Republicans in the House of Representatives proved with last year’s ouster of Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) that sufficient disappointment with party leadership could result in a congressional shake-up.
Similar concerns have begun swirling in the Senate regarding Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has not only been impacted by concerns about his age and health but also due to his support of bills that conservative senators have found objectionable.
That intraparty backlash came to a head earlier this month when McConnell was forced to back off from a bipartisan deal being sold by Republican supporters as a pathway to a more secure southern border.
Opponents pointed out that the bill as written would have little meaningful impact on the rate of illegal immigration while providing a windfall of U.S. taxpayer money for Ukraine.
For U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the situation was dire enough for him to openly call for McConnell to be replaced as the party’s leader in the chamber.
“I think a Republican leader should actually lead this conference and should advance the priorities of Republicans,” Cruz said during a recent news conference.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), another long-time McConnell critic, offered a similar assessment during a meeting last week, asserting: “We don’t have an effective leader, but that’s been my position for the last year and a half. The last few months have been abysmally embarrassing.”
A growing number of other Senate Republicans have become more open in voicing their disappointment recently, though the upper chamber does not have the same low threshold for a “motion to vacate” vote as the one used in the House against McCarthy.
As such, McConnell can afford to rebuff the growing calls for fresh GOP leadership, and all indicators seem to suggest that is precisely what he is doing behind closed doors. Even Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who challenged McConnell for the leadership position in 2022, acknowledged that Senate Republicans have few tools available to force him out.
“There will be an election after the November election,” he said of the decision about a new Senate GOP leader. “As you know, I ran, I put out my plan of what we should do and how we ought to operate. I hope we have a robust discussion about how we ought to operate.”