Mitch McConnell, a colossal figure in Congress, will step down from his leadership post in November

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the longest-serving Senate leader and a colossal figure in Congress, will step down from his leadership post in November.

McConnell, 82, announced his decision on Wednesday in the well of the Senate, telling his colleagues "I had the honor of representing Kentucky in the Senate longer than anyone else in our state history. I just never could have imagined, never could have imagined that happening when I arrived here in 1984 at 42."

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life's next chapter,” he added. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

McConnell will finish his current term in the Senate, which is set to end in January 2027.

The Kentucky lawmaker has wielded power among Senate Republicans for nearly two decades, serving most recently as minority leader. He was the Senate's majority leader from 2015 to 2021.

McConnell in recent years has watched as the Republican Party moves in a new, more populist direction. He has been critical of former President Donald Trump – the leader of that movement – and remains the highest-ranking Republican that has not endorsed Trump's reelection bid.

The longtime Republican lawmaker on Wednesday shared his priorities for the nation and some of his proudest moments in Washington. He also addressed that recent weeks have marked "a particularly difficult time for my family." Angela Chao, the younger sister of McConnell's wife Elaine Chao, died earlier this month.

"When you lose a loved one, particularly at a young age, there's a certain introspection that accompanies the grieving process. Perhaps it is God's way of reminding you of your own life's journey," McConnell said.

The longtime Republican Senate leader has been known as a skilled political tactician. He installed a number of conservatives to the judiciary, including at the Supreme Court, and shepherded the passage of major tax cuts in 2017. And in the past month, he delivered enough GOP votes to pass a massive aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other foreign allies – though that legislation is currently stuck in the House.

But he has also faced increasing blowback within his conference as Trump's influence over the party has ballooned. Several GOP senators blamed him for a bipartisan border security package they deemed lackluster, and for his fierce advocacy for Ukraine aid.

As he announced his retirement Wednesday, McConnell quipped: "I still have enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics, and I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm with which they've become accustomed."

Senate GOP responds, dubs McConnell 'one of the most effective leaders'

The leader was immediately lauded by his fellow Senate Republicans. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., on Wednesday called McConnell's announcement a "historic moment."

"He's to be absolutely admired," Lummis said, adding "His service is to be expected. His leadership is to be celebrated."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in a thread posted on X, formerly Twitter, said McConnell’s announcement is a “passing of the torch moment” in the Senate. He called McConnell “one of the most effective leaders in the history of the U.S. Senate.”

“There is much to be done, and I’m sure that Mitch will run through the finish line as Republican leader,” Graham wrote. “History will record that Senator Mitch McConnell made a substantial and positive impact on the state he loves and the nation he adores.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said in a statement that no senator has shown the same respect for the Senate as McConnell, who he added has defended conservative values and protected rights of Americans.

“Leader McConnell’s accomplishments and dedication to conservative principles may have been less recognized and heralded than their due,” Romney wrote. “The history of the Senate will revere the extraordinary record of its longest-serving Senate leader.”

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah – a major critic of the Republican leader in the midst of Ukraine and border negotiations – congratulated McConnell on a "record tenure" in the Senate.

“I hope he chooses to spend the remainder of his time fighting to secure America’s borders and unifying our conference,” Lee said in a statement posted on X.

But McConnell also received kind words from Democrats. President Joe Biden on Wednesday said "I'm sorry to hear McConnell stepped down."

"He and I - I've trusted him and we have a great relationship. We fight like hell. But he has never, never, never misrepresented anything," Biden added.

Who will replace McConnell?

The likely replacement for McConnell is one of the "Three Johns" of the Senate: Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D.; former Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Immediately following the announcement, some senators announced their alignment: Lummis said she would back her fellow Wyoming senator, Barrasso, and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D. said he would throw his hat in with Thune.

But others noted it was a good opportunity for the conference to discuss what they're looking for in new leadership. Last year, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., challenged McConnell for his leadership role and picked up 10 votes, though he ultimately lost to McConnell's 37 votes.

"We need to have a very serious discussion about really what our conference stands for. What our mission is, what we need to do as conservative leaders," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., who voted against McConnell in that leadership election, told Politico.

McConnell’s health has taken center stage

The Kentucky lawmaker's health has sparked concern in recent months. He experienced two episodes where he appeared to freeze in front of television cameras last summer that raised concerns over the octogenarian's age and fitness for office.

McConnell first froze during a news conference at the Capitol where he was escorted away from a lectern by his Republican colleagues after taking a 28-second long pause.

He later froze when talking with reporters in Kentucky after he was asked about running for reelection in 2026. McConnell appeared to begin to answer, but he stopped and remained silent for seven seconds.

Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician of the U.S. Congress, said in an August letter addressed to McConnell that there is "no evidence" the Senate minority leader has a movement disorder or had a transient ischemic attack, also known as a mini stroke. Monahan also wrote that McConnell does not have a seizure disorder and did not have a stroke during the incidents.

After the freezing episode in Kentucky, Monahan said in a separate note that McConnell has experienced "occasional lightheadedness" from dehydration and a previous concussion after falling at a hotel in Washington. McConnell was hospitalized at the time for a concussion and broken rib.

He has fallen at least two other times this year – once at a Washington airport on July 14 and another time during a foreign trip in February, according to a source close to the senator who is familiar with his work habits.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mitch McConnell to step down from leadership post in November