McConnell steps aside as Trump's dominance grows: From the Politics Desk

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Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today's edition, senior national political reporter Sahil Kapur breaks down Mitch McConnell's decision to step down from his long-held position as Senate Republican leader. Plus, chief Washington correspondent Andrea Mitchell takes a look back at the decisions that defined McConnell's tenure.

McConnell’s exit as leader highlights Trump’s growing influence over the Senate GOP

By Sahil Kapur

Mitch McConnell made the long-anticipated, yet seismic, announcement Wednesday that he’ll step down as Senate GOP leader at the end of this year, ending his tenure as the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history.

The move is, at least in part, a product of his advanced age. The 82-year-old, first elected 40 years ago, has had a few recent high-profile freeze-ups on camera.

But it’s also driven by political considerations. The Senate Republican conference has increasingly transformed itself in the image of Donald Trump, a dynamic that has diminished McConnell’s once-formidable influence over his members.

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That shift was evident in the recent McConnell-backed bipartisan deal for tougher border security and Ukraine aid, which just four of his members supported. In an awkward reversal, McConnell himself voted against it, a stark acknowledgment that he was overruled.

Trump, who had pushed for McConnell’s ouster, recently said that if he returns to the White House, he’s not sure he could work with the Kentucky Republican. McConnell, whose relationship with Trump broke irreparably in the aftermath of the 2020 election, is the only member of the congressional GOP leadership who hasn’t endorsed the former president’s 2024 White House bid, even as he marches to the party’s nomination.

Trump will surely loom large over the battle to replace McConnell, as well. That contest begins with the “three Johns” — Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming, John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota — who are all current or former deputies to McConnell. Cornyn and Thune both have mixed histories with Trump, while Barrasso has been more consistently in line with the former president.

McConnell’s internal critics, who were once small and quiet, have grown bigger and louder. He was guaranteed to face a challenge if he sought another term and his path was rocky, at best. Instead of dealing with that, he’s now leaving leadership on his own terms.

The question now is what role McConnell will play outside of leadership: He indicated in his speech Wednesday that he’ll serve out the remainder of his Senate term, which ends in January 2027.

McConnell’s old-school approach often collided with raw politics

Analysis by Andrea Mitchell

As a leader, Mitch McConnell was a study in contrasts: an old-school Senate “gentleman” from the good old days when your word was your bond.

But he was also willing to break precedents and deny Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee even a hearing at the start of an election year. And then he reversed course to get Donald Trump’s third nominee confirmed a week before Election Day.

Think of McConnell as Lucy with the football: leading Joe Biden as vice president, and then president, to think that he could always count on negotiating a deal with his old Senate pal Mitch. Until he couldn’t.

And there’s McConnell denouncing Trump for provoking the Jan. 6 mob at the U.S. Capitol, but a month later protecting Trump from being convicted for it. Then endorsing Trump-backed election deniers for the Senate.

In his announcement that he’ll step aside as Senate Republican leader, McConnell confessed to loving Ronald Reagan so much that he married his wife on the former president’s birthday, acknowledging that’s not the most romantic thing to admit. Probably the truest burden contributing to his decision is grief over the death of his beloved sister-in-law, Angela Chao, in a car accident.

Now the Senate minority leader’s final test on an issue of principle could be whether he’s able to persuade an unschooled House speaker to deliver on the Ukraine aid McConnell believes in so fervently, a hallmark of Reagan Republicanism.

That won’t be easy because what was left unsaid in McConnell’s Senate speech: The veteran leader has lost control of his conference — and the GOP — to Trump. And there’s nothing old school in that.

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at

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