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Senate newcomer seeks to replace McConnell as leader

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida wants to align the GOP caucus with former President Donald Trump

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill, Feb. 6. Associated Press/Photo by Jose Luis Magana

Senate newcomer seeks to replace McConnell as leader

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., launched a bid this week to replace Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as the GOP leader in the Senate. McConnell, 82, who has led his party longer than anyone else in the history of the chamber, announced earlier this year he plans to step down from the role after the November elections.

Almost immediately, Sens. John Thune of South Dakota and John Cornyn of Texas jumped into the race to replace McConnell. Scott is now the third challenger for the job.

Republicans will choose their new leader when the 119th Congress starts in January 2025. The winner must secure a simple majority of the party’s support. Republicans currently hold 49 Senate seats, but that may change in November, when 34 Senate seats are up for election.

Who is Rick Scott?

Scott, 71, was first elected to the Senate in 2019. He is by far the most junior senator vying for McConnell’s role. Thune has served in the Senate since 2005 and Cornyn since 2002. Thune is now the party whip, the next in line in party leadership behind McConnell. He previously held the chairmanship of the Senate Republican Conference. Cornyn served as party whip before Thune from 2013 to 2019.

Prior to his time in Congress, Scott served two terms as governor of Florida.

As senator, Scott has emphasized fiscal conservatism, voting against bills that kept the government open at past spending levels and increased the debt ceiling. He tried to assume party leadership in 2022, mounting the first real challenge to McConnell’s leadership in 15 years. At the time, Scott articulated deep dissatisfactions with McConnell’s transparency and tactics. Senate Republicans picked McConnell by a vote of 37-10. One senator voted present.

Why is McConnell leaving?

While McConnell said he intends to complete his term in the Senate, which runs through 2026, he faced pressure to step down from leadership due his age and increasing friction with former President Donald Trump.

McConnell’s age and mental fitness came under scrutiny last year when he suffered a fall that forced him to take extended time away from the Senate. When he returned, a set of highly visible gaffes and prolonged pauses while speaking prompted questions of whether he would be able to continue the job.

Policy differences between McConnell and Trump compounded the pressure on the minority leader to step down. While McConnell championed aid to Israel and Ukraine, much of the Republican Party followed Trump’s calls to slow down financial commitments to foreign military engagements. Some members, most notably Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, openly called for new leadership, citing a widening rift between McConnell and the rest of the party.

What would Scott change if chosen?

Scott has called on Republicans in the Senate to rally around Trump’s agenda. Scott says he has spoken with Trump about his bid, and he believes he has the former president’s support.

In a letter to fellow Republicans on Wednesday, Scott laid out a vision for a more aggressive and open Senate GOP.

“I think we need to be way more transparent with each other and the American people,” Scott wrote. “There have been far too many backroom deals cut in secret. We are routinely surprised with legislation and asked to vote on it without having had any input or even time to review it.”

He laid out eight commitments, pledging, among other things, to force Democrats to advance Republican priorities, engage with Republicans in the House of Representatives, and step down after six years in the role.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


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