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Mitch McConnell
After serving as Republican leader for 17 years, Mitch McConnell is facing a revolt from members of his own party. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

‘Disaster,’ ‘Embarrassing,’ ‘a Charade’: Republicans Are Furious With Mitch McConnell

The majority of the Republican conference remains behind Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But in a sign of waning influence, his critics are more outspoken than ever before.

The Senate doesn’t have the same process that led to the ouster of Kevin McCarthy in the House — and that’s probably a good thing for Mitch McConnell.

Some Republicans are furious with McConnell over the border bill. In private and to the press, some members haven’t minced words on McConnell’s job this last week: “a disaster,” “abysmally embarrassing,” “a charade” and “out of step with the party, and out of step with voters.”

After serving as Republican leader for 17 years, McConnell is facing a revolt from members of his own party. The Senate Republican Conference has changed significantly since McConnell first took over — and many of its younger and more conservative members seem more aligned with Donald Trump than their leader.

“[Trump] is the future, he’s going to be the nominee of the party, and he may well win in November,” said Sen. Josh Hawley. “I think Senator McConnell is probably not the future.”

McConnell and his staff were a central part of getting the border deal done, negotiator Sen. Chris Murphy said.

“It’s not great news when the Senate leader helped write this package, and it only got four votes,” Murphy said. “In the end, it just unfortunately appears that no one’s in charge of that caucus right now.”

Senate Republican detractors have accused McConnell of prioritizing Ukraine at the expense of a more comprehensive border plan.

“How did we get into this position to now be blamed for lack of border security? There’s one answer to that, it’s called Mitch McConnell,” Sen. Ron Johnson said.

“All I can say is the next leadership election, there will be a challenge,” Johnson added. “Rick Scott actually wants to do it. If he wants to run, I’ll support Rick.”

Scott, who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for leader in 2022, wouldn’t confirm whether or not he’d run for party leader at the start of the new Congress next year. He did tell NOTUS he was dissatisfied with McConnell’s leadership, and that “the conference needs to be run where we bring everybody together, and we stop doing things in secret.”

McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but the leader addressed the critics in an interview with Politico. “I’ve had a small group of persistent critics the whole time I’ve been in this job. They had their shot,” McConnell said.

While the group publicly bashing McConnell is a minority of the conference, it is a loud minority, and several senators expressed concern to NOTUS that the attention on party infighting would distract from putting forward serious border amendments that could garner bipartisan support.

McConnell has his staunch supporters in the conference.

“I haven’t really spent a lot of time worried about our leadership, nor do I think it’s fair to blame one person for the way that it’s played out,” Sen. Marco Rubio said. “Leaders here sort of help senators coordinate, but it’s not like the House where you have more of a leader-driven process.”

Sen. Roger Marshall called McConnell “one of the brightest political minds I’ve ever dealt with.”

And Sen. Thom Tillis said he does not believe McConnell’s leadership is at risk, despite the naysayers.

“It’s good theater. It’s interesting to watch. It’s a shiny object, but Mitch is gonna be the leader for the remainder of this Congress, no doubt in my mind,” Tillis said.

He compared McConnell to his dog, who is named after the senator.

“My dog, little Mitch, invokes the same emotions as the big Mitch does from time to time. So most of the time, I want to hug him, but every once in a while I want to kick him,” Tillis said. “But at the end of the day, he is a strong leader.”

Katherine Swartz is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.