As McCarthy Flounders, McConnell Becomes Longest-Serving Senate Leader

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Mitch McConnell is set to make history on Tuesday by becoming the longest-serving Senate leader ever after 16 years of leading the Senate Republican conference.

The Kentucky Republican will surpass the late Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), who served as a widely respected party leader from 1961 to 1977, once the Senate gavels in for the start of the 118th Congress at noon.

McConnell, 80, was elected to the Senate in 1984 and became minority leader in 2007. He served as majority leader from 2015 to 2021 when Republicans maintained control of the upper chamber.

The notoriously taciturn GOP leader is expected to deliver a speech on Tuesday praising Mansfield’s “behind-the-scenes” style as a leader “who preferred to focus on serving their colleagues rather than dominating them,” according to excerpts obtained by Politico. The remarks are an obvious reference to the way McConnell likes to operate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) shows his University of Louisville sweater as he walks from the Senate floor back to his office at the U.S. Capitol on Dec. 22, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Drew Angerer via Getty Images

But McConnell’s leadership style hasn’t been popular with every member of his conference. After the GOP’s disappointing performance in November’s 2022 midterm elections, a group of 10 Senate Republicans challenged McConnell by opposing him in a leadership election. McConnell still won handily but the drama exposed deep rifts within his conference, which grew wider after Republicans failed to win back the Senate last year.

During his tenure as leader, McConnell won plaudits within the GOP for obstructing much of President Barack Obama’s agenda, including the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice. The latter move led to the repeal of federal abortion rights, a longtime goal of the conservative movement.

He approached Donald Trump’s presidency transactionally, passing legislation cutting taxes and confirming scores of judges while turning a blind eye to the former president’s outbursts. And while he called out Trump for causing the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, he shielded him from being convicted in his impeachment trial.

Under President Joe Biden, however, McConnell has shown a willingness to cross the aisle and support bipartisan initiatives, including a $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul, gun safety reforms and investments to domestic semiconductor manufacturing.

McConnell is also set to appear with Biden at an event in Kentucky on Wednesday to tout key infrastructure remarks ― a remarkable move in today’s bitterly divided partisan politics. The bipartisan affair stands in sharp contrast to the chaos in the House, where Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is still struggling to lock up the necessary votes to become Speaker due to a conservative insurgency that is seeking, among other things, a more confrontational approach with the Biden administration.

McConnell hasn’t offered any clues about his future in the Senate. Asked in November if breaking Mansfield’s record would make him consider retirement at some point, he said: “I’m not going anywhere.”

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