Senate Leader Mitch McConnell Will Step Down From Leadership in November But Will Finish His Term

AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

A big announcement today from Sen. Mitch McConnell. He will stepping down at the end of this year bringing to an end the longest run as Senate leader in history.

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Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history who maintained his power in the face of dramatic convulsions in the Republican Party for almost two decades, will step down from that position in November.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced his decision Wednesday in the well of the Senate, a place where he looked in awe from its back benches in 1985 when he arrived and where he grew increasingly comfortable in the front row seat afforded the party leaders...

McConnell said he plans to serve out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027, “albeit from a different seat in the chamber.” Aides said McConnell’s announcement about the leadership post was unrelated to his health.

I'm not sure I believe the claim this has nothing to do with his health. Last year he had two scary episodes in which he froze up in the middle of speaking to reporters. Here's the one that happened in July.

But health aside, there are also a couple of political reasons McConnell may be looking to bow out at this moment. One is that he and Donald Trump have not been fans of one another since Biden won the 2020 election and McConnell counseled Republicans not to go along with Trump's election claims.

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In public remarks and private warnings on Tuesday, McConnell worked to push ahead to the Biden era and unite a fractured Republican Party ahead of the runoff elections that will determine Senate control.

First, the Republican leader heaped praise on Trump’s “endless” accomplishments as he congratulated President-elect Joe Biden during a morning Senate speech. Then he pivoted, privately warning Republican senators away from disputing the Electoral College tally when Congress convenes in a joint session Jan. 6 to confirm the results.

And after Jan. 6, McConnell blamed Trump for the riot at the Capitol.

“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell said. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

McConnell would later vote to acquit Trump but immediately afterwards said that Trump was morally responsible.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said on Saturday that Donald Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection at the US Capitol on 6 January – minutes after voting to acquit the former president in his impeachment trial for that very same act.

All that to say, McConnell may see that Trump has a real chance of returning to office next year and he has simply decided he's not interested in working with him. 

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There have been stories floating around this week that McConnell was planning to endorse Trump (he's the only GOP leader who hasn't so far) primarily to help the GOP retake the Senate.

Donald J. Trump and Mitch McConnell haven’t said a word to each other since December 2020.

But people close to both men are working behind the scenes to make bygones of the enmity between them and to pave the way for a critical endorsement of the former president by the highest-ranking Republican holdout so far, according to three people familiar with both teams’ perspectives who were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly...

In recent months, as it became obvious that Mr. Trump appeared likely to win the G.O.P. nomination for a third time, Mr. McConnell assured his colleagues that he would do whatever it takes to unify the party and win back control of the Senate.

Trump and McConnell seem to genuinely hate each other and that probably hasn't changed but McConnell wants to end his run as leader by turning over a GOP Senate majority to his successor. As one unnamed colleague put it, McConnell will "look past a load of sh*t to improve the path to the majority."

There's another reason that may have influenced McConnell though I'm speculating a bit here. As you've no doubt heard, Joe Biden's age has become one of the defining issues of the race, getting renewed attention this month because of the report from Special Counsel Rober Hur. McConnell is a few months older than Biden and during his speech announcing his plans today he said, "One of the life's most under-appreciated talents is to know when it's time to move on to life's next chapter." A bit later he added, "Father time remains undefeated. I'm no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues would remember my name. It's time for the next generation of leadership."

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It's a powerful statement and one that has a pretty obvious application to the 81-year-old president who served so many years in the Senate with McConnell. Here's McConnell's announcement in full.

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David Strom 6:40 PM | April 18, 2024
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