Republican Senator Scott Demands ‘Structural Change’ to Hike Debt Limit

(Bloomberg) -- Senator Rick Scott will challenge Mitch McConnell for the chamber’s top Republican leadership post during a closed-door meeting Wednesday as allies of the two men trade blame for the party’s disappointing performance in the midterm elections.

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The Florida Republican, who was in charge of his party’s campaign apparatus in the midterms, is among a group of GOP senators calling to delay elections for party leaders in the next Congress until after a Dec. 6 runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat.

Regardless of the outcome of that race, Democrats will retain their Senate majority, a blow to Republicans who had hoped to leverage voter anxiety over the economy and historical trends to gain control.

“I’m not satisfied with the status quo,” Scott said as he left a lengthy closed-door meeting of Senate Republicans Tuesday at the Capitol. “I think we should have an option.”

McConnell said he has the votes to continue as the Senate GOP leader. But in a sign that the revolt among Republicans may be growing, he said “we may or may not be holding an election tomorrow.”

“I don’t own this job. Anyone in the conference is certainly entitled to challenge me,” McConnell said. “I welcome the contest.”

The possible postponement of the leadership vote and Scott’s challenge to McConnell are markers of the discontent within the Republican Party after its candidates fell well short of expectations in the election.

In the House Tuesday, GOP leader Kevin McCarthy faced a challenge as the party leader and nominee for speaker next year when Republicans are expected to control the chamber by a slim margin. He won the vote, but it was clear that he still needs to consolidate support to win the speakership.

In the Senate, a closed-door GOP luncheon that was supposed to end around 2 p.m. stretched nearly two hours longer, and many who attended left grim-faced.

“You don’t lose an election like this without there being some change,” Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, said as he left the meeting.

He said McConnell and Scott had a “candid” exchange and blamed each other for the failures of Republican candidates.

“Senator Scott disagrees with the approach that, that Mitch has taken in this election and for the last couple years,” Hawley said. “And Senator McConnell criticized Senator Scott’s management” of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

He suggested he’s backs Scott but wasn’t sure he could topple McConnell, adding that the party needs to have “a tough conversation” about what it stands for.

McConnell and Scott have been at odds for months over spending to help GOP candidates in last week’s election and Scott’s controversial proposal to switch the popular Medicare and Social Security from permanent entitlements to temporary programs renewed every five years by Congress. McConnell also has complained about weak GOP candidates in critical races.

Many of those candidates were backed by Donald Trump, who is expected to announce another bid for the White House Tuesday night. Trump has been in a long-running feud with McConnell and the former president has called him a “lousy leader” who should be ousted. He’s praised Scott as a possible replacement. Hawley said he expected Trump to weigh in on the leadership fight.

Scott rejected the notion that the selection of candidates was to blame for the GOP’s performance in the election.

“We had great candidates,” Scott said Tuesday on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power With David Westin.” “The intensity wasn’t there the way we thought.”

Scott said a delay would allow more time to assess the party’s election performance and suggested the GOP should focus on how to generate more enthusiasm from its core voters.

“Give people time to have a real conversation about why we didn’t get a majority when 70% of Americans think the country is on the wrong track,” Scott said on Bloomberg. “What do we have to do to make sure there is energy on our side?”

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer mocked Scott in a speech on the Senate floor earlier Tuesday condemning Republicans’ “MAGA insanity.”

“If Republicans want to follow Rick Scott’s lead, make our day,” Schumer said. “Following Senator Scott is like following a blind man right over the cliff.”

In a sign of battles to come, Scott on Tuesday urged colleagues not to raise the US government’s legal debt limit until they force Democrats to agree to federal spending cuts.

Scott is backing a course that could lead to a showdown between congressional Republicans and the White House. That’s raising the specter of the 2011 standoff that brought the US to the brink of default, triggering the first-ever downgrade of US debt and a stock market slide.

Key Democrats are seeking to avert a similar scenario by moving to increase the legal limit before the next Congress takes office.

“We shouldn’t be raising the debt ceiling unless we’re gonna do structural change, we’re gonna cut costs,” Scott said on BTV.

--With assistance from Zach C. Cohen.

(Updates with description of conversations in 12th paragraph)

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