Should Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell step down from the top position in Congress, Republicans will be looking for someone savvy enough to accomplish a difficult legislative to-do list and trusted by the president.
President Donald Trump has not held back in his repeated criticisms of McConnell. Trump blames him for failing to repeal Obamacare in the first six months that Republicans controlled both the Congress and the presidency.
A Senate majority leader under Trump has a difficult job of working to pass complex legislation, including Obamacare repeal, immigration reform, tax reform and a massive infrastructure spending bill, in a sharply-divided chamber with a slight majority. All without attracting the ire of the commander in chief.
Here are seven senators that could be tapped to lead the caucus in the unlikely event McConnell steps down or retires:
As the number two in GOP Senate leadership, current Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn would be the obvious replacement for McConnell.
He’s known for taking tough jobs that other senators don’t want and even told Politico in March that the majority leadership position is “something I would be interested in doing.”
Republican leadership positions are term-limited, and Cornyn will be ineligible to continue as majority whip after 2018. He may retire, as many whips do when their terms are up, or look for his time as the top dog.
As the second most senior Republican in the Senate, Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi holds a commanding position in the body. He chairs the largest Senate committee, the Committee on Appropriations, overseeing 12 subcommittees.
The Senate leadership position isn’t just about being popular. It’s about wrangling votes, building coalitions, and understanding unique Senate rules to accomplish one’s objectives. A deep understanding of how committees work goes a long way.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is one of the most outspoken members of the Republican caucus. He’s polished on the Senate floor and knows how to grab headlines.
He’s not a strong supporter of Trump, but he was quick to disagree with McConnell’s statement that Trump had “high expectations” for passing Obamacare repeal. “I like Mitch, but for eight years, we’ve been saying we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare. It’s not like we made this up overnight. We have been working on repealing Obamacare all year,” Graham said on Fox News Radio’s “The Brian Kilmeade Show.”
Graham’s short campaign for the presidential nomination in the 2016 cycle indicates that he has ambitions for higher office, but perhaps he would settle for the top job in the Senate.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is one of the most senior Republicans, and the second most senior senator in the chamber. While he considered retiring in 2018, he decided to stay to help Trump fight against the ingrained Washington establishment.
Trump was even influential in convincing Hatch to not retire after four decades in the Senate. “His pitch is he needs me,” Hatch said of Trump in March. “Things are going to be just fine.”
As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Hatch leads an influential group, but it’s unclear whether he’d consider taking the top leadership position. Hatch expressed complete support of McConnell on Twitter Thursday, calling him the “best leader we’ve had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges.”
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley has been in the Senate since 1981. He’s proved adept at attracting co-sponsors on his bills and resolutions, ranking third highest for that particular skill in 2015, according to GovTrack.
The Senate leadership position isn’t about being popular. It’s about wrangling votes, building coalitions, and understanding unique Senate rules to accomplish one’s objectives. A deep understanding of how committees’ work goes a long way.
Grassley chairs both the Committee on the Judiciary and the International Narcotics Control Caucus. He hasn’t been afraid to call out Trump administration policies — like ignoring oversight requests from Democratic senators — which is a key skill in a caucus that wishes to preserve some independence from the president.
Having the support of Trump may not be as important as having the respect senators representing Trump supporters, but West Virginia Sen. Shelley Capito has both.
Trump endorsed Capito’s Senate campaign in 2014, and though she’s a junior Senator to Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, she would be a key ally to the Trump administration.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso is a relatively new senator (he was elected in 2006), but in his tenure, he’s served on an impressive number of committees. He now chairs the Committee on the Environment and Public Works and leads the Senate Republican Policy Committee.
Trump praised Barrasso’s performance on Fox News during the campaign as Trump was working to rally Republicans behind his nomination.
Just watched Senator John Barrasso on @FoxNews – He was great! Thank you John.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2016
Barrasso has “every confidence in Leader McConnell, as does the rest of the conference. His leadership remains indispensable for unity and legislative success this fall,” he said in a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
McConnell has led Republicans in the Senate for more than a decade, most of that time as minority leader. His Republican colleagues unanimously elected him majