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Sen. John Thune, McConnell's No. 2, teases bid for Senate GOP leader

McConnell's move marks seismic shift for GOP
McConnell's end as leader marks seismic shift for Republican Party 06:02

Washington — Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, teased a widely anticipated bid for Senate GOP leader in a pair of interviews on Monday, hinting at an upcoming bid to replace Sen. Mitch McConnell. 

"I hope to be," Thune said in an interview with South Dakota's KELOLAND News, when asked whether he wants to become the next leader. "I'm going to do everything I can to convince my colleagues. They're the voters. They're the ones who will ultimately make the decision."

McConnell, the current leader, announced last week that he would step down from his post after the November elections.

In a separate interview with Dakota News Now, Thune said he is interested in the role but stressed that the leadership election doesn't happen until after November's general election. He said he's meeting with his Senate colleagues to hear "about what they want to see in the next leader."

"Any transition is a chance for a reset," he said. "In my view, this is a chance for a reset and I'd like to be a part of it."

Thune, 63, has served as the Republican whip since 2021. The South Dakota Republican was first elected to the chamber in 2004, after three terms in the House. He's one of at least three senators who have long been seen as possible replacements.

Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.
Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, speaks at the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024.  Valerie Plesch/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Last week, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas became the first to announce he is running for the top GOP leadership post. Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming is expected to do the same. Some on Capitol Hill view Thune as the favorite for leader, since he has served under McConnell and enjoyed similar support in the conference.

Thune said that he's "prepared to lead" an effort to usher in a new generation of "consistent, principled conservative leadership" in the Senate, though he stopped short of announcing an official bid. CBS News reached out to Thune's office for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

At least two Senate Republicans have already made their support for Thune's likely leadership bid clear. Appearing on the Sunday talk shows this week, both Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma and Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota indicated that they would support Thune should he launch a bid for leader. 

But an outside factor could have a significant impact on the race: former President Donald Trump. Thune is considered the most moderate of the three senators who will likely headline the race for leader. Last month, he became the latest member of GOP leadership to endorse Trump's White House bid. McConnell remains the sole holdout among top leadership. 

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