Two of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s biggest critics lost prime committee slots after opposing the Kentucky Republican for another term atop the Senate GOP.
Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rick Scott of Florida were booted from the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in an internal shakeup. Mr. McConnell has significant power over committee assignments as the Republican leader.
“He has unreviewable discretion to make certain committee assignments,” Mr. Lee said. “This was one of those.”
Mr. Scott said his ouster from the committee was likely because of his decision to oppose Mr. McConnell for Senate Republican leader last year — a move Mr. Lee backed.
“I probably ran the biggest company almost any senator in the history of the country has ever run,” Mr. Scott said. “I was governor of the third-biggest economy in the United States, Florida. I’ve got a business background.”
The commerce committee is a prime political appointment because of the panel’s wide purview, which includes business, technology, tourism and transportation policy.
Sources within the Senate GOP said Mr. Lee and Mr. Scott’s removal from the panel was meant to send a message to other critics of Mr. McConnell.
“McConnell is the undisputed leader and that gives him the chance to flex his muscle against opponents,” said a GOP lawmaker in a text message. “It’s payback, but as they say if you shoot at the king, you best not miss.”
Mr. McConnell‘s allies note that with Democrats now holding a 51-49 seat majority, the GOP has fewer committee spots available to dole out with four new Republican senators. They note that both Mr. Scott and Mr. Lee hold committee slots on other top panels, including the Senate Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, respectively.
Still, both men had seniority on the commerce committee compared to other lawmakers. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming Republican, was allowed to remain on the commerce panel, despite having less seniority than Mr. Lee and Mr. Scott and holding prime spots on the Senate Banking Committee, and the Environment and Public Works Committee.