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WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted Wednesday to oust Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from the top of his party’s conference, though the long-standing Republican leader overcame the intraparty challenge.
During a closed-door Senate Republican meeting on Wednesday, Cruz supported a bid by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, to replace McConnell — the first challenge to McConnell’s leadership since the Kentuckian took control of the party in 2007. Scott is the head of the Senate Republican campaign arm.
But a large 37-member majority voted against Scott’s bid for leader during the meeting that lasted 3.5 hours.
Cruz had also introduced a motion in the meeting to delay leadership elections until all races in the upper chamber were called. One of Georgia’s Senate seats remains up in the air until a January runoff between Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. Democrats currently have a 50-seat majority with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker.
Cruz’s motion to delay also failed.
Cruz had previously voiced ire over his party’s lackluster showing in the midterm elections, which failed to flip the Senate from Democrats’ minuscule majority, and Republican leadership’s inability to unify the conference in opposing Democrats’ agenda.
Coming out of the meeting in the historic Old Senate Chamber, Cruz said “there was a lot of expression in the room that the Republican conference and Republican leadership needs to be more vigorous and more effective in fighting policies that are hurting the American people.”
Cruz said he remained determined to push leadership to take a more assertive, unified front in the future.
Prior to the vote, Cruz lambasted leadership for not forcing unified opposition to Democrats’ agenda, citing Republican defections on a bipartisan infrastructure package passed last year and a pending vote Wednesday in the Senate to advance legislation that would enshrine same-sex marriage protections into federal law that could likely attract a number of Republican votes.
“The Democrats actually have discipline to say, ‘we don’t support your agenda and we’ll block it,'” Cruz said on his podcast in an episode aired Wednesday. “Our leadership believes there is nothing worth actually fighting for, that we should surrender on everything.”
Republicans had also met to discuss the future of their party on Tuesday — a meeting Cruz described in his podcast as “an epic, gladiatorial battle” where he made his objections known. Cruz’s shouts could be heard by reporters waiting outside the meeting room.
But the Wednesday meeting was much more civil, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said as senators spilled out of the room. He acknowledged senators’ disappointment with the midterm results and their vexation at current Senate rules that make it difficult for the body as a whole to deliberate on legislation. Most legislation is marked up in committee and passed swiftly through the floor.
“People were frustrated, obviously, because we weren’t as successful as we’d hoped to be” in the midterms, Cornyn told reporters. “I thought [the meeting] was very civil, and it wasn’t personal. I know sometimes things tend to deteriorate into the personal, but this was very respectful, very professional.”
Cornyn, who is a close ally of current Republican leadership, stressed that each senator is a “free agent,” which makes unifying behind a single vision “challenging.” During the meeting, Cornyn brought up avenues for rank-and-file members to raise points with leadership, McConnell told reporters.
McConnell appeared unfazed after the vote, telling reporters that he wasn’t taking the challenge personally and “of course, I don’t own this job.” He said he was proud to have won a 37-member majority within the conference despite the spirited case against him. He added that he has no intention of giving up the leadership position.
“Anybody who wants to run for it, feel free to do so,” he said. But he added, “Look, I’m not going anywhere.”