Sep 20, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: McConnell's closed-door confidence

Mitch McConnell
Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed cautious optimism in closed-door remarks Monday to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the GOP can win back control of the Senate, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: McConnell has publicly downplayed expectations for winning the majority, with a prediction in mid-August that the House is more likely than the Senate to change hands. His private confidence reflects some newly found hope among Republicans that their political prospects have improved.

The big picture: National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has long expressed confidence in the party's candidates, some of whom have been criticized by mainstream Republicans for being too flawed or extreme to compete in tight races.

  • Scott told donors over the weekend in Sea Island, Georgia, that he expects to win 52 seats in November — and that he's aiming even higher.
  • Democrats have been uniformly upbeat about their prospects all summer, with Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) eyeing 52 seats from his Harley Davidson.
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has put his chances of retaining the majority at 60%, according to Punchbowl News.

Driving the news: In a 45-minute question-and-answer session at the chamber, McConnell paired his optimism about winning the Senate with a stark warning about what’s at stake in the election.

  • Democrats want to make D.C. and Puerto Rico into states with full voting representation in the Senate and plan to gut the filibuster if they win more seats, McConnell warned.
  • He explained that he wants the election to be contested on inflation, the southern border, and crime, claiming that Democrats want to deflect and focus on anything else.
  • McConnell also said he expects the election to be close, with a 50/50 Senate reflecting a 50/50 country that remains starkly divided.

What they're saying: "We can confirm Leader McConnell today addressed chamber business leaders from across the country at our headquarters," said a chamber spokesperson. "It’s no surprise he received a strong and warm reception.”

  • A spokesman for McConnell declined to comment.

Between the lines: The chamber gave $3 million to the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund super PAC for the Pennsylvania Senate race earlier this month, as Axios first reported.

  • Chamber president and CEO Suzanne Clark praised McConnell at Monday's event for being a "partner and ally" to the business community and called him "a staunch defender of the values we all share."
  • She also noted that McConnell understands "personnel is policy" and that the two of them have worked to push back against some candidates at regulatory agencies.

The intrigue: Some House Republican leaders are openly hostile to the chamber and are helping to midwife a new pro-business group, called the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, as an alternative.

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said he won't even meet with the chamber if he becomes speaker next year.
  • The Intercept reported Monday that if they take back the majority, House Republicans plan to investigate the chamber over its embrace of ESG (environmental, social, and governance) criteria for businesses.
  • “There is not going to be much to investigate,” said a chamber spokesperson. "The Chamber is at the forefront of fighting the SEC climate, human capital and similar disclosures and believes fiduciaries must focus on maximizing return."

McConnell is taking a different approach from McCarthy and staying closer to the chamber, using his remarks to stress the importance of free trade agreements and downplay the emergence of populism in his party.

What we're watching: Clark has worked to maintain a close relationship with McConnell and gave the keynote address in April when the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce presented McConnell its Chamber MVP Award.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a Chamber response to the Intercept's reporting.

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