Sen. Mitch McConnell was reelected as Republican leader Wednesday, quashing a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the Senate GOP campaign chief criticized over his party's midterm election failures.
Retreating to the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber for the private vote, Republicans had faced public infighting following a disappointing performance in last week’s elections that kept Senate control with Democrats.
McConnell, of Kentucky, easily swatted back the challenge from Scott in the first-ever attempt to oust him after many years as GOP leader. Senators first rejected an attempt by McConnell's detractors to delay the leadership choice until after the Senate runoff election in Georgia next month.
The unrest is similar to the uproar among House Republicans in the aftermath of the midterm elections that left the party split over former President Donald Trump's hold on the party. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy won the nomination from colleagues to run for House speaker.
On Wednesday, the senators first considered a motion by a Scott ally, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, to delay the leadership votes until after the Dec. 6 runoff election in Georgia between Republican Herschel Walker and incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock that will determine the final makeup of the Senate. Walker was eligible to vote in the leadership election but wasn't expected to be present.
There were 49 GOP senators expected to vote, including newly elected senators in town this week but not yet sworn into office and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was eligible even though her race against Republican Kelly Tshibaka hasn’t been called yet. No more than 10 Republican senators, among some of the most conservative figures and those aligned with Trump, were expected to join in the revolt.
Senators were also electing others in the Republican leadership. Democrats have postponed their internal elections until after Thanksgiving.
McConnell's top leadership ranks are expected to remain stable, with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., as GOP whip, and Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in the No. 3 spot as chairman of the GOP conference. Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines was expected take over the campaign operation from Scott.
The challenge by Scott, who was urged by Trump to confront McConnell, escalated a long-simmering feud between Scott, who led the Senate Republican's campaign arm this year, and McConnell over the party's approach to try to reclaim the Senate majority.
"If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me," Scott said in a letter to Senate Republicans offering himself as a protest vote against McConnell.
Trump has been pushing for the party to dump McConnell ever since the Senate leader gave a scathing speech blaming then-President Trump for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Still, it represented an unusual direct challenge to McConnell's authority. He would become the longest-serving Senate leader in history when the new Congress convenes next year.
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