Mitch McConnell announces his exit as Senate GOP leader

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday that he will not run for another term as leader, ending a record-setting run atop the GOP conference.

The Kentucky Republican has served as party leader since 2007, the longest stint in Senate history. He indicated that he plans to serve out the rest of his Senate term, which expires in 2026.

“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,” McConnell said.

McConnell announced his intentions at an incredibly tense time for both himself and his party: He’s trying to send billions of dollars more to Ukraine to fend off Russia and is confronting the likelihood that his party nominates former President Donald Trump, whom McConnell has not spoken to for years. On Tuesday alone, he faced three tough moments: nudging Speaker Mike Johnson to pass the Senate’s $95 billion foreign aid bill, dodging a question about when he would endorse Trump and committing to avoiding a government shutdown.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them,” McConnell said — an acknowledgment of his party’s huge divisions over foreign policy and Trump.

The GOP leader’s fingerprints are all over both the Senate Republican conference and his home state, a onetime Democratic bastion that he helped flip red. He has spent much of his tenure battling with Democrats, forcing a Supreme Court seat to stay open until Trump took office and helping reshape the high court in a more conservative fashion.

McConnell’s planned exit will set up a tough fight to succeed him, likely among the so-called Three Johns — Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), former Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Sens. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) quickly announced support for their home-state senators, though any leadership campaigning seemed on ice for at least a day as Republicans honored McConnell.

“We need to have a very serious discussion about really what our conference stands for. What our mission is, what we need to do as conservative leaders,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who opposed McConnell in 2022. “I appreciate Leader McConnell giving us the time now to have that discussion so we can choose well.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, who is close to McConnell, is considering running for a leadership position in the GOP amid the coming leadership shuffle and is being encouraged to look at a bid, said a person familiar with Cotton’s thinking.

But McConnell also showed a conciliatory side over the past few years as he sought to protect the legislative filibuster by remaining open to agreement with Democrats, where he could stomach it. He supported bipartisan deals on gun safety and infrastructure during the first two years of President Joe Biden’s term.

McConnell suffered a fall last year and two public freeze-ups that prompted questions about how much longer he would continue his record-breaking run in leadership. It also became clear in recent months that tension was building within his conference about his choices, as his critics questioned his handling of bipartisan border negotiations and advocacy for Ukraine funding.

McConnell was sanguine during his floor speech announcing his intentions in the well of the Senate. He said he always “imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work” — and said that day came Wednesday.

Along with that clarity came some of his trademark wry humor about the daily crosscurrents of a tumultuous Republican Party that he must still confront.

“I still have enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics and I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm with which they’ve become accustomed,” he said.

Daniella Diaz, Ursula Perano, Katherine Tully-McManus and Anthony Adragna contributed.

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