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McConnell reelected Senate GOP leader, overcoming challenge from Scott

McConnell reelected Senate GOP leader
Mitch McConnell is reelected as Senate minority leader 04:09

Washington — Senate Republicans reelected Sen. Mitch McConnell to another term as minority leader, his office said, defeating a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida in a leadership battle that exposed divisions within a party still reeling from a disappointing showing in the midterm elections.

GOP senators met for more than three hours Wednesday to elect their leadership posts for the new Congress, which will be seated in January. McConnell won 37 votes to Scott's 10, with one senator voting "present," GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said.

"I don't own this job. Anybody who wants to run for it can feel free to do so," McConnell told reporters after the vote. "I'm not in any way offended by having an opponent or having a few votes in opposition."

The Kentucky Republican said he's "proud" of the vote count, and reflected that the meeting gave the GOP conference the opportunity to discuss their differences, as well assess the midterm elections and what is to come in the next contest.

"Everybody in our conference agrees we want to give it our best shot, finish the job in Georgia, and concentrate on that for the next month," McConnell said, referencing the Dec. 6 runoff election between Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker.

Some senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, unsuccessfully sought to delay the leadership elections until the results of the runoff in Georgia's Senate race are known. Sixteen senators voted to delay the elections, versus 32 who voted to move forward, a source familiar with the matter said.

Senate GOP Meets To Vote On Leadership Roles
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gives a thumbs-up as he leaves a meeting with Senate Republicans at the Capitol on Nov. 16, 2022. Getty Images

In addition to reelecting McConnell as GOP leader, the Republicans also elected Sen. John Thune of South Dakota for GOP whip, Barrasso as conference chair, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa as Republican Policy Committee chair and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana as incoming chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the Senate GOP's campaign arm. None of the candidates faced opponents.

Scott, the outgoing NRSC chair who has come under fire for the committee's strategy in the midterm elections, said Tuesday he would challenge McConnell for the role of minority leader because Republicans "must start saying what we are for, not just what we are against." 

"Republican voters expect and deserve to know our plan to promote and advance conservative values," Scott wrote in a letter to colleagues. "We need to listen to their calls for action and start governing in Washington like we campaign back at home. There is a Republican Party that is alive and well in communities across America. It is time there is one in Washington, D.C., too."

Following his failed bid, the Florida senator said the GOP conference can make progress toward helping American families by working together to advance conservative policies.

"We need to stand strong on our principles and be accountable to those that elected us to actually get things done that will benefit American families and protect the future prosperity of our nation," Scott said in a statement. "Although the results of today's elections weren't what we hoped for, this is far from the end of our fight to make Washington work."

McConnell has been the Republican leader since 2006, steering the party through stints in the majority and minority. With his reelection to another leadership term, McConnell is poised to overtake Sen. Michael Mansfield, the Democratic leader from 1961 to 1977, as the longest-serving party head.

McConnell was dismissive of Scott's challenge after a lengthy meeting of GOP senators on Tuesday, saying "the outcome is pretty clear."

As head of the NRSC, Scott oversaw the GOP's failed effort to win a majority in the Senate in last week's midterm elections, and frequently clashed with McConnell over the party's campaign message and strategy. He is also an ally of former President Donald Trump, who encouraged Senate Republicans to oust McConnell in the wake of the elections.

During the closed-door meeting Tuesday, two Republican senators called for an audit of the NRSC and how it spent its resources, according to Politico. But Scott suggested in a statement an audit was unnecessary and called for the McConnell-aligned groups Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) and One Nation to be transparent with their spending.

"The NRSC has done an annual independent audit every year since at least 2014. When I took over, I immediately became aware that hundreds of thousands of dollars in unauthorized and improper bonuses were paid to outgoing staff after the majority was lost in 2020," Scott said. "When that's your starting point, you work really hard to make sure there are transparent processes and we are more than happy to sit down with any member of the caucus to walk them through our spending. We hope SLF and One Nation do the same."

The tensions between the former president and McConnell reached a fever pitch after the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, which McConnell said Trump was "morally responsible" for provoking. Since then, Trump has frequently lobbed insults at the Republican leader, calling him "third-rate" and an "old crow."

Trump launched his third White House bid Tuesday night from his South Florida estate at Mar-a-Lago. Asked about the former president's latest presidential campaign, McConnell said he planned to "stay out of" the 2024 Republican primary.

The clash between McConnell and Scott began soon after the Florida Republican took over as head of the NRSC and escalated after Scott released an 11-point "Rescue America" plan, which quickly became fodder for President Biden and Democrats in the run-up to the midterm elections.

McConnell swiftly rejected Scott's plan, namely proposals requiring low-income Americans to pay some federal income tax — effectively raising taxes on roughly 40% of Americans — and calling for federal legislation to sunset after five years. The proposal was a gift for Democrats, who hammered Republicans for potentially putting Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block.

"We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years," McConnell said in March. "That will not be part of a Republican Senate majority agenda."

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