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Who Replaces Mitch McConnell as Leader?

On Wednesday, Republican Senate Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky announced that once his term as Senate Leader ended he was done leading the conference, leaving a hole for the first time in 17 years. The newest question for Republicans is who takes up the leadership spot? Last year, House Republicans struggled to find a Speaker of the House twice, settling the first time on Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) and then Mike Johnson(R-LA). 

Top Choices

If anyone is going to replace McConnell they will likely need the support of former President Donald Trump. When asked whether Trump will have a say in who replaces McConnell, Sen. Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican and the No. 4 Senate Republican said: “he may.”

John Thune (South Dakota)

The 63-year-old is the current Senate Minority Whip, the second highest position in the Senate Republican Conference. Thune has maintained numerous leadership positions within the conference since joining the Senate in 2005. Thune may have trouble getting the spot as he got on the wrong side of Donald Trump after Thune came out against Trump’s stolen election claims. Trump would respond by calling him a RINO and ‘Mitch’s Boy’ and endorsing a primary challenger. 

John Cornyn (Texas)

The 72-year-old has previously served as the Republican whip from 2013 to 2019. He was first elected to the Senate in 2002, after working as a member of the Texas Supreme Court and serving as Texas Attorney General. The Texas Republican has a long history as a prolific fundraiser, which could be a benefit. Cornyn has made it clear he plans to run for leader.

John Barrasso (Wyoming)

The 71-year-old is the GOP conference chair. The No. 3 Senate Republican first came to the Senate in 2007. He currently serves atop the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Barrasso is widely seen as the most conservative of the three men. Barrasso has been a staunch ally of Trump, endorsing him for President in early January.

Longshots

If the Senate Republican Conference suffers from the same problems as the House Republicans, the three frontrunners will not become leader and will look elsewhere. Here are a few long shots.

Steve Daines (Montana)

 The 61-year-old currently leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, being chosen in 2022 for the position. The experience with leadership positions would be a major strength for his chance if the frontrunners fail. Not the strongest Trumper, so he might be able to gain the Senators who do not want a Trump ally dictating Senate policy.  

Rick Scott (Florida)

The 71-year-old was elected to the Senate in 2018. The former Florida governor launched a challenge against McConnell for leadership after the 2022 midterm elections. At the time, Scott earned the support of just 10 members of the Republican conference, suggesting his bid for the post could be a long shot. Scott seemingly suggested interest on Wednesday, reminding onlookers of his bid for the leadership in a statement and saying he has “long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate.”

Tim Scott (South Carolina)

If the 58-year-old is not selected as Donald Trump’s 2024 Vice President, and if Trump has a say in the selection. Trump has brought Scott on as a staunch ally to the President. Scott’s campaign and alliance with Trump has raised Scott’s fundraising pool. Scott is a seasoned veteran of the Senate, being elected in 2011. Scott would also fill a want of some Senate Republicans for wanting new blood in leadership positions.

Mike Lee (Utah)

Another staunch ally for President Trump. The 52-year-old is the number #7 Republican in the Senate, chairing the Senate Republican Steering Committee. Lee was one of the Senators to support Rick Scott’s attempt to oust McConnell. In early February, he called on McConnell to resign after the negotiated Border Bill with Democrats. 

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