Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on Tuesday announced a challenge to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for GOP leader after their party’s disastrous performance in the midterm elections and its failure to retake the Senate.
“The status quo is broken and big change is needed,” Scott said in a tweet. “It’s time for new leadership in the Senate that unites Republicans to advance a bold conservative agenda.”
In a letter to his colleagues, Scott argued that Republicans need to be “far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past. We must start saying what we are for, not just what we are against.”
“I do not believe we can simply continue to say the Democrats are radical, which they are. Republican voters expect and deserve to know our plan to promote and advance conservative values,” he added.
Here’s a copy of Scott’s letter:
McConnell’s position as leader isn’t seriously in doubt. On Tuesday, he struck a defiant tone and and said he has the votes to become leader again ― whether the GOP leadership election takes place this week or not. Some Republican senators have called for delaying the election until after the Dec. 6 Georgia Senate runoff election.
“I have the votes. I will be elected,” McConnell proclaimed at a weekly press conference. “The only issue is whether we do it sooner or later.”
Scott laid out his case during a contentious, three-hour GOP conference meeting earlier on Tuesday. The Florida Republican engaged in a tense back-and-forth with McConnell where they criticized each other, according to several attendees, putting an exclamation mark on the long-simmering feud between the two men and their staff over campaign tactics this year.
Scott reportedly recorded a video prior to the election announcing a challenge to McConnell as leader, but he abandoned those plans after the much-hyped “red wave” failed to materialize last week.
Some of Scott’s colleagues wondered aloud why anyone would vote for him over McConnell, namely because Scott is the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee at a time when Republicans were just crushed in the midterm elections.
“If you’re going to assess blame for election losses, I don’t know how you trade in the leader for the chairman of the NRSC,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told reporters. “That’s just sort of basic to me.”
He added, “If not Mitch McConnell, who?”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is close with McConnell, said he believed Scott was making a mistake by mounting his challenge.
“I hate to see him do it this way,” Cornyn told HuffPost, adding that it would distract from the Georgia Senate runoff election.
Earlier this year, Scott introduced a controversial plan that called for raising taxes on the poor and reauthorizing Social Security and Medicare every five years. Democrats seized on the proposal and used it to attack Republicans all over the country.
McConnell pointedly refused to detail an agenda ahead of the election and his leadership style hasn’t always jived with rank-and-file GOP senators.
“I’m gonna support whatever is going to change the current dynamic, which for me is not as much about the leader as the leadership technique,” Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), who is supporting Scott for leader, told reporters on Tuesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said most of his GOP colleagues would prefer to put off their leadership elections until after the Georgia Senate runoff is over in December.
“It’s not about Mitch so much as we don’t even know who’s in the conference,” Graham said. “We’ve got to figure out what went wrong.”
But even if the leadership elections were delayed, he didn’t seem convinced that anyone could topple McConnell.
“I don’t really see that right now,” he said.
For now, Senate Republicans are set to hold their leadership elections on Wednesday.
McConnell is standing for another term as GOP leader, a position he’s held longer than any Republican in U.S. history. If he wins again, it would make him the longest-serving Senate party leader ever.