McConnell to Step Down in November

The longest serving Republican Leader is passing the torch.

AP (“McConnell will step down as the Senate Republican leader in November after a record run in the job“):

Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history who maintained his power in the face of dramatic convulsions in the Republican Party for almost two decades, will step down from that position in November.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced his decision Wednesday in the well of the Senate, 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. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

His decision punctuates a powerful ideological transition underway in the Republican Party, from Ronald Reagan’s brand of traditional conservatism and strong international alliances, to the fiery, often isolationist populism of former President Donald Trump.

McConnell said he plans to serve out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027, “albeit from a different seat in the chamber.”

His voice cracked with emotion as he looked back on his career and said it was time for a new generation of leaders. Dozens of members of his staff lined up behind him on the back wall of the chamber, some wiping away tears, as family and friends looked down from the gallery above. Senators from both parties — most of them taken by surprise by the announcement — trickled into the chamber as he spoke and shook his hand after he finished.

Aides said McConnell’s announcement was unrelated to his health. The Kentucky senator had a concussion from a fall last year and two public episodes where his face briefly froze while he was speaking.

“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. “A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. It arrived today.”

The senator had been under increasing pressure from the restive, and at times hostile wing of his party that has aligned firmly with Trump. The two have been estranged since December 2020, when McConnell refused to abide Trump’s lie that the election of Democrat Joe Biden as president was the product of fraud.

But while McConnell’s critics within the GOP conference had grown louder, their numbers had not grown appreciably larger, a marker of McConnell’s strategic and tactical skill and his ability to understand the needs of his fellow Republican senators.

McConnell gave no specific reason for the timing of his decision, which he has been contemplating for months, but he cited the recent death of his wife’s youngest sister as a moment that prompted introspection. “The end of my contributions are closer than I’d prefer,” McConnell said.

But his remarks were also light at times as he talked about the arc of his Senate career.

He noted that when he arrived in the Senate, “I was just happy if anybody remembered my name.” During his campaign in 1984, when Reagan was visiting Kentucky, the president called him “Mitch O’Donnell.”

McConnell endorsed Reagan’s view of America’s role in the world and the senator has persisted in face of opposition, including from Trump, that Congress should include a foreign assistance package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine.

“I am unconflicted about the good within our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world,” McConnell said.

Against long odds he managed to secure 22 Republican votes for the package now being considered by the House.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them,” McConnell said. “That said, I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed. For as long as I am drawing breath on this earth I will defend American exceptionalism.”

WaPo (“McConnell to step down from Senate leadership in November“) adds:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to step down from his leadership position in November, he announced Wednesday, a move that would mark the end of his tenure as the longest-serving Senate leader in American history.

The announcement marks the beginning of the end of an era in American politics. McConnell has been a towering force over his decades in the Senate, enraging Democrats by reshaping the federal judiciary and later serving as an occasional voice of rebuke to former president Donald Trump, who he excoriated publicly for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.


McConnell recounted the beginning of his congressional career in 1984, at age 42, during the Reagan administration.

“If you would have told me 40 years later that I would stand before you as the longest-serving Senate leaderin American history, frankly, I would have thought you’d lost your mind,” he said.

He was an incredibly effective leader, even when I strongly disagreed with his approach—as in the refusal to allow President Obama to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. But, at 82 and with his health visibility worsening, it was well past time for him to step down.

While I suspect few OTB commentators will miss him, his replacement will almost inevitably be worse.

FILED UNDER: Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. CSK says:

    The three top contenders to replace McConnell appear to be Thune, Barrasso, and Cornyn: the three Johns.

  2. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Bye Felicia/Don’t let the door hit you on your way out/(add other appropriate farewell here).

    … I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe.

    Nuh huh, not buying that you have ideals. No way.

    …his replacement will almost inevitably be worse.

    Agreed. But seriously, how high a bar is “worse than McConnell” to jump?

    ETA: And then, there’s always the possibility that worse than Mitch is a goal rather than a shortcoming.

  3. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Well, MAGAs regard McConnell as a RINO traitor, so anyone acceptable to them would in fact be a disaster.

    Rand Paul might be acceptable to them.

  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: Still in all, worse would still be a goal for Republicans if Mitch was a RINO traitor. We’re in Bizarro World here, you know.

  5. Jen says:

    While I suspect few OTB commentators will miss him, his replacement will almost inevitably be worse.

    Yep. All the more reason to hope that there’s a solid Democratic majority in the Senate after the election. I know that’s not a given or even likely, but the options are (barf emoji).

  6. CSK says:


    Just be glad that Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Trailer Queen aren’t eligible for the job. Nor, God forbid, Lauren Boebert.

