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Scott Challenges McConnell
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Scott Challenges McConnell

The Florida Republican’s bid to replace the longest-serving GOP leader is unlikely to succeed.

Happy Wednesday! What a week yesterday was. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Polish officials said Tuesday that a missile killed two people after landing in Przewodów, a village in southeastern Poland that borders Ukraine. The development prompted President Joe Biden to convene an emergency meeting of G7 and NATO leaders, and the group agreed to support Poland’s investigation into what happened and then “collectively determine our next steps.” Russia rained dozens of missiles down across Ukraine yesterday—targeting electrical infrastructure in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, and other cities—but denied responsibility for “any strikes on targets near the Ukrainian-Polish border.” The White House seemed to concur, with Biden saying the missile was “unlikely” to have come from Russia based on its trajectory, and three anonymous U.S. officials telling the Associated Press that, according to preliminary assessments, the missile that struck Poland was fired by Ukrainian forces in an attempt to intercept Russian strikes.
  • Former President Donald Trump formally launched his 2024 presidential campaign on Tuesday, filing with the Federal Election Commission and delivering a lengthy speech at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach. Trump managed to stick to the teleprompter for most of his hour-plus remarks—hammering his successor on his handling of the economy, immigration, foreign policy, and more—but he veered off-course a handful of times to hint at his 2020 stolen election claims and announce he is a “victim.” Trump will reportedly not have a formal campaign manager, but longtime GOP operative Chris LaCivita and Trump allies Susie Wiles and Brian Jack are set to have big roles in the operation.
  • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney on Tuesday struck down a Georgia law banning abortions once a baby has a detectable heartbeat at about six weeks of gestation. McBurney ruled the law invalid because it violated Supreme Court precedent when passed in 2019, though he noted that a new ban passed now would not fail that test. Georgia has filed an appeal. 
  • U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan struck down Title 42 on Tuesday, blocking the Biden administration from continuing the pandemic-era immigration policy—which was first issued by the Trump administration to expel migrants at the southern border without opening asylum proceedings—on the grounds that it’s “arbitrary and capricious in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.” The Biden administration doesn’t plan to appeal the ruling, but asked Sullivan if the order could take effect on December 21 to give the Department of Homeland Security time to prepare for the change in policy.
  • A newly declassified Government Accountability Office report revealed that, of the 49 U.S. warplanes examined from 2011 to 2021, only four met their annual readiness goals most years and 26 didn’t meet their goals a single time—including planes likely to be crucial in any conflict with China. The readiness goals track fleet preparedness by measuring how often planes are able to fly and complete at least one mission.
  • House Republicans held their leadership elections as planned on Tuesday, voting 188-31 to nominate Rep. Kevin McCarthy for speaker over Rep. Andy Biggs, a challenger from the Freedom Caucus. It’s a strong start for McCarthy, but—as long as all 435 House members are voting—he’ll need to secure the support of 218 representatives by the full House vote in January. House Republicans also elected Rep. Steve Scalise—who ran unopposed—to serve as majority leader, Rep. Tom Emmer to serve as majority whip, and Rep. Elise Stefanik to serve another term as conference chair.
  • Blake Masters and Adam Laxalt—Republican U.S. Senate candidates from Arizona and Nevada, respectively—formally conceded their respective races on Tuesday. Masters claimed there were “obviously a lot of problems” with the election, but admitted he had “no path forward.” Laxalt, meanwhile, said he congratulated his Democratic opponent Catherine Cortez Masto on her win, adding he was “confident” that any election challenge would “not alter the ultimate outcome.” Kari Lake still hasn’t admitted defeat in Arizona’s gubernatorial race—her campaign says it’s “collecting stories and curing ballots”—but incumbent GOP Gov. Doug Ducey reportedly called Democrat Katie Hobbs yesterday to congratulate her on her victory.

