Mitch McConnell Steps Down from Senate Leadership

The longest-serving Senate leader leaves a legacy that will be felt for a generation.

Written by Jack Elbaum

What’s happening: Long-time Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday that he would be stepping down from his leadership position in November.

  • Context: He was the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history.

Why? In a speech, McConnell explained he is stepping down for two main reasons. First, he is now 82 years old and it is his responsibility to understand when his time is up. Second, his views are increasingly out of step with the rest of the Republican party, particularly on foreign policy.

  • Details: A growing number of Republicans are taking an approach to foreign policy that does not prioritize American leadership and is more isolationist. The difference in philosophy has become clear amid battles over whether to fund American allies, such as Israel and Ukraine, in wars launched against them.

Legacy: McConnell’s chief accomplishment was transforming the Supreme Court from a liberal bastion to a conservative one. Blocking former President Barack Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland and then confirming three new Justices during former President Donald Trump’s term — including, controversially, one at the very end — secured a conservative majority on the bench for a generation.

Reactions: Most reactions on both sides were charitable and deferential. However, on the hand, the House Freedom Caucus wrote, “Our thoughts are with our Democrat colleagues in the Senate on the retirement of their Co-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ukraine). No need to wait till November… Senate Republicans should IMMEDIATELY elect a Republican Minority Leader.”

What’s next? The Republicans will have to nominate a new leader. Most GOP Senators do not yet know who they will be supporting, but possible contenders include Senator Jon Thune from South Dakota, Senator John Cornyn from Texas, and Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming.