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Mitch McConnell to end long tenure as top US Senate Republican

Mitch McConnell to end long tenure as top US Senate Republican

WASHINGTON - Top U.S. Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday he will step down this year from his leadership role, ending a record-setting tenure and ceding more influence to Donald Trump and the hardliners who have come to define the party.

McConnell, who has represented Kentucky in the Senate since 1985 and has been his party's leader since 2007, gleefully embraced the nickname "Grim Reaper" for his willingness to use the levers of power to stonewall Democratic goals, whether as majority leader or, as is currently the case, minority leader.

"I turned 82 last week. The end of my contributions are closer than I prefer," McConnell said on the Senate floor, his voice breaking with emotion. "Father Time remains undefeated. I'm no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues remember my name. It's time for the next generation of leadership."

His tenure of nearly 17 years as a Senate party leader is the longest on record.

McConnell played an outsized role in helping Trump cement a 6-3 conservative majority in the Supreme Court, paving the way for landmark rulings cheered by conservatives ending the recognition of a constitutional right to abortion and expanding gun rights.

That belied McConnell's personal opposition at times to Trump - particularly the then-president's conduct ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. McConnell also has continued his vocal support for trying to pass aid to Ukraine in its fight against a Russian invasion over the opposition of hardline Republican opponents allied with Trump.

Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate. McConnell said he will not run for Senate Republican leader in November's party elections, meaning he will end his time as leader when a new Congress convenes in January.

McConnell's departure from the leadership will remove a central player in negotiations with Democrats and the White House on spending deals to keep the federal government funded and avert a shutdown. His steady command of his caucus stood in contrast to relatively newly minted Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, who has struggled to lead his thin majority.


"Look at the House, where you go through leaders on a regular basis, and yet Mitch McConnell has stood the test of time," Republican Senator Mike Rounds said.

After falling at a Washington event in March, McConnell twice last summer froze up while making remarks in public, raising questions about his health and his ability to continue to carry out the duties of his high-powered job. Those concerns were not assuaged by an Aug. 31 note from the congressional physician that cleared McConnell to go on working.

He indicated that he plans to serve out the rest of his term in the Senate, which extends through January 2027. But his exit from the leadership will mark the step back of an orderly counterpart to the tumultuous approach of Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden, and the hardline House Freedom Caucus ahead of the Nov. 5 election.

Now with Republicans having to elect a new party leader, conservative pressure to hang tough against a moderate spending deal with Democrats could weigh more heavily on the budget negotiations and the leadership election.

Senators John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn and John Barrasso were expected to vie for the top party job. It was unclear what other senators might jump into the race.

McConnell announced his plans on the Senate floor the morning after Trump won the Michigan Republican primary, continuing his sweep toward the party's nomination.

"I think the Trump chapter reopening is his cue to exit stage left," a former high-ranking Senate Republican aide said when asked about the timing of McConnell's move.

Some hardline Republican House colleagues applauded his exit -- and urged him to speed it up.

"No need to wait till November ... Senate Republicans should IMMEDIATELY elect a *Republican* Minority Leader," the hardline House Freedom Caucus said on X social media. The group's chairman, Bob Good, suggested Senator Rick Scott, who had challenged McConnell for the leadership and failed after the 2022 midterm elections.

Scott told reporters: "I think there's a better way to run the Senate. So we'll see what happens in the future."


McConnell lashed out at the twice-impeached Trump for falsely claiming that widespread voting fraud cost him the 2020 election, the theme of Trump's speech shortly before his followers stormed the U.S. Capitol. McConnell voted to acquit Trump during the second Senate impeachment trial on a charge of inciting an insurrection, but alienated him in a Senate speech by asserting that Trump was "practically and morally responsible" for the Capitol riot.

"American citizens attacked their own government," McConnell said at the time. "They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth - because he was angry he'd lost an election."

McConnell's hardball approach was on display in 2016 when he orchestrated Republican stonewalling of Democratic then-President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

He argued that it was too close to the presidential election that November and that voters should be left to decide the high court's direction in casting their votes for president.

Without missing a beat, McConnell struck again in 2020, this time just weeks before another presidential election. Taking the opposite approach, he rammed through Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

"Mitch McConnell's legacy will be that he purposefully undermined America's first Black president, he broke the Supreme Court, he helped elect a fascist President, and he abetted up an insurrection on American soil," Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control group Moms Demand Action, wrote on social media.

McConnell used his speech on Wednesday to again advocate for the $95 billion Ukraine-Israel-Taiwan aid package that House Republicans have ignored since the Senate passed it this month, and also acknowledged that the Republican Party was moving away from him.

"I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time," McConnell said. "I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them." — Reuters