Mitch McConnell To Step Down as Senate Republican Leader

Mitch McConnell (Getty Images)
February 28, 2024

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said on Wednesday he would step down from his leadership role, leaving a power vacuum atop the party he has piloted for nearly 17 years, more than any other party leader in the chamber's history.

"I turned 82 last week. The end of my contributions are closer than I prefer," McConnell said on the Senate floor, his voice breaking with emotion. "Father Time remains undefeated. I'm no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues remember my name. It's time for the next generation of leadership."

The 82-year-old Kentucky lawmaker's departure will remove a central character in negotiations with Democrats and the White House on spending deals to keep the federal government funded and avert a shutdown.

It will also mark the step back of an orderly counterpart to the tumultuous approach of Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, and the hardline House Freedom Caucus ahead of the November election for president, the full House of Representatives, and a third of the Senate.

And it will cap the career of a lawmaker reviled by Democrats for having used unprecedented tactics to cement a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority that overturned Roe v. Wade and expanded gun rights.

McConnell twice last summer froze up while making remarks in public, raising questions about his ability to continue to carry out the duties of his high-powered job. Those concerns were not assuaged by an Aug. 31 note from the congressional physician that cleared McConnell to go on working.

Now with Republicans having to elect a new party leader, conservative pressure to hang tough against a moderate spending deal with Democrats could weigh more heavily on the budget negotiations and the leadership election.

McConnell lashed out at the twice-impeached Trump for falsely claiming that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 election, the theme of the then-president's speech on Jan. 6, 2021, shortly before his followers stormed the U.S. Capitol.

The Senate leader had voted to acquit Trump of having incited an insurrection but alienated him in a Senate speech by asserting that he was "practically and morally responsible" for the Capitol riot.

"American citizens attacked their own government," McConnell said at the time. "They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth—because he was angry he'd lost an election."

McConnell's hardball approach to governing was on display in early 2016 when he orchestrated Republican stonewalling of then-president Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

He argued that it was too close to the presidential election that November and that voters should be left to decide the high court's direction in casting their votes for president.

Taking the opposite approach in 2020, he rammed through then-president Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

He gleefully embraced the nickname "Grim Reaper" for his willingness to stonewall Democratic goals.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas)were expected to vie for the top party job. It was unclear what other senators might jump into the race.

Published under: Mitch McConnell , Senate