Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won praise from other Republican senators on Wednesday after a vocal minority in his party harshly criticized some of his leadership decisions over the past two years.
“The reality is there’s overwhelming support for Mitch McConnell and his leadership,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said after the vote. “He’s been highly successful in the last two years, not to mention the last decades. And believe he’s in the best position to lead us into the future.”
“I think it validates the leader in a really big way,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. “Who among us wouldn’t like to get, you know, 80% of the vote?”
“I think it’s strong,” Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said of McConnell’s standing in the GOP conference.
McConnell defeated a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., for Senate GOP leader by a tally of 37-10, and one senator voted “present.” That victory came even after former President Donald Trump repeatedly called for the man he nicknamed “Old Crow” – which McConnell’s embraced – to be ousted as GOP leader.
“I’m not going anywhere,” McConnell said when asked if he would consider stepping aside after breaking the record of longest-serving party leader in Senate history, held by late Sen. Mike Mansfield, D-Mont.
Scott, who’s been at odds with McConnell politically for most of this year, announced his candidacy at the Senate GOP lunch on Tuesday. Scott framed himself as the candidate of change who wanted the GOP be more aggressive in pushing a conservative agenda for voters.
“If you simply want to stick with the status quo, don’t vote for me,” he said in a letter to senators.
Scott also pressed to delay the leadership election until after the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff. But senators voted to keep the elections Wednesday as scheduled.
“Although the results of today’s elections weren’t what we hoped for, this is far from the end of our fight to Make Washington Work,” Scott said in a statement. “My resolve to stand up for what Republicans across this nation stand for has never been stronger than it is today.”
Some of Scott’s allies said his run, though unsuccessful, gave them an optimistic outlook for the future of the party. The debate between the two, they said, might force McConnell to make some changes.
“I told leader McConnell this has been the healthiest enterprise since I’ve been here in terms of caucus discussion,” Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., said. “And Rick, in my mind, brought it out to where we made it a discussion.”
Braun added: “I think he’s going to probably make sure that 50 members, depending on where we’re at, all of us feel like we’re part of the process. And I think that’s healthy.”
“I think our discussion was very valuable in terms of how we’re going to proceed [in the next Congress],” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who also backed Scott. “I think it will be a more collaborative process.”
Others were more suspicious.
“To me, anyway, it wasn’t about him,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said of McConnell. “It was about the direction of the conference, how we run campaigns … and also sort of a legislative approach moving forward. And I think leadership elections are the best opportunity for us to initiate those conversations. So, I wanted to delay. And my fear is once they happen, those conversations stop.”
“Are we going to continue caving in to Democrats? I hope the answer is no. And I hope leadership will think twice about it after this,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
McConnell might be tested very soon on how well he can hold his conference together and meet demands from his more conservative members. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Fox News Digital that he and several senators demanded Republicans block a defense policy bill until the Senate holds a vote on “ending the vaccine mandate in the military.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Kelly Phares and Caroline McKee contributed to this report.