TALLAHASSEE — Kentucky U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell was re-elected minority leader Wednesday, fending off a brief chspanllenge from Florida Sen. Rick Scott.
Three-quarters of the Senate GOP conference, or 37 senators, voted to keep McConnell in his leadership position. Ten voted against him, and one person abstained.
McConnell, who has led Senate Republicans both in the minority and the majority since 2007, faced a challenge from Scott, who said the caucus should be “far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past.”
Scott received some support, including from Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, who tweeted Tuesday that “Hoosier conservative Republicans are sick and tired of the status quo.”
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But McConnell showed his firm grip on the caucus. He maintained his leadership position despite a midterm election where the GOP could see its minority shrink further depending on the Dec. 6 run-off in Georgia between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and GOP challenger Herschel Walker.
Scott came up short in his role as chairman of the Nspantionspanl Republicspann Senspantorispanl Committee, tasked to regain a Republican majority. His challenge to McConnell likely leaves the first-term senator on the outs with many of his colleagues, certainly within the leader’s inner circle.
Montana Sen. Steve Daines also was formally elected Wednesday to succeed Scott as NRSC chair.
Former President Donald Trump has called for McConnell to be ousted. And Scott announced his challenge Tuesday, just hours before the former president announced in Palm Beach that he would make another run for the White House in 2024.
Scott, a former two-term Florida governor, tweeted Tuesday, “The status quo is broken and big change is needed.”
Many in the party are unhappy with how Scott led the NRSC, the campaign arm which failed to capture enough seats to win command of the Senate even as the U.S. House is poised to narrowly flip back to Republican control.
Trump’s endorsement of Republican candidates who lost in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona are being blamed for Scott and the GOP’s failings.
Earlier this election season, McConnell had cautioned that Republicans risked falling short of gaining the one seat they needed to take the majority, citing “candidate quality” as a reason.
Two senators, Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis on Tuesday also called for an independent audit of the NRSC’s spending during the midterm elections.
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Scott fired back Wednesday, alleging that “hundreds of thousands of dollars in unauthorized and improper bonuses were paid to outgoing staff” after Republicans lost the 2020 election. He said the NRSC has done an annual independent audit every year since at least 2014.
“When I took over, I immediately became aware that hundreds of thousands of dollars in unauthorized and improper bonuses were paid to outgoing staff after the majority was lost in 2020,” he said in a NRSC statement. “When that’s your starting point, you work really hard to make sure there are transparent processes and we are more than happy to sit down with any member of the caucus to walk them through our spending.”
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Scott and McConnell also have been at odds.
Scott unveiled a “Plan to Rescue America,” in February that was a point-by-point summary of what he said his party would work toward. The outline was immediately attacked by Democrats and many fellow Republicans for demanding that all Americans pay federal income tax to exhibit they had “skin in the game.”
President Biden ripped Scott for wanting to raise taxes on 75 million Americans. Scott later retooled the tax proposal, but not before McConnell had derided the approach, saying “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people.”
Before last week’s disappointing U.S. Senate elections for Republicans, Scott predicted his party would “win 52-plus” seats and gain the majority.
It didn’t happen.
“Here’s what happened to us: Election Day, our voters didn’t show up, we didn’t get enough voters,” Scott later told Fox News. “It was a complete disappointment.”