House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer are stepping down after decades in top leadership posts, but an octogenarian across the Capitol is pledging to stay in charge.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 80, who was reelected last week to a record-shattering ninth term as head of the Republican conference, will not be stepping aside, his top aides said.
The statement refutes speculation from anonymous Senate Republicans outside his inner circle that Mr. McConnell won’t serve for long in leadership but may remain in the Senate in another role, perhaps in a senior position on the powerful Appropriations Committee.
“If they had to bet money, if they were doing a pool, that would be what they would be betting on,” said one source, characterizing the chatter among some Senate Republicans.
Yet Mr. McConnell appears to be settling in for the long haul.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he told reporters when asked whether this would be his final term as leader. Those off Capitol Hill who are closest to Mr. McConnell’s thinking told The Washington Times that predictions of his departure are “wildly unfounded.”
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Mrs. Pelosi, 82, and Mr. Hoyer, 83, announced their plans to step down from House Democratic leadership to allow for a new generation to take over. Mr. McConnell will turn 82 in February, which will place him among the oldest party leaders in the history of the Senate.
Some in the party’s conservative base are clamoring for new blood and a new direction in the Senate.
Mr. McConnell faced a minor revolt this month from a group of Republicans after disappointing midterm election results relegated the party to the minority for another two years.
Sen. Rick Scott, 69, of Florida, who led the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, picked up the support of nine colleagues in his effort to unseat Mr. McConnell, representing a significant chunk of the 48-member Republican conference.
Mr. McConnell won the race in a closed-door vote, 37-10, but it marked the first challenge to his leadership in 15 years and showcased growing discontent with the status quo among the party’s younger, conservative base.
Some blamed Mr. McConnell for midterm losses after his well-funded super PAC shifted critical campaign cash away from states where Republican candidates had a shot at winning.
The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund withdrew money from races in New Hampshire and Arizona, where Trump-endorsed Republicans Don Bolduc and Blake Masters ran competitively but lost.
The Senate Leadership Fund spent $5 million in Alaska for advertising that attacked Trump-backed Republican candidate Kelly Tshibaka. Mr. McConnell is supporting Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican who opposes Mr. Trump.
The Alaska Republican Party last month voted to censure Mr. McConnell for funding “divisive and misleading ads” against Ms. Tshibaka, whom it endorsed in the still-undecided race.
The PAC hardly shortchanged key swing races, however. It poured a record $178 million into advertising for the critical Senate contests in Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Trump-endorsed candidates were also on the ballot.
In addition to discontent within the Senate’s Republican ranks, Mr. McConnell faces a 2024 presidential primary field led by former President Donald Trump, who is perhaps his top political opponent in the party.
The former president, 76, announced another White House bid last week and is likely to be the leading Republican primary candidate even if others jump into the race, some polling showed.
Mr. Trump’s entry into the Republican primary race promises a constant clash with Mr. McConnell. The former president has regularly assailed Mr. McConnell since the Senate minority leader blamed him for the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol. Mr. McConnell also denounced Mr. Trump’s claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.
Mr. Trump ramped up his criticism of Mr. McConnell after Mr. Bolduc and Mr. Masters lost their races, which cost Republicans the Senate majority and significantly diminished the former president’s clout in picking winning candidates.
“It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault,” Mr. Trump declared on his Truth Social media site. “Spending money to defeat great Republican candidates instead of backing Blake Masters and others was a big mistake.”
Mr. Trump has lodged racist attacks against Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served as Mr. Trump’s transportation secretary and resigned from office after the riot at the Capitol.
Mr. McConnell, Mr. Trump said, “blew the midterms, and everyone despises him and his otherwise lovely wife, Coco Chow!”
Mr. Trump has accused Ms. Chao of enriching the couple through her family’s U.S. shipping company’s ties to China, but the claim is unfounded.
Conservative media figures also have attacked Mr. McConnell. Popular radio show host Mark Levin frequently criticizes Mr. McConnell and other longtime Senate Republican leaders as out of touch with the party base.
“It’s time for McConnell and this gang to go,” Mr. Levin said two days after the Nov. 8 elections. “They take credit for raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars and then blame conservatives (the base) when their efforts fall short. We don’t need any lectures from them.”
Those on Capitol Hill who are betting on Mr. McConnell’s departure say he could shield himself from conservative and Trump-world broadsides by departing the leadership but remaining in office, where he is in a position to take a top spot on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
The position of ranking member was left open with the retirement of Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. Although Mr. McConnell is technically next in line for the top Republican post on the committee, Sen. Susan M. Collins, a Maine moderate and longest-serving female Republican in Senate history, is slated to take the job.
Aides laughed off the suggestion that Mr. McConnell would try to pull rank on Mrs. Collins and wrest the position away from her at this point.
Meanwhile, Mr. McConnell’s election to a ninth term as Republican leader, a role he has served in since 2007, puts him in a position to become the longest-serving party leader in the Senate when the next Congress begins in January. He will overtake Michael Mansfield, a Montana Democrat who served as his party’s leader from 1961 to 1977.
Most in the Republican conference still support Mr. McConnell, who cemented his legacy in recent years by confirming dozens of conservatives to the federal bench and three justices to the Supreme Court.
Aides also note that the 2024 electoral map puts 23 Democratic seats up for grabs, many of them in swing states, increasing the chances that Mr. McConnell will be back in charge of a Senate majority once again.
“There’s a lot to look forward to,” one Republican aide said.
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