Florida Sen. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he will mount a bid to unseat Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, after a disappointing GOP showing in last week’s midterm elections.
Former President Donald Trump — a longtime critic of McConnell — urged Scott to challenge the Senate leader, according to reports from the Associated Press.
Scott won his first Senate election in 2018, but he’s been rising rapidly. This year, he led the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
Like Trump, Scott has criticized McConnell over his approach to reclaiming a Senate majority.
“If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me,” Scott said in a letter to Senate Republicans offering himself as a protest vote against McConnell in leadership elections on Wednesday.
Restive conservatives in the chamber have lashed out at McConnell’s handling of the election, as well as his iron grip over the Senate Republican caucus. The leadership vote was scheduled for Wednesday morning, though it could be postponed if Texas Sen. Ted Cruz succeeds with his effort to delay it until after a Georgia runoff election in December.
A delay could give leverage to Scott supporters who are hoping their clout will grow after the outcome of races in Georgia and Alaska. In Georgia, NFL star Herschel Walker is challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock. In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican, faces a Trump-endorsed challenger in an instant runoff.
Yet it appears unlikely that their numbers could grow enough to put McConnell’s job in jeopardy, given his entrenchment in the role. And opposition to McConnell is hardly new. Trump has been pushing for the party to dump McConnell ever since the Senate leader gave a speech on the Senate floor calling Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot.
Still, it represents an unusually direct challenge to the authority of McConnell, who is set to become the longest-serving Senate leader in history if he wins another leadership term.
“We may or may not be voting tomorrow, but I think the outcome is pretty clear,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “I want to repeat again: I have the votes; I will be elected. The only issue is whether we do it sooner or later.”
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A senator becomes a party leader by winning votes from a majority of senators in his or her own party. After Georgia’s runoff election, the GOP will hold either 50 or 51 seats in the Senate, and so Scott would need 26 votes.
During the last Congress, McConnell faced no challenges to his position as minority leader.
McConnell said smugly on Tuesday, “I welcome the contest.”
Take a look —
Sen. McConnell on Rick Scott challenging him for Senate Republican Leader: "I don't own this job. Anybody in the conference is certainly entitled to challenge me. I welcome the contest." pic.twitter.com/a7HUL7uRBp
— CSPAN (@cspan) November 15, 2022
Scott was one in a small group of senators who wrote a letter to the Republican caucus over the weekend asking for a delay in this week’s leadership elections “to have serious discussions within our conference as to why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”
Republican senators debated the path forward during their regular party lunch on Tuesday. Inside the room, roughly 20 senators spoke. McConnell reportedly shot “candid” and “lively” barbs at Scott. The Senate leader argued about the midterms, the quality of the GOP candidates who ran and their differences over fundraising.
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The other senators made their individual cases for either Scott or McConnell.
Some members defended McConnell, including Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a self-described moderate Republican who questioned the Florida senator’s management of the NRSC, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
As the leader of the National Republican Senatorial Committee following a disappointing election, Collins said, Scott failed to achieve the aims of frustrated Republicans and Trump.
“If you’re going to make this about assessing blame for losing an election, I don’t know how the NRSC chairman gets off the hook,” said North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer. “I think that would be the obvious problem he would have.”
Last week, McConnell’s super PAC cut Scott out of their efforts to boost turnout in the Georgia runoff, with the super PAC teaming up with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s political operation instead.
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Other senators slammed McConnell and made their cases for Scott.
Ron Johnson, the newly re-elected senator from Wisconsin, tweeted that he would be voting for Scott.
Scott “disagrees with the approach that Mitch has taken in this election, and for the last couple of years he made that clear,” said Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who has called for a delay and to oust McConnell. “Senator McConnell criticized Senator Scott’s management of the NRSC. I imagine we’ll hear more of that tomorrow.”
Among the many reasons Scott listed for mounting a challenge is that Republicans had compromised too much with Democrats in the last Congress — producing bills that President Joe Biden has counted as successes and that Democrats ran on in the 2022 election.
Some Republicans have taken special issue with McConnell’s involvement in Biden’s Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a bill for gun control.
“We got to have a plan for the American public and if we don’t we can expect much more of the same,” said Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who is supporting Scott’s challenge of McConnell.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.