Apr 30, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate GOP "Breakfast Club" plots post-McConnell changes

an illustration of an elephant trunk stirring a cup of tea with a spoon

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

A half-dozen conservative senators known as the "Breakfast Club" are banding together to try to influence the race for Senate GOP leader — and how the chamber would run with a Republican majority.

Why it matters: Republican senators who soured on departing Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's tight-grip style are some of the biggest wild cards in the leadership race at a time when the GOP has a good chance of winning control of the chamber in the Nov. 5 elections.

  • The Breakfast Club is an unofficial group but it's as close as the Senate gets to the House Freedom Caucus, which has been a persistent thorn in the side of GOP leadership during one of the most chaotic sessions in that chamber's history.
  • The Senate group, which includes Republican Sens. Rick Scott (Florida), Ted Cruz (Texas), Ron Johnson (Wisconsin), Mike Lee (Utah), Mike Braun (Indiana) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), meets one morning each week.
  • It hopes to add like-minded senators such as J.D. Vance (Ohio), Eric Schmitt (Missouri) and Roger Marshall (Kansas) soon, according to a source familiar with the group's plans.

Zoom in: Breakfast Club members see the likelihood of a GOP majority in the Senate next year — along with the battle to replace McConnell — as a chance to shift more power their way.

  • The challenge: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) — both McConnell allies — so far are the only candidates for the Senate GOP leadership post.
  • Lee told Axios he has had "lengthy" discussions with Thune and Cornyn about proposed changes such as term limits for the GOP leader, and how they'd approach allowing senators to raise amendments to legislation.
  • McConnell has been the party's leader in the Senate since 2007.
  • Thune and Cornyn's offices declined to comment.

Between the lines: The Breakfast Club senators largely want to prioritize cutting government spending and border security, among other things.

  • None voted for the $95 billion foreign aid package that cleared the Senate last week — neither did Vance, Schmitt and Marshall — in a split with McConnell.
  • Some are livid over McConnell teaming up with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pass the package, and they plan to air more frustrations in the coming weeks, according to one Senate aide.

Zoom out: The Breakfast Club began after Scott's failed bid to unseat McConnell as leader in 2022.

  • "Before I ran against McConnell, it was basically a dictatorship," Scott told Axios in an interview.
  • Scott — who is mulling another run for leader — also has hosted regular dinners at his home, where the Breakfast Club has been joined by House Freedom Caucus members such as Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Andy Biggs (Arizona).
  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has been a guest as well.

Despite the chaos the Freedom Caucus has brought to the House — including the ouster of former Speaker Kevin McCarthy — Scott said he thinks the House group is "working to be relevant in a positive way."

  • Scott added that he also supports Johnson, and acknowledged the difficulty of managing the GOP's razor-thin majority in the House.

The bottom line: It's unclear how much influence the Breakfast Club — still a small section of the Senate's GOP membership — ultimately will have.

  • But "if we as a group are not for something, we don't get anything done — that was the whole premise of the whole thing," Scott said.
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