May 29, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: Inside Rick Scott's anti-McConnell gamble

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) attends a press conference on government funding at the U.S. Capitol

Rick Scott (R-Fla.) attends a press conference on government funding at the U.S. Capitol on March 6. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is betting that backlash against the chamber's current Republican leadership will translate into a groundswell of support for him to step in as Sen. Mitch McConnell's successor.

Why it matters: Scott's bid to become the next Senate GOP leader is centered on significant changes he's proposing to Republican conference rules, a tactic he's wagering will make him a more appealing choice than his rivals, who hew more closely to McConnell's style and philosophy.

  • "If you don't want big change, no one should elect me," Scott, who launched his long-shot leadership bid last week, told Axios in an interview Wednesday.
  • Scott is pushing six-year term limits for party leaders and telling colleagues he would seek to devolve power by enforcing regular order — the process by which legislation comes to the floor through committees — rather than consolidating power in the hands of leadership.

The big picture: Senate conservatives could latch onto Scott's campaign, with the other two candidates in the race — Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) — viewed as McConnell allies.

  • Scott criticized the way McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have run the chamber, arguing rank-and-file members should have a say over which legislation reaches the floor.
  • He pointed to the Senate's passage of foreign aid earlier this year, arguing McConnell and Schumer had a "backroom deal" to pair support for Israel with billions in support for Ukraine. That arrangement angered many conservatives.
  • "You should be clear with your colleagues, so you don't have a position different than what the conference's position is," Scott said.

Scott is looking ahead to 2025, when Republicans are in a good position to take back control of the Senate and are hopeful to send former President Trump back to the White House.

  • Scott, a Trump ally, said he called the former president shortly before he announced his leadership bid.
  • The former Florida governor and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman said his role as majority leader under a Trump administration would be to "try to get the president's agenda passed" and help Republican senators "get what they want to get accomplished."

Between the lines: Scott's term-limits proposal is the marquee element of a broader pitch for a more democratized structure in the Senate.

  • "People believe that, like a lot of things in D.C., we've given leader too much authority. By having term limits, they won't have as much authority," Scott said.
  • McConnell, the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, has urged Republicans to oppose term limits. Cornyn has said he would support a vote on term limits, and Thune has said he's "open to discussing" the idea.

The intrigue: Scott said people around the country don't see Republicans in D.C. as "fighters."

  • "We haven't been fighting to get better stuff done. ... Republicans in D.C. don't have a plan," Scott said.

Reality check: Scott's campaign is still seen as a long-shot bid, GOP sources tell Axios.

  • Scott ran against McConnell in 2022, picking up just 10 votes.
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