trump.


“As you can all recall, I did not predict a red wave. We never saw that in our polling,” he said Tuesday.

McConnell, who has balanced the interests of his party with occasional flexibility to cut deals with Democrats, has been known for his tight grip over the GOP caucus and is not often the subject of public criticism from Republicans. McConnell reshaped the federal judiciary during his Trump-era drive to remake the courts, confirming more than 230 judicial nominees over four years.

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