- Sen. Rick Scott is challenging Mitch McConnell to become the top Senate Republican.
- Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz, and others have called for McConnell's ouster following a disappointing midterms showing.
- This is the first time that McConnell has faced a challenge for the position.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida announced during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday that he will challenge Mitch McConnell for the right to lead Senate Republicans, answering former President Donald Trump's months-long call for an effort to oust McConnell.
This is McConnell's first time facing a challenger for the leadership position. Scott's challenge comes as former President Donald Trump and some Senate Republicans blame McConnell for a lackluster midterm election. Democrats held onto the Senate majority by flipping a seat in Pennsylvania and defending Democratic-held seats in close races in Arizona and Nevada. They will retain their majority regardless of the outcome of the December Georgia Senate runoff, though Democrats would wield greater power if Sen. Raphael Warnock is reelected.
"I believe we should have a leader that actually listens to the conference, and that is willing to stand and fight, doesn't roll over immediately," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said on his podcast.
Cruz went even further, accusing McConnell of only standing by candidates who will support the Kentuckian.
"Mitch would rather be leader than have a Republican majority," Cruz said. "If there's a Republican who can win who's not going to support Mitch, the truth of the matter is he'd rather the Democrat win."
As Politico broke the news of Scott's challenge, McConnell's allies lashed out. In the days after the elections, McConnell and Scott's respective teams have gone after each other.
"The chairman of the campaign committee challenging mcconnell over failing campaigns," Josh Holmes, McConnell's chief of staff wrote on Twitter alongside the meme of "We're all trying to find the guy who did this."
—Josh Holmes (@HolmesJosh) November 15, 2022
In another exchange, Steven Law, who runs a pro-McConnell super PAC, lashed out at Curt Anderson, a longtime Scott political adviser, for accusing the group of not doing more to help former Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker in the Georgia Senate race.
"Don't worry little buddy—we're used to covering for you," Law wrote in part in response to Anderson's message.
As the leader of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, Scott played a key role in shaping his party's strategy. Scott is also a current member of McConnell's leadership team. The duo has clashed repeatedly, including over Scott's decision to introduce his own policy plan ahead of the midterms.
President Joe Biden and other top Democrats repeatedly attacked Republicans over the possibility that the plan would lead to Social Security coming up for a vote every five years. Scott's plan called for all federal laws to sunset every five years and did not include exceptions for Social Security or Medicare.
The GOP's weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, the Senate's first since lawmakers learned that Democrats would retain control of the chamber through the end of Biden's current term, stretched on for hours. Senators who popped out early on said things were "very cordial" and in flux.
But as the midterms reckoning session dragged on, some of the reporters crammed into the hallway outside the Senate chamber said they thought they heard Cruz yelling inside.
Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas and new arrival JD Vance of Ohio left the meeting at varying times without saying a word, only to file back into the heated discussion shortly thereafter.
Unlike McConnell, Scott did not want the GOP to aggressively intervene in contested primaries, which led to Trump-backed challengers like Dr. Mehmet Oz and Don Bolduc emerging in key races in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, respectively.
McConnell has easily won past elections to lead the Senate GOP. He is known for both his fundraising ability and his knowledge of how to manage the Senate floor. But some of his colleagues are increasingly concerned about being led by a figure who has virtually no relationship with Trump. The two top Republicans' relationship crumbled in the wake of the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, and the twin losses in the 2021 Georgia runoff that handed the upper chamber to Democrats.
Trump has gone as far as to repeatedly attack his own former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife, with the racist nickname "Coco Chow."
Scott is a rising figure in Republican politics who is thought to harbor presidential ambitions. He narrowly won his Senate seat in 2018.
Insider reporter Brian Metzger contributed to this report.