A GOP Senate leadership race is reportedly “well underway” — and picking up steam — in part over concerns about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health challenges.
According to The Hill, GOP senators privately acknowledge the 81-year-old Kentucky Republican looks more frail since a March 9 concussion that kept him away from the Capitol for over a month.
The worries deepened after an unsettling incident at a July 26 news conference where McConnell froze mid-sentence and had to retreat to his office to recover.
He insisted shortly afterward he was “fine,” and intends to return as Senate GOP leader in the 119th Congress in January 2025, The Hill reported.
“I think the leadership race is well underway and this accelerates that,” one unidentified GOP senator told The Hill.
The pool of contenders appears to have narrowed to three candidates, according to the news outlet: GOP Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas, and John Barrasso of Wyoming.
Their ambitions are reportedly an open secret.
Thune is current GOP Senate whip, while Cornyn previously served in the same position. Barrasso is the Senate Republican Conference chair.
According to The Hill’s unnamed source, Thune has a powerful place in any leadership race.
“Thune is running the floor, he’s running the [National Defense Authorization Act] negotiations,” the lawmaker told The Hill — helping to get 80 amendments adopted to the bill.
But he’s got competition.
“Cornyn has been very solicitous” about raising money for GOP senators up for reelection next year, showcasing his fundraising ability — something McConnell excelled at as leader, the same source said.
The Hill noted Cornyn raised $20 million for Senate Republican candidates in the 2022 election cycle, more than any other GOP senator with the exception of McConnell and then-NRSC chair Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
The news outlet reported GOP senators say they view Thune, 62, and Cornyn, 71, as front-runners to become the next Senate GOP leader.
“I think those will be the two that run for leader when that happens,” a second unnamed GOP senator told The Hill.
“The leadership is interesting times,” that source said, noting Thune and Cornyn “can’t discuss” their plans because it would be “rude” while McConnell is in the job.
Still, Barrasso, 71, can’t be ruled out — and is considered a more conservative alternative to Thune and Cornyn in a three-way race, The Hill reported.
“Thune and Cornyn are the two names that have been in the mix the most because they have both been whip, and everybody knows that Cornyn wants the [leader’s] job more than anything,” an unnamed Senate aide told The Hill.
For his part, Thune waved off a question about running for Senate Republican leader earlier this year, calling it akin to putting “the cart before the horse.”
Cornyn has also insisted he isn’t actively running to become the next leader.
“There’s no vacancies,” he said. “And those [leadership] elections won’t be until November 2024. So I guess the short answer is there’s nothing to prepare for.”
Barrasso, in the immediate wake of McConnell’s recent health scare, said he was “concerned” about McConnell’s health since his accident in March but emphasized “he’s made a remarkable recovery” and is “doing a great job leading our conference.”
A third unnamed Republican senator told The Hill some GOP colleagues in the Senate feel they’re not getting the full story about McConnell’s health — which only fuels speculation about how much longer he’ll be leader.
“No one says what’s wrong with him,” that third unnamed senator told The Hill. “I think there ought to be more transparency here.”