Republicans say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) job is probably safe despite a rising chorus of criticism of the Kentucky Republican.
On Feb. 7, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and several other Republicans called on Mr. McConnell to step down from his leadership role after the failure of a border deal that had been in the works for months.
When asked by reporters whether it’s time for Mr. McConnell to go, Mr. Cruz said, “I think it is,” adding that the Senate lawmakers flanking him at the press conference “also supported the leadership challenge” to Mr. McConnell following the 2022 midterm elections, when Republicans lost seats.
Asked about this during a weekly press conference on Feb. 6, Mr. McConnell quipped self-assuredly, “I think we can all agree that Senator Cruz isn’t a fan.”
Mr. Cruz isn’t the only one openly calling for Mr. McConnell to be replaced.
In a post to X, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) wrote, “WE NEED NEW LEADERSHIP—NOW!”
Mr. McConnell has also faced criticism from Sens. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and others.
But Republicans, even those who opposed Mr. McConnell at the start of the 118th Congress, are skeptical that he’ll be ousted before the next session.
“We have a leadership election once a Congress,” Mr. Vance told reporters. “We’ll see if we have another one. I’m skeptical.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) was demure when asked whether Mr. McConnell would be ousted but indicated he was dubious.
At the same time, Mr. Hawley said “Gosh, I hope not,” when asked whether he thought Mr. McConnell would be reelected as leader in the 119th Congress. Mr. Hawley has been openly critical of Mr. McConnell’s leadership for some time.
Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) also discussed the issue with reporters.
Asked whether he thought Mr. McConnell was vulnerable, he answered affirmatively, ascribing this fresh threat to Mr. McConnell’s longtime dominance of Senate GOP politics to new ways of thinking about political issues and methods.
“There have been some that have said that [Mr. McConnell is vulnerable] publicly,” Mr. Braun said. “I think what it all boils down to, I read the tea leaves of what principals tell me and what my constituents do. And I think more are coming along to see that the old way of thinking is not working.”
A Senate aide familiar with the wrangling told The Epoch Times that much of the discontent comes down to members blowing off steam and is unlikely to go anywhere in the near future. But like others, he did imply that the fiasco has left Mr. McConnell weaker than he’s ever been.
“This is more about conservatives flexing and knowing Mitch won’t be around long enough to punish them and emboldening other offices to defy leadership (as we saw earlier this week!),” the aide said. “For however long Mitch has left as emperor, he has no clothes.”
The deal that set off these criticisms, which was released only this week, failed to pass muster in the Senate, being defeated in a procedural vote by a margin of 50–49.
Though the package was already facing long odds in the House, its fate was sealed after Mr. McConnell turned on it. Until then, Mr. McConnell had been a prime supporter of the effort and, according to some reports, had worked closely with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) to craft the bill.
The $118 billion package would have provided $60 billion in additional assistance for Ukraine, $14.1 billion for Israel, $10 billion for humanitarian aid in Gaza and elsewhere, and $5 billion for the United States’ Indo-Pacific partners.
But more controversially, the package also imposed new policies at the border that many Republicans said would only worsen the already precarious situation there.
Under the terms of these border provisions, some Republicans claimed that as many as 5,000 illegal aliens per day could be permitted to enter the United States before the president was forced to shut down the border. Several Republicans in both the House and Senate told The Epoch Times the only acceptable number was “zero.”
Though the package was defeated, many Senate Republicans are now saying that Mr. McConnell’s longtime endorsement of the initiative will only hurt the party moving forward.
Until the border package, these critics say, Republicans had the political upper hand on the border. President Joe Biden’s administration was blamed by most Americans for the situation at the border.
“Leadership strategy was very messed up,” Mr. Cruz told reporters.
Now, with Republicans defeating the bill, Democrats have already taken the opportunity to turn the border issue against Republicans.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a key Democratic negotiator of the bill, told reporters as much on Feb. 8.
“They were counting on immigration being a clean political winner,” Mr. Murphy said. “And now it’s very complicated, because Democrats get to go on offense in a way that we couldn’t have just six months ago. We get to talk about the bipartisan bill that would have fixed the border that Republicans refused.”
Mr. Murphy also said that the package was dead and there’s no way forward for it.
“No, no, it’s dead,” Mr. Murphy said when asked about its prospects for the future. “They’ve killed it.”
Though Mr. McConnell is unlikely to be ousted from his leadership role any time soon, the fallout of the border deal collapsing has once again ignited the lingering Senate divisions between the old guard and younger lawmakers.
Mr. McConnell’s health has also been a concern after two instances where he froze while speaking.
It’s unclear, in view of these criticisms, if Mr. McConnell will be able to retain his current job during the next Congress.
Caden Pearson and Mark Tapscott contributed to this report.