  7. al Ameda says:

    Remember, in these times it can always get worse

  8. gVOR10 says:

    He was an incredibly effective leader, even when I strongly disagreed with his approach… his replacement will almost inevitably be worse.

    Effective-ineffective and better-worse aren’t the same axis. The country would be better off had Mitch been less effective, particularly in confirming Leonard Leo’s judges and justices. Effective in his case was bad. McConnell was intent on furthering the Koch agenda, and got paid very well for doing so. The next one will be pushing the Trumpist agenda. The former leads to oligarchy, the latter to full on fascism. McConnell was one of the worst things that ever happened to this country. Which doesn’t mean that the next GOP Leader won’t almost certainly be worse.

  9. Gustopher says:

    “You’re Gonna Outlive Mitch McConnell” is one of the finest songs ever recorded.

    We can either dwell upon the uncertain effects of his death, or we can celebrate how close it seems. I opt for the more optimistic and upbeat choice.

  10. Joe says:

    While I suspect few OTB commentators will miss him

    This thread suggests you know your commentariat very well.

  11. just nutha says:

    @Gustopher: Good point on hoping for optimism. Good luck!

  12. Kathy says:


    I think we’d not miss him a little less, had he not effectively stolen two Supreme Court seats.

    His actions helped take rights away from people. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

  13. Andy says:

    While I suspect few OTB commentators will miss him, his replacement will almost inevitably be worse.

    Yep! McConnell was an institutionalist, a feature absent from most Republicans today. The good news for those who hate the filibuster is that the chances the GoP will nuke it increase substantially once McConnell is gone.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    He was an incredibly effective leader, even when I strongly disagreed with his approach […]
    While I suspect few OTB commentators will miss him, his replacement will almost inevitably be worse.

    Sorry, no. @gVOR10 nailed it — being evil is only really a problem for the rest of us if you’re effective.

    Leadership is a scalar, not a vector. It only tells how good you are getting people to do what you want, not what direction you’re leading them in. Mitch did more harm to the nation than any ten full-on ideologues, all in the name of staying in a comfy position of power. It’s very unlikely that his replacement will be capable of so much harm, whether they wish it or not.

  15. Not the IT Dept. says:

    He was losing control of an increasingly larger part of his party – some senators were openly derisive of him. His mini-strokes or whatever they were when he froze up in front of the microphone or in public did not add to his image of control and strength. Another crumbling rock in what used to be an establishment party.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @Andy: The Best and Worst thing I can say about Mitch McConnell is that he was blunting the crazy wing of the Republicans.

    Best because he shifted a lot of damage from a 9 to a 7, and that’s 2 spots less harm.

    Worst because he kept a lot of the consequences of voting for lunatics from happening until there is now a lunatic caucus firmly entrenched.

    I’m firmly of a “make people feel pain if they vote for stupid shit” mindset, and want that filibuster gone. Yes, it will hurt at first, but giving people what they vote for is the only way to teach them not to vote for it.

  17. Beth says:


    I think that assumes that McConnell wouldn’t nuke it if it became inconvenient to him. I’m pretty sure if he got close to his ultimate goals, whatever those may be, he wouldn’t let the filibuster stop him. I agree that he’s an institutionalist, but he would be happy to reshape the institution to his will.


    It’s very unlikely that his replacement will be capable of so much harm, whether they wish it or not.

    I think the Johns are relatively competent and not complete morons; if one of them becomes leader there’s no way they can control the whackjobs like Scott or Tuberbrain. McConnell had a fairly long runway of amassing power. I suspect he’s burned a lot of it staying in power. I think if he were to step down today and put his machine behind someone, maybe they establish themselves before Trump and the morons get to him.

    Still, I hope he dies painfully during this summer so Scott can wreck the GOP’s senate chances. The only thing better would be if he died painfully on election night while watching a blue wave just absolutely crush the GOP. That’d be nice.

  18. gVOR10 says:

    Paul Campos at LGM reminds us

    Well this is interesting . . . just a day after reports got leaked that Mitch McConnell was negotiating an endorsement of Donald Trump in a bid to flip the Senate to GOP control — thereby making it possible for him to recapture his position as Senate Majority leader — McConnell announced today that he’s stepping down as Senate Minority Leader in November:

    Perhaps that negotiation did not go well.

  19. HelloWorld! says:

    Don’t let the door hit you on your way out! His career as a politician certainly has been lucrative. His last job before being elected paid $17,000 per year (equivalent to about $130,000 today vs. 1968). Now he is worth 35 million! That means senators make $625,000 per year. I’m in the wrong business!