Festivus Comes Early for Senate Republicans

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listen during a news conference after a policy luncheon with Senate Republicans. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

For the first time since becoming leader of the Senate Republican Conference in 2007, Mitch McConnell has a challenger for the top job. He claimed to “welcome the contest.”

During a post-election lunch for GOP senators that lasted more than three hours—and reportedly featured a “tense” back-and-forth between McConnell and Sen. Rick Scott—the junior senator from Florida finally launched the leadership bid he’d been hinting at for months. “It’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues announcing his intentions. “There is a Republican Party that is alive and well in communities across America. It is time there is one in Washington, D.C., too.”

Like Rep. Andy Biggs’ short-lived effort to block Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s speakership bid, Scott’s challenge—which is supported by former President Donald Trump—is all but assured to fail. “I think the outcome is pretty clear,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “I have the votes. I will be elected. The only issue is whether we [hold the vote] sooner or later.”

McConnell and Scott have been feuding for months from their perches atop two of the GOP’s largest campaign arms, the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) and National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Should the Republican Party have put forth a unified legislative agenda ahead of the midterms? McConnell said no, Scott said yes. Was it Republican leaders’ job to put their thumb on the scale for the most electable GOPers? McConnell said sometimes, Scott said no. Did Republican primary voters pick a bunch of low-quality candidates? McConnell said yes, Scott said no.

For the most part, this animosity—while real—remained behind closed doors and out of sight of the public. But every once in a while, it spilled out into the open. “When you complain and lament that we have ‘bad candidates,’ what you are really saying is that you have contempt for the voters who chose them,” Scott wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed that took a number of not-so-veiled shots at McConnell. After Scott rolled out his “12-Point Plan to Rescue America” in March, McConnell quickly reminded reporters who was in charge. “If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader,” he said. “I’ll decide—in consultation with my members—what to put on the floor.” That didn’t stop Democrats from running ads attempting to tie Republican candidates to unpopular portions of Scott’s agenda.

That the duo are now vying for minority rather than majority leader in some ways lowers the stakes of the fight, but Scott argued his candidacy was about far more than policy differences. “Some say we should use regular order to pass bills, which would give Senators the opportunity to debate amendments on the floor and provide input into legislation,” he wrote in his letter. “Some believe we constantly give in to the Democrats and have no backbone. … Some feel pressured to vote for bills that are either against their core beliefs and what they campaigned on or against the best interests of their state. Some believe Republican donor funds are only used to help those who support leadership.”

It’s clear Scott hit on some legitimate grievances—and post-election frustration—held by members of the conference. It’s much less clear that those members are willing to dump McConnell over those gripes, let alone anoint Scott—who just oversaw one of the most disappointing midterm campaigns in modern American history—as his replacement. “If you’re going to assess blame for election losses, I don’t know how you trade in the leader for the gentleman at the NRSC,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. There’s a reason Scott argued in his letter that it’d be “unproductive and a massive waste of time” to “assign blame” for last week’s disappointing results.

McConnell, however, was happy to do just that. “We underperformed among independents and moderates because their impression of many of the people in our party in leadership roles is that they are involved in chaos, negativity, excessive attacks, and it frightened independent and moderate Republican voters, [which is why] I never predicted a red wave,” he told reporters after yesterday’s lunch. “Candidate quality, as you recall I said in August, is important. And in most of our states we met that test. In a few of them, we did not.”

When Senate Republicans gather for their leadership elections at 9:30 a.m. this morning, the first thing they’ll do is vote on a motion put forth by Sen. Ted Cruz to … delay their leadership elections by a month. “Personally, I think it is insane, it would be nuts, for us to have leadership elections now and simply elect the exact same leadership,” Cruz told Fox Business yesterday, arguing Herschel Walker should have a say if he wins his December 6 runoff in Georgia. Sens. Scott, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Cynthis Lummis, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and Ron Johnson echoed Cruz’s call, as did dozens of prominent conservative activists who signed on to an open letter earlier this week.

