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McConnell to step down as Senate GOP leader after nearly two decades

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(WASHINGTON) — Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell is stepping down as Senate Republican leader in November after nearly two decades in the role.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced the decision in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. He is the longest-serving Senate leader in history.

“To serve Kentucky in the Senate has been the honor of my life,” he said. “To lead my Republican colleagues has been the highest privilege. But one of life’s most under-appreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move onto life’s next chapter.”

“So, I stand before you today, Mr. President and my colleagues, to say this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate,” he continued. “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll complete my job my colleagues have given me to do until we select a new leader in November and they take the helm next January.”

PHOTO: Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell announces his decision to step down from that position in November in a speech on the Senate floor, in Washington, Feb 28, 2024.

McConnell also made clear he’ll finish his term as senator, which will end in January 2027.

“I still have enough gas in my tanks to disappoint my critics,” he said.

In the rare personal and emotional remarks, McConnell noted the recent passing of his wife Elaine Chao’s sister, which he said led to the “introspection” about his political future.

“As I have been thinking about when I would deliver some news to the Senate, I always imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work,” he said. “A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. It arrived today.”

His speech was met with applause by those in the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and others came over to shake McConnell’s hand.

President Joe Biden, reacting to the news during an event at the White House, said he was “sorry to hear” McConnell was stepping down as leader.

“We had a great relationship,” Biden said. “We fought like hell, but he never, never misrepresented anything.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson, in a statement, called McConnell “one of the most consequential” Senate leaders in history.

“I join my colleagues in saluting his historic contributions to the Republican Party and to the Congress,” Johnson said. “His legacy will endure for generations.”

McConnell has been leading the Senate Republican Conference since 2007, and when his party gained control served as Senate majority leader from 2015 to 2021.

During his tenure, he reshaped the federal judiciary by steering three conservative justices onto the Supreme Court.

“No Member of Congress has played a greater role in reshaping the federal judiciary than Mitch,” Johnson said Wednesday.

In the past year, McConnell was plagued with health issues after sustaining a concussion and fractured rib in a bad fall. He also had two episodes where he appeared to freeze during news conferences, sparking concern among colleagues, though he was medically cleared to work by the Capitol physician.

He’s also been at odds with some of his fellow GOP senators and others in the Republican Party, particularly former President Donald Trump, on recent issues, including border security and providing further assistance to Ukraine.

Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell hinted at those rifts but said he was “unconflicted about the good within our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world.”

“It’s why I worked so hard to get the national security package passed earlier this month. Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time,” McConnell said. “I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them.”

“That said, I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed. For as long as I draw breath on this Earth, I will defend America’s exceptionalism.”

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