Rick Scott Challenges Mitch McConnell as GOP Infighting Heats Up
The Debt

Rick Scott Challenges Mitch McConnell as GOP Infighting Heats Up

Reuters/Elizabeth Frantz

It’s been a week since Election Day and Republicans are just now on the verge of cementing a House majority that they expected to lock up long ago. As of Tuesday afternoon, the GOP had 217 of the 218 seats needed to control the House.

As Republicans digest their election letdown and grapple with the future direction of the party, recriminations continue to fly. “It was a hugely underwhelming, disappointing performance,” Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who cruised to reelection, told reporters Tuesday.

Here’s an update on the election fallout.

McCarthy moves closer to being speaker: As the finger-pointing continued, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) managed to take a step toward securing the speaker’s gavel he has long coveted.

The 57-year-old was easily reelected by House Republicans as their leader, despite a challenge from Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs, the former head of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, who got 31 votes to McCarthy’s 188. McCarthy still faces a struggle ahead as he tries to quell dissent among conservatives and line up the 218 votes he’ll need to become speaker when the full House convenes in January.

McConnell faces a challenge from Rick Scott: On the Senate side, Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott announced to his colleagues that he will challenge Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell for the top GOP leadership spot.

Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has clashed repeatedly with McConnell over the past year. Early in the year, Scott released a proposed agenda for the party that included, among other things, a controversial plan that would require Social Security and Medicare to be renewed by Congress every five years. McConnell pointedly rejected the Scott plan an emphasized that he would set the Senate GOP agenda. The sniping between the two senators and their allies continued in recent weeks and months as they argued over election strategy and campaign spending.

“I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute that we have been in the past. We must start saying what we are for, not just what we are against,” Scott reportedly wrote in a three-page “Dear Colleague” letter Tuesday. Scott also urged his colleagues not to raise the federal debt limit until they win concessions from Democrats on government spending, indicating that he favors the kind of brinkmanship that rattled financial markets and raised questions about U.S. governance in 2011. “We shouldn’t be raising the debt ceiling unless we’re gonna do structural change, we’re gonna cut costs,” Scott said in a television appearance.

Some Republicans reportedly also criticized McConnell for backing the idea of passing an omnibus spending package by the end of the year. The GOP leader has faced a steady drumbeat of attacks by former President Donald Trump and his allies. He has also faced calls from some Republican senators to postpone the elections for party leadership posts, scheduled to be held Wednesday morning, until after the December 6 runoff in the Georgia Senate race. He has told reporters he has the votes he needs to stay on as GOP leader but reportedly left open the election timing, in a possible sign of growing discontent among his members. “You don’t lose an election like this without there being some change,” Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) said Tuesday, according to Bloomberg News.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reportedly mocked Scott in a speech on the Senate floor. “If Republicans want to follow Rick Scott’s lead, make our day,” Schumer said. “Following Senator Scott is like following a blind man right over the cliff.”

But a McConnell adviser sought to paint Scott as the Democrats’ dream candidate: “If you liked Republicans losing Senate campaigns, while saddling the party with tax increases and Medicare cuts, then you’re going to love Rick Scott’s campaign for leader,” Josh Holmes told The Washington Post. “It does have a constituency, but unfortunately for him, it’s entirely within the confines of the Democratic conference.”

The bottom line: There’s a lot of maneuvering happening between now and January 3, when the next Congress convenes, but it’s already clear that gridlock is the most likely outcome for the next two years and Republican infighting will be a major story line. Trump, as is his habit, will only add to the turmoil by announcing another White House run tonight.