Mitch McConnell, longest-serving Senate leader in history, to step down

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Mitch McConnell will stand down as Republican leader in the Senate later this year after a series of disputes with Donald Trump and increasing speculation about his health

The 82-year-old, who is the longest-serving Senate leader in history, said he would be moving onto the “next chapter” after the election in November.

He is seen as the last bastion of the Republican party to resist Mr Trump’s re-run for the White House, having so far declined to endorse the former president despite his clean sweep of states in the primary contests.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” the veteran Republican said.

“So I stand before you today... to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

He added: “As I have been thinking about when I would deliver some news to the Senate, I always imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work.

“A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. It arrived today.”

Aides said the announcement was unrelated to his health. The Senate minority leader suffered a concussion from a fall last year and on two occasions froze while speaking to reporters, staring into space.

His decision punctuates a powerful ideological transition underway in the Republican Party, from Ronald Reagan’s brand of traditional conservatism and strong international alliances, to the fiery, often isolationist populism of Donald Trump, the former president.

Clashes with Trump

Mr McConnell and Mr Trump have been at odds since December 2020, when the Kentucky senator refused to support the then-president’s false claims that Joe Biden had “stolen” the 2020 election.

In the days following the Jan 6 Capitol riots, Mr McConnell claimed the people who stormed Congress had been “fed lies” and “provoked” by Mr Trump.

When the Republicans failed to retake the Senate in the 2022 mid-terms, he blamed a diminished Mr Trump for endorsing sub-par candidates.

McConnell’s critics insist he could have done more, including voting to convict Mr Trump during his second impeachment trial. Mr McConnell did not, arguing that since Mr Trump was no longer in office, he could not be subject to impeachment.

The former president has since taken over much of the party establishment and established himself as the clear frontrunner in the primary contests.

Donald Trump hands a pen to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after signing the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package bill during a signing ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 27, 2020
Mitch McConnell worked with Donald Trump when the latter was US president - Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Nikki Haley, the only significant candidate left in the contest, placed a distant second when her home state, South Carolina, voted on Saturday night.

Mr McConnell appeared to be accepting the inevitable after reports surfaced in The New York Times this week that he would endorse Mr Trump after his victory in South Carolina.

Asked about Mr McConnell’s resignation, Missouri senator Josh Hawley, who has backed Mr Trump and refused to certify Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020, said: “Good. It’s time.”

An election to replace the Senate leader will take place in November, with his successor taking over in January.

‘I will always defend American exceptionalism’

The Senate’s “three Johns” –  minority whip John Thune, former whip John Cornyn and Senate Republican Conference chairman John Barrasso – are expected to run for the position.

There is also speculation that a Republican less ingrained with the party establishment and aligned with Mr Trump’s “Make America Great Again” wing of the party could stand.

Mitch McConnell in 1989. When he began his career he said he would be "happy if anybody remembered my name"
Mitch McConnell in 1989. When he began his career he said he would be "happy if anybody remembered my name" - Laura Patterson/GETTY IMAGES

Mr McConnell endorsed Reagan’s view of America’s role in the world and the senator has persisted in the face of opposition, including from Mr Trump, that Congress should include a foreign assistance package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine.

“I am unconflicted about the good within our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world,” Mr McConnell said.

Against long odds, he managed to secure 22 Republican votes for the package now being considered by the House.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them,” Mr McConnell said.

“That said, I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed. For as long as I am drawing breath on this earth I will defend American exceptionalism.”

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