Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is in trouble again. The soon-to-be-82-year-old lawmaker has seen many challenges to his leadership and has brushed them all aside.
McConnell’s enemies are portraying the fracas over the now-dead border bill as a spectacular failure. They are trying to use the issue to force McConnell to resign.
In the sense that there’s no border bill that his colleagues in the Senate will vote for and no funding for Ukraine that a sizable majority of Republicans in both the House and the Senate want, this was, indeed, a failure.
But unlike the House where just one member can challenge the speaker by presenting a motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, the Senate leader is elected for each two-year Congress. McConnell can’t be ousted procedurally until the 119th Congress convenes in January 2025 and new leadership elections are held.
Those who are calling for McConnell’s head are the usual suspects who have been on his case since most of them arrived in the Senate: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), who ran for the Senate promising to oppose McConnell.
“I’ve had a small group of persistent critics the whole time I’ve been in this job. They had their shot,” McConnell said. Indeed, Scott challenged him in 2023 and didn’t come close to unseating him.
McConnell is a compromiser. This is not the age of compromise in the Senate, so McConnell has angered a lot of more conservative senators as well as getting on the wrong side of Donald Trump. McConnell excoriated Trump after Jan. 6, 2021, for what he saw as irresponsible behavior by the president. The two haven’t spoken since.
McConnell may not be Trump’s friend, but Trump is going to need him if he’s elected. Trump knows that all those Trump-appointed judges whom the Senate approved are sitting on the bench largely because of McConnell’s skill in getting them confirmed despite Democratic roadblocks. And no senator can manipulate the rules and knows parliamentary procedure as well as McConnell.
If Republicans win the Senate this fall, it will be due in large part to McConnell’s Super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, which poured record amounts of cash into GOP Senate candidate coffers in 2022 and is poised to do it again.
But none of this matters because Trump hates McConnell and more conservative members see him as a “squish.”
“The reason we ended up where we are [on the border bill] is the members decided, since it was never going to become law, they didn’t want to deal with it,” McConnell said in the interview with Politico. “I don’t know who is at fault here, in terms of trying to cast public blame.”
At Tuesday’s party meeting, Cruz told McConnell that the border deal was indefensible, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) questioned why the GOP would walk away from it, according to two people familiar with the meeting. That followed a Monday evening private meeting where Johnson got into a near-shouting match with Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), one of several senators who has tried to rebut Trump’s influence on the party.
Young played down the spat afterward: “Ron and I have a very good relationship. We can be very candid with one another.”
McConnell’s loud critics are among those most responsible for raising opposition to the border deal, attacking its provisions while the text was being finalized. They raised such a ruckus that none of McConnell’s potential successors as leader — Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Thune (R-S.D.) — offered to support it.
The base hates McConnell. That’s not going to change. If Trump wins, we can expect McConnell to step down from his leadership post and leave the Senate.