‘Our Conference Is Divided’: Mitch McConnell Faces Renewed Calls To Step Down After Border Bill Fiasco

Hands up. Don't shoot! Mitch McConnell surrenders to Chuck Schumer. Photo: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is facing renewed criticism from Republican senators over his leadership following a recent dispute over a bipartisan border security bill.

The bill, which was previously endorsed by McConnell, was strongly opposed by many Republican senators, who believed that it did not sufficiently reduce levels of illegal migration to the United States, with particular opposition over a provision to permit up to 5,000 persons to be processed per day before emergency measures could be enacted. Though McConnell later voted against proceeding to consider the bill on Wednesday, his detractors in the Senate Republican conference have begun calling for his replacement, while other senators have declined to say whether they support him.

“No,” Republican Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Josh Hawley of Missouri told the Daily Caller News Foundation when asked whether they still have confidence in McConnell’s leadership. “Yes,” meanwhile, was the response of Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, when asked whether there should be a change in leadership now.

Hawley, Lee and Vance are among a group of at least four senators, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who have recently called for McConnell’s departure. Meanwhile, several other senators who spoke with the DCNF did not indicate whether they supported or opposed McConnell, leaving their positions unclear.

“No comment,” Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas told the DCNF.

“I disagree with [McConnell’s] desire to fund Ukraine and to send money to Ukraine. I’ve also disagreed with the border bill that he put together. I think it was inadequate to stem the tide of illegal immigration. So I’ve had a great deal of…disagreement with the policies he’s been putting forward,” said Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, though he reiterated his answer when asked whether McConnell should go.

“I disagreed with the strategy,” Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt of Missouri told the DCNF about McConnell’s leadership on the issue of border security. “One thing at a time,” he added when asked about a change in leadership.

In November of 2022, McConnell faced a challenge to his leadership of the conference from Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who ran as a candidate to replace him in the 118th Congress. He defeated Scott in the leadership election by a secret ballot vote of 37 to 10, with Hawley, Lee and Cruz as well as Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin being among those who voted against him.

On Tuesday, McConnell appeared to have the backing of senior Republican senators to stay in office. “I’m fine with it,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina about McConnell’s leadership to the DCNF, with Sens. John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Peter Ricketts of Nebraska, Roger Marshall of Kansas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama all endorsing his leadership.

“The fact is, our conference is divided on this right now. And I think it’s very difficult to manage the divided conference. This isn’t the first time nor will it be the last time that we’ll be divided on an issue,” said Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee. “And I have every confidence that we’ll navigate through this under Senator McConnell’s leadership.”

“I’ve had a small group of persistent critics the whole time I’ve been in this job. They had their shot,” McConnell told Politico Wednesday.

McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Arjun Singh on February 7, 2024

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