Mitch McConnell to step down as Senate Republican leader in November

Senator (82) froze up twice last year while speaking in public, raising questions about ability to carry out role

US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday he would step down from his leadership role, leaving a power vacuum atop the party he has piloted for nearly 17 years, more than any other party leader in the chamber’s history.

“I turned 82 last week. The end of my contributions are closer than I prefer,” Mr McConnell said on the Senate floor, his voice breaking with emotion. “Father Time remains undefeated. I’m no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues remember my name. It’s time for the next generation of leadership.”

The 82-year-old Kentucky senator’s departure in November will remove a central character in negotiations with Democrats and the White House on spending deals to keep the federal government funded and avert a shutdown.

It will also comprise the withdrawal of an orderly counterpart to the tumultuous approach of Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, and the hardline House Freedom Caucus in advance of the November election for president, the full House of Representatives and a third of the Senate.


It will cap the career of a lawmaker reviled by Democrats for having used unprecedented tactics to cement a 6-3 conservative supreme court majority that has acted aggressively to end the national right to abortion and expand gun rights.

Mr McConnell twice last summer froze while making remarks in public, raising questions about his ability to continue to carry out the duties of his high-powered job. Those concerns were not assuaged by an August 31st note from the congressional physician that cleared Mr McConnell to go on working.

Now with Republicans having to elect a new party leader, conservative pressure to hang tough against a moderate spending deal with Democrats could weigh more heavily on the budget negotiations and the leadership election.

Mr McConnell lashed out at the twice-impeached Mr Trump for falsely claiming that widespread fraud cost him the 2020 election, the theme of the then-president’s speech on January 6th, 2021, shortly before his followers stormed the US Capitol.

The Senate leader had voted to acquit Mr Trump of having incited an insurrection but alienated him in a Senate speech by asserting that he was “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot.

“American citizens attacked their own government,” Mr McConnell said at the time. “They did this because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth – because he was angry he’d lost an election.”

Mr McConnell’s hardball approach to governing was on display in early 2016 when he orchestrated Republican stonewalling of former president Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to a vacant seat on the supreme court.

He argued it was too close to the presidential election that November and that voters should be left to decide the court’s direction in casting their votes for president.

Without missing a beat, Mr McConnell struck again in 2020, this time just weeks before another presidential election. Taking the opposite approach, he rammed through then-president Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the supreme court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority.

He gleefully embraced the nickname “Grim Reaper” for his willingness to stonewall Democratic goals.

Senators John Thune, the number two Senate Republican, and John Cornyn were expected to vie for the top party job. It was unclear what other senators might jump into the race. – Reuters