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Republican Senators Contemplate 'Special' Meeting to Address Leadership in Light of McConnell's Freeze
It only takes five Republicans to force such a meeting, which is the most direct way to specifically discuss their future amid renewed concerns about the leader's health.
Discussion of Internal Debates
Several GOP senators are contemplating the prospect of initiating a contentious internal debate regarding the future of their leadership, following Mitch McConnell's second recent instance of public hesitancy.
Some rank-and-file Republicans have broached the idea of a more extensive conversation once senators reconvene in Washington next week. It's important to note that the party leadership is not presently involved in these deliberations, and no concrete decisions have been reached.
The Possibility of a Special Conference Meeting
The procedural threshold is rather low; just five Republican senators could trigger a special conference meeting, the most direct avenue to address the minority leader's situation after his public pause on Wednesday once again raised questions about his health. However, the Senate GOP holds private lunches two or three times weekly, providing another forum for members to deliberate on the party's leadership direction—a venue that might circumvent the necessity for a special meeting.
Sensitivity Around McConnell's Health
McConnell's health is a sensitive topic. At 81 years old, he is the longest-serving party leader in Senate history and prefers not to discuss his health. Even those who criticize McConnell's leadership approach acknowledge the health challenges he faces following a fall in March that resulted in a concussion.
The Question of Leadership Transition
Despite this, the GOP faces a critical question: Does McConnell's health expedite the transition at the helm of the conference leadership, a transition that is inevitable? McConnell successfully thwarted his first-ever challenge last autumn when Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) attempted to challenge his leadership on a 37-10 vote.
Medical Clearance and Retirement Plans
Following consultations with McConnell and his neurology team, the Capitol physician issued a medical clearance for McConnell to continue his full responsibilities. In the medical note, Capitol physician Brian Monahan noted that lightheadedness is a common occurrence following concussions. McConnell has not publicly indicated when he intends to retire, whether from his minority leader position or the Senate itself. However, his spokesperson did state earlier in the summer that he intends to fulfill his leadership term through 2024. This statement was made after his first on-camera pause during a press event in late July. His Senate term, on the other hand, extends to 2026.
Potential Successors and Recent Conversations
Within the GOP conference, Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) are seen as the most probable successors to McConnell's leadership. Following his most recent pause, McConnell reportedly spoke with all three, as well as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), during an event in Kentucky, according to sources familiar with these conversations.
Scott's Focus and Well-Wishes
Scott, who previously challenged McConnell's leadership, has asserted that he is concentrating on his reelection campaign and expects McConnell to retain his leadership role. Those who voted against McConnell have all expressed their well-wishes to him this summer following his two public episodes, which his staff attributed to lightheadedness.
McConnell's Significant Influence
It is essential to underscore McConnell's significant influence within the party. In addition to his role as party leader, the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC is closely associated with him and plays a substantial role in Senate races. Publicly and privately, Thune, Barrasso, and Cornyn have all expressed their continued support for McConnell.
September will be a critical test of McConnell's grip on his conference. The government faces the possibility of shutting down in a month without action, and the House and Senate are at odds regarding spending levels. Moreover, the Biden administration is seeking additional billions of dollars for hurricane relief, Ukraine aid, and border security.