But Herschel Walker and the eventual winner of Alaska’s senate race are not going to make a material difference in what is expected to be a lopsided vote in favor of both a) proceeding with the elections as scheduled and b) retaining McConnell as minority leader. Of the 48 Republicans currently in the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn—a close McConnell ally—predicted Scott’s support would peter out in the “high single-digits.” So why bother calling for a delay—or mounting the bid in the first place? 

“He’s decided he doesn’t want to be an inside player in the Senate, so he had nothing to lose,” one GOP senator told Jonathan Martin last week, when it still seemed Scott had decided against the challenge. “It wouldn’t have mattered if he got five, 10, or 15 votes—he was showing off to the base.”

Worth Your Time

  • Failed New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc—who embraced fraud claims about the 2020 presidential election before pivoting after winning the primary—discussed his loss with Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker. Chotiner asked about Trump’s claims that, if Bolduc hadn’t flipped on election fraud claims, he would have won. “That’s absolutely wrong,” Bolduc replied. “I would have lost by even more! My advice to him was that if you come up to New England to campaign, and you do it on election denial, you won’t get anywhere. It is not an issue you should be talking about.” Asked whether the Republican Party’s embrace of Trump has been a mistake, Bolduc agreed with Chotiner’s suggestion that “it’s probably too early to say” but insisted the GOP should “mature” as he had and focus on other issues. Chotiner noted that Bolduc had implied on a podcast he dropped fraud claims purely to attract voters, not because his views had changed. “Yeah, you know, that’s valid,” Bolduc replied.
  • How should a nation memorialize its sins? When it comes to dealing with our history of slavery, can the United States learn anything from how Germany remembers the Holocaust? In a piece for The Atlantic, Clint Smith examines the complexities of Germany’s myriad memorials and markers for the Holocaust. “None of these projects, whether in the U.S. or Germany, can ever be commensurate with the history they are tasked with remembering,” Smith writes. “It is impossible for any memorial to slavery to capture its full horror, or for any memorial to the Holocaust to express the full humanity of the victims. No stone in the ground can make up for a life. No museum can bring back millions of people. It cannot be done, and yet we must try to honor those lives, and to account for this history, as best we can. It is the very act of attempting to remember that becomes the most powerful memorial of all.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Haley joins forces with Andrew and Harvest in Tuesday’s jam-packed edition of Uphill to explain the lay of the land in the fight for House leadership positions as well as the potential for a macabre House flip, the plan to end proxy voting, and dealing with the debt ceiling.
  • It’s time to talk about our guru problem, David argues in Tuesday’s French Press (🔒), noting there’s a rich history of “visionaries” melting down in spectacular fashion. “We want to find champions who will defeat our enemies,” he writes. “And so we fall for the frauds.”
  • What happened in the midterms? In Tuesday’s edition of The Sweep (🔒), Sarah and Audrey provide both the short version and the long version, the latter of which includes abortion, candidate quality, and Donald Trump. Plus: why some senators are pushing to delay leadership elections, and the ballot initiatives you might have missed.
  • Nick dabbles in some wishful thinking in Tuesday’s Boiling Frogs (🔒), outlining an optimistic scenario in which Trump doesn’t clinch the Republican presidential nomination due to a combination of his alienating focus on groundless election fraud claims, his one-man war against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and built-up contempt from Republican leaders previously bullied into line.
  • What’s going on with GOP House leadership? Could Liz Cheney be the next speaker? And most importantly: Does maintaining a Truth Social account for work qualify Declan for hazard pay? Steve, Declan, and Andrew discussed all this and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here.
  • On the site today, Andrew reports on Scott’s challenge to McConnell in the Senate, Harvest and Price cover the GOP leadership races on the House side, and Jonah muses about a Trumpian double standard when it comes to GOP party loyalty.

Let Us Know

He’s once again a formal political candidate, but there are still nearly 450 days until the first GOP primary elections. Do you have any thoughts on how—and how often—we should cover Trump 2024?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.