Mitch McConnell is stepping down as Republican Senate leader

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitch McConnellThe Longest serving Senate President in history He will step down in November, having held on to power in the face of dramatic upheavals in the Republican Party for nearly two decades.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced his decision Wednesday in the well of the Senate, where party leaders watched in awe from the backbenches when he arrived in 1985 and where he has grown increasingly comfortable in the front-row seats. .

“One of life's most underrated skills is knowing when it's time to move on to the next chapter in life,” he said. “So I stand before you today … to say that this is my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

His decision marks a powerful ideological shift in the Republican Party, from the traditional conservatism and strong international alliances of Ronald Reagan to the fiery, often isolationist populism of former President Donald Trump.

McConnell said he plans to finish out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027, “albeit in a different seat in the room.”

As he looked back on his career, his voice crackled with emotion as he said it was time for a new generation of leaders. Dozens of members of his staff lined the back wall of the room behind him, some wiping away tears, as family and friends looked down from the gallery above. Senators from both parties — most of whom were surprised by the announcement — shook hands when he finished speaking.

Aides said McConnell's announcement was unrelated His health. A Kentucky senator shocked Since last year's fall and two public episodes There his face froze for a moment when He was talking.

“When I was thinking about when I would deliver some message to the Senate, I always envisioned a moment when I would have complete clarity and peace about the sunset of my work,” McConnell said. “At a moment I believe in, I've helped defend the ideals I believe in. Today has come.”

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The senator has come under increasing pressure from antagonistic and sometimes hostile factions of his party firmly aligned with Trump. Both have separated from December 2020When McConnell refused to accept Trump's lie that the election of Democrat Joe Biden for president was the result of fraud.

But while McConnell's critics have grown louder at the GOP convention, their numbers have not grown significantly larger, indicating McConnell's strategic and tactical acumen and ability to understand the needs of his fellow Republican senators.

McConnell gave no specific reason for the timing of his decision, which he had been mulling over for months, but he cited the recent death of his wife's younger sister as a moment of introspection. “The end of my contributions is closer than I would like,” McConnell said.

But when he talked about the curve of his Senate career, his comments were sometimes lighthearted.

When he arrived in the Senate, he remarked, “I'm glad if somebody remembers my name.” During his campaign in 1984, when Reagan visited Kentucky, the president called him “Mitch O'Donnell.”

McConnell endorsed Reagan's vision of America's role in the world, and in the face of opposition, including from Trump, the senator continued to urge Congress to include a $60 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine.

“I'm not conflicted about the advantages in our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world,” McConnell said.

Against long odds he managed to get 22 Republican votes.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular time. I have many mistakes. “Getting politics wrong is not one of them,” McConnell said. “I believe more than ever that America's global leadership is necessary to protect the Shining City on the Hill that Ronald Reagan talked about. I will defend American exceptionalism as long as I breathe on this earth.

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After his speech, Sen. Rep. Susan Collins, R-Maine, congratulated him in a brief speech, saying she admired him for “stepping up when it wasn't popular to do what was right for our country and our world.”

Trump has pulled the party hard to the ideological right, pushing for a tougher crackdown on NATO, international trade agreements and immigration, clinging to the lie that the election was stolen from him in 2020.

McConnell and Trump worked together during Trump's first term, remaking the Supreme Court and federal judiciary into a more conservative image and tax code. But there was friction from the start, with Trump often firing shots at the senator.

Their relationship has essentially ended since Trump refused to accept the results of the Electoral College. But Jan. 6, 2021, the rift deepened dramatically after the attack on the Capitol. McConnell assigned blame and responsibility to Trump and said he should be held accountable for his actions through the criminal justice system.

McConnell's critics insist Trump could have done more, including voting to convict him during his second impeachment trial. McConnell did notTrump argued that since he was no longer in office, he could not be impeached.

Instead of fading from prominence after the Capitol riots, Trump has continued to assert his control over the party and finds himself on a clear glide path to the Republican nomination. Other members of the Republican Senate leadership have endorsed Trump. McConnell did not, which drew criticism from other Republican senators.

McConnell's path to power has rarely been a straight line, but from the day he walked onto the Senate floor in 1985 and took his seat as the youngest Republican senator, he set his sights on being party leader. What made him different was that many Senate leaders wanted to run for president. McConnell wanted to run the Senate. He lost races for lower party posts before climbing steadily, finally becoming party leader in 2006 and winning nine straight elections.

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He is very recently Overcome a challenge Last November, Florida Sen. Led by Rick Scott.

McConnell built his power base through caring and nurturing his members, including understanding their political needs. After seeing the potential danger of the growing Tea Party, he also founded The Senate Leadership Fund, a super political action group that has given hundreds of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates.

Despite concerns about his health, colleagues have said in recent months that he has recovered. McConnell was not cognitively impaired, but had some additional physical limitations.

“I love the Senate,” he said. “This is my life. There may be more distinguished members of this organization throughout our history, but I doubt if there are any more admired.

But, he added, “Father's time is not defeated. I'm no longer the guy who sits in the back and I hope colleagues remember my name. It's time for the next generation of leadership.

He said there will be a time to remember, but not today.

“I still have enough gas to completely fool my critics, and I want to do it with all the enthusiasm they've become accustomed to.”

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