Florida Sen. Rick Scott mounts a long-shot bid to unseat Republican leader Mitch McConnell
Florida Sen. Rick Scott said Tuesday that he will mount a long-shot bid to unseat Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, opening the latest front in an intraparty battle between allies of McConnell and former President Donald Trump over the direction of the GOP following a disappointing showing in last week's midterm elections.
The announcement by Scott, who was urged to challenge McConnell by Trump, came hours before the former president is expected to launch a comeback bid for the White House. It escalated a long simmering feud between Scott, who led the Senate Republican's campaign arm this year, and McConnell over the party's approach to reclaiming a Senate majority.
"If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me," Scott said in a letter to Senate Republicans offering himself as a protest vote against McConnell in the leadership elections on Wednesday.
Restive conservatives in the chamber have lashed out at the longtime leader's handling of the election, as well as his iron grip over the Senate Republican caucus.
Scott was one in a small group of senators who wrote a letter to the Republican caucus over the weekend asking for a delay in this week's leadership elections “to have serious discussions within our conference as to why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”
Republican senators had those discussions at their regular party lunch on Tuesday, but they were not expect to lead to McConnell's defeat. The Kentucky senator, who has been Senate GOP leader for the past 15 years, was confident he had the backing to return for another Congress.
“Of course” I have the votes, he told reporters on Monday.
While unlikely to succeed, Scott's unexpected challenge to McConnell comes as Republicans are wrestling over a lackluster performance in the midterms, when the party out of power historically sees significant gains. Instead, the Senate will stay in Democratic hands and the House margin is so narrow that it hasn't been called yet.
“I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past,” Scott said in the letter, sent to colleagues as the GOP meeting was still going on. “We must start saying what we are for, not just what we are against.”
Scott listed the many reasons he was running, including that Republicans had compromised too much with Democrats in the last Congress — producing bills that President Joe Biden has counted as successes and that Democrats ran on in the 2022 election.
“Some believe we don’t have a positive message to run on,” Scott wrote. “Some believe we don’t hold the executive branch accountable. Some believe we constantly give in to the Democrats and have no backbone.”
Many Republican senators going into Tuesday's meeting called it a “family conversation" that was necessary. But most appeared to be sticking with McConnell, a master of Senate procedure who has made protecting his incumbent senators his top priority.
“Mitch has ice in his veins,” said North Dakota Sen. Kevin Cramer before the meeting. Speculating before Scott announced his bid, Cramer said the “obvious problem” is that Scott led the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the party's Senate campaign arm.
“If you’re going to make this about assessing blame for losing an election, I don’t know how the NRSC chairman gets off the hook,” Cramer said.
The feud between Scott and McConnell has been percolating for months and reached a boil after the party’s lackluster showing in last week's midterm elections, according to senior Republican strategists who insisted on anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
Operatives for the two have traded barbs for more than a year over the handling of Senate Republican political strategy — or, in the view of some, the lack thereof.
But for some Senate Republicans, Scott's candidacy was a result of frustration that McConnell repeatedly refused to offer an agenda for Republicans to run on during the midterms.
“We got to have a plan for the American public and if we don't we can expect much more of the same,” said Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who did not directly say whether he would support Scott's challenge. “For me, it's about having us all as senators ... to simply have more input."
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