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Mitch McConnell stepping down as Republican leader

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell will step away from leadership after serving as the number one Republican in the Senate for nearly two decades, he announced Wednesday.

Longtime Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Wednesday he will step away from leadership in November. 

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced his decision in the well of the Senate shortly after noon, a place where he looked in awe from its back benches in 1985 when he arrived and where he grew increasingly comfortable in the front-row seat afforded the party leaders.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” he said in prepared remarks reported by The Associated Press. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”


The dramatic decision, which will set up a leadership election in the GOP conference with several likely candidates, comes as Republicans have expressed increasing discontent with McConnell’s handling of the bipartisan border bill and national security supplemental package that included aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. 

McConnell has also butted heads with former President Donald Trump, the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner, who recently said at a Fox News town hall, “I don’t know that I can work with [McConnell].” 

Though McConnell will not be GOP leader after this year, he intends to finish his current senate term, which ends in January 2027. Sources familiar with his thinking told Fox News Digital the senator’s health was not a factor in his decision. McConnell had a concussion after a fall last year and two public episodes when he appeared to freeze while addressing reporters. 

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“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,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. It arrived today.”

Looking ahead to his departure, McConnell said it is time for “the next generation” to assume leadership in the Senate. 

“There will be a new custodian of this great institution next year. As you know, I intend to turn the job over to a Republican majority leader,” he said. “I have full confidence in my conference to choose my replacement and lead our country forward.” 

Potential successors may include one of McConnell’s lieutenants, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, John Thune, R-S.D., or John Barasso, R-Wyo. 

Florida Senator Rick Scott had previously challenged McConnell for GOP leadership in 2022, but lost that leadership election 37-10. 

Reacting to the announcement, several Republicans expressed gratitude for McConnell’s leadership and honored his decades-long career in government.

“Mitch has had a long and honorable tenure as the Republican leader. I am grateful for his service,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who had called on McConnell to step down earlier this month. “He made the decision that it was time to step down as Leader, and I certainly respect his judgment in that regard. He has many legacies, but none is more consequential than confirming hundreds of principled constitutionalists to the federal judiciary.”

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North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis called McConnell “a true legend of the U.S. Senate” and praised his leadership on tax reform, the coronavirus response and support for Ukraine. 

“He has stayed true to President Reagan’s principle of peace through strength as a stalwart supporter of NATO and Ukraine’s fight for freedom against Russian aggression. I will always be grateful for Mitch’s friendship, advice, and steadfast leadership of our conference during unprecedented times,” Tillis said. “He leaves very big shoes to fill.” 

Others were less kind.

“I called on McConnell to step down over a year ago. This is good news,” said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. But why wait so long — we need new leadership now.” 

This is a developing story and will be updated. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
 

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