Feb 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Border failures put McConnell under tough new microscope

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens during a news conference after a weekly policy luncheon with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol Building

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens during a news conference. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The Senate border deal debacle is giving new fuel for conservative critics who want to oust GOP leader Mitch McConnell.

Why it matters: The long-serving top Republican faces a growing wave of GOP senators who are more loyal to former President Trump than their Senate leaders.

  • "I've had a small group of persistent critics the whole time I've been in this job. They had their shot," McConnell told Politico.

Zoom in: McConnell found himself endorsing the bipartisan border deal Monday morning, and admitting defeat Tuesday afternoon.

  • Some of his loudest critics — including Trump, Sen Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) — led the charge against the border package.
  • McConnell has emerged from past challenges to his leadership unscathed, but the border failure is reigniting his critics.
  • While House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) is under constant threat of ouster by the right wing of his party, McConnell won't face any real leadership challenge until after the 2024 election and the start of a new Congress.

What they're saying: "WE NEED NEW LEADERSHIP — NOW," Lee tweeted shortly after the text of the supplemental package dropped Sunday night.

  • When asked if it was time for McConnell to go, Cruz said at a Tuesday press conference, "I think it is."
  • Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) posted a Charlie Brown meme mocking McConnell's failure on the border.
  • "I would hope my Republican colleagues would begin to question why we were lead into a situation where we get blamed for a problem that was 100% caused by Biden and his Democrat allies in Congress," Johnson told Axios.

Between the lines: Tension and animosity between McConnell and Trump is a big factor. McConnell has repeatedly refused to weigh in on the presidential race.

  • Meanwhile, Trump had been loudly campaigning against the border deal and has at times called to withhold more aid for Ukraine.
  • He has also repeatedly called for McConnell to be removed from leadership.
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