Republican senators say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has strong odds of keeping his post atop the conference despite simmering discontent among some members and a push to delay leadership elections.
“Heavens, yes. Yes,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo. – who supports moving back Republican leadership elections – said when asked if McConnell, R-Ky., has the votes to remain Senate GOP leader.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, meanwhile, predicted that McConnell will get “all the votes.” He also vocally opposed moving back the elections.
“We didn’t delay the leadership election two years ago when there was a runoff for actually two Republican senators in Georgia, so there’s no reason to delay now,” Romney said.
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McConnell, who will be the longest-serving Senate party leader ever if he is re-elected as Senate GOP leader Wednesday, is generally seen as likely to remain on top of the conference. He has many political allies from his 38 years in the chamber, and he has faced no opposition in several past elections.
But after disappointing midterms, eight GOP senators are calling for leadership elections to be delayed, with some of them apparently making McConnell the target of their criticism.
“The leadership in the Republican Senate says, ‘No, you cannot have a plan, we’re just going to run against how bad the Democrats are.’ And actually then they cave into the Democrats,” said Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., on “Sunday Morning Futures. “Now they want to rush through an election. … They don’t want to do any assessment of what we’ve done wrong.”
Scott last week circulated a letter with Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., on delaying leadership elections. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also joined calls to delay the election with tweets.
“The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new,” Hawley said.
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But Lummis appears to be taking a more calculated approach, and she said she doesn’t think most of the conference is currently in favor of delaying elections.
“I think it’s a very small group,” she said. “And I don’t think it has anything to do with opposition to Sen. McConnell. In fact, I’m almost sure that it’s not about opposition to Sen. McConnell.”
Even if someone does run against McConnell – nobody currently is – the GOP leader enjoys a significant cushion because Senate GOP leadership elections require support from only a simple majority of the conference. This is in contrast to Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who can only lose a handful of GOP votes and still become House speaker, as that post requires a majority of the full chamber.
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Perhaps the most likely challenger for McConnell is Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Scott on Monday didn’t rule out challenging the GOP leader, saying, “I haven’t made a decision.”
Scott didn’t respond to a question from Fox News Digital that asked how many votes he thinks there could be against McConnell in the GOP conference.
Republicans gave mixed messages on whether they thought McConnell would face a challenger at all.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., said, “I don’t think so,” when asked if someone would run against McConnell.
“Nobody’s announced yet. Could be,” said Johnson, who is thinking about running for another leadership post.
Johnson said his current focus is “to delay the election, so we can discuss what happened.” He declined to specify how many senators are for delaying the leadership election, saying, “I hope there’s a majority.”