Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

Published February 29, 2024

Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday he would step down as the GOP Senate leader in November

Several potential successors are being eyed to fill outgoing Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s role as the party faces growing division between more mainstream Republicans and a faction of hardline conservative members.

Among those who are being floated as a potential replacement for the leadership position are senators John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Thune, R-N.D.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Rick Scott R-Fla.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced in a floor speech Wednesday he will step down from leadership in November. The Kentucky Republican is the Senate’s longest-serving party leader in history.

Speculation about Thune, Barrasso or Daines taking over as leader stems from their current roles in GOP leadership. They serve as Republican whip, Senate Republican Conference chairman and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, respectively.

McConnell giving up Senate leadership position

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made the surprise announcement he will step down as Senate Republican leader after serving a lengthy tenure.

“Chairman Daines is laser-focused on taking back the Senate majority,” NRSC communications director Mike Berg told Fox News Digital.

One source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions shared that the “three Johns” — Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso — are not of the same political stripe. Barrasso is considered the most conservative out of the three, the source said. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don’t always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Trump early last month.

“What I’m focused on is the election,” Barrasso told reporters shortly after McConnell’s announcement.

As for decisions regarding leadership, he said, “I’m going to talk to members of the conference, hear what they have to say, listen to them in terms of what direction that they want to take with us.”



RELATED: ‘Three Johns’ lead race to succeed McConnell

Published February 29, 2024

The race to succeed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) atop the Senate GOP conference is on.

While a shadow campaign has been going on for years throughout McConnell’s record-setting tenure as leader, jockeying by potential successors has begun in earnest and is set to burst into the open.

Republicans, for the most part, are looking at the trio of Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) as the leading contenders to take over for the longtime Republican leader, with a possible conservative challenger mixed in.

With almost nine months of runway for auditions and maneuvering, Senate Republicans are preparing for an open leadership election the conference hasn’t seen in nearly two decades.

“This is going to be a roller coaster ride,” Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) said.

All three top contenders were deferential to McConnell after his announcement Wednesday caused shock waves across Capitol Hill. But all signs point to them looking toward a run for the top spot.

Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, declined to say definitively that he is running, but added he would have more to say in short order.

“He leaves really big shoes to fill. We’ll give you more insight into what we’re thinking here in the near future,” Thune said.

Thune’s allies are already preparing for him to take the plunge. Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), a member of Thune’s whip team, told reporters that he is “pretty sure he is going to run.”

“I think it’s pretty clear he’s going to run,” Mullin said, arguing Thune is the right person for the job. “[He brings] experience. He brings in stability. He’s bringing proven leadership.”



RELATED: McConnell’s Exit Sets Up Trump-Fueled Fight for Republican Party

Published February 29, 2024

(Bloomberg) — Senate Republicans have to choose just how loyal to Donald Trump they want their next leader to be in the wake of Mitch McConnell’s bombshell decision to step aside after the November election.

Three “Johns” — Thune of South Dakota, Cornyn of Texas and Barrasso of Wyoming — are the most likely candidates to succeed McConnell, who has occupied the party leader’s prime suite of offices just steps from the Senate floor for the last 17 years.

Unlike McConnell, who has a fraught relationship with the former president, all three men have endorsed Trump in his third bid for the White House. But their ties to Trump — whose grip on the Republican party has strengthened through a wave of primary victories — vary.

Barrasso, the No. 3 Republican, backed Trump in early January, nearly a week before the Jan. 15 Iowa caucus, and drew effusive praise from the GOP front-runner. Cornyn, a longtime McConnell ally, fell in line after Trump soundly won the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, calling on his colleagues to consolidate their support.

Thune, who initially supported Senator Tim Scott for president, didn’t heed that advice until just days ago. He’s long been seen as McConnell’s heir apparent, but the belated endorsement — coupled with criticisms of Trump after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol — could put him at a disadvantage.

Republican senators, however, could also decide they want a buffer between them and Trump, not just a cheerleader. Several criticized Trump after the Capitol insurrection. And the vast majority voted to certify the 2020 election Trump continues to baselessly claim was stolen from him.

None of the Johns have announced their candidacy, but they’ve all said they’ll talk to colleagues.

“I’ve made no secret of my intentions,” Cornyn told reporters.

With months to go until the election, other candidates could emerge. Steve Daines of Montana leads the party’s campaign committee and could stake a claim for the top job if the party does well in November.

Daines, an earlier endorser of Trump, has had a productive relationship with the former president in helping avoid bloody primaries in states like Montana and West Virginia. Daines declined to say if he’s interested Wednesday.





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