Senate Republicans are optimistic about potential McConnell successors

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Shortly after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his surprise decision to step down from leadership, Senate Republicans appeared hesitant to line up behind any potential successors but expressed optimism in the conference’s ability to select a good replacement come November. 

A top contender to step into McConnell’s role took himself out of the running Tuesday, instead choosing to make a bid for the No. 2 position in the conference – Republican whip. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Fox News Digital he was fully focused on his own race when asked about possible new Republican leaders. 

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The senator said, “time will tell,” whether several more Republicans will join the race for leader. 

Senators John Thune, R– S.D., center, John Cornyn, R–Texas, and Rick Scott, R– Fla., right, are being considered as contenders in the race to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell, R– Ky., as leader. (Getty Images)

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced his bid for leader the day after McConnell’s surprise announcement, saying in a statement: “I am asking my Republican colleagues to give me the opportunity to succeed Leader McConnell.”

In a Monday interview, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., currently the Republican whip, said he is hoping to become the next Republican leader. “I hope to be, and I’m going to do everything I can to convince my colleagues,” he told local news outlet Keloland.com. 

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When asked on Tuesday who he would like to see succeed him, McConnell declined to say. 

However, Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said there are “two excellent candidates.” “We’re not going to make a bad decision.”

Tillis said that he has voted for both men in the past for different leadership roles. 

Sen. Thom Tillis

Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., speaks to reporters outside the Senate Chambers of the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

This sentiment was echoed by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, who told Fox News Digital, “We’ve got a great group of senators who are running for these leadership positions.”

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., has been speculated as another potential contender for leader, given his past attempt to unseat McConnell in 2022, garnering the support of a notable faction of more anti-establishment Republican senators. 

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However, Scott has not made his intentions known regarding the leadership race. In a statement following McConnell’s announcement, Scott said, “This is an opportunity to refocus our efforts on solving the significant challenges facing our country and actually reflect the aspirations of voters.”

The Florida Republican’s office confirmed Scott met with former President Trump on Monday, and the two spoke about his potential bid. “I talked to him about the fact that I might run for leader, and if I did that, we would have the opportunity together to change the direction of this country for the better,” he said in a statement originally provided to the Palm Beach Post. 

Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio speaks to reporters

Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, talks to reporters between votes at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 12, 2024 in Washington, D.C. ( Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, who has been vocal about his concerns about McConnell’s leadership and frequently aligns with Scott, told Fox News Digital, simply, “I like Rick. We get along,” and “he’s a good senator.”

Vance said he is waiting for all candidates to announce and make their cases before he endorses anyone. 

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has similarly butted heads with McConnell and shares some of Scott’s priorities, also said he is open-minded about a new leader. “We haven’t done this in 18 years – a long time ago,” he told Fox News Digital. “If people are interested, get out there and make your case, and I’m talking to everybody.”

“I’m not committed to anybody,” he added. 

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Hawley in a hearing

Sen. Josh Hawley, R– Mo., grilled Homeland Security Director Alejandro Mayorkas during a November 2023 Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing.

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Several other Republican senators indicated they were undecided on a leader, pointing to the fact that an election for McConnell’s replacement will not take place for eight more months. 

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., predicted to Fox News Digital that Trump will likely get involved in the Republican leadership race since “he gets involved in everything.” But, he said, “I don’t lose sleep at night over this,” because Trump’s involvement is an inevitability as long as he is “running the party.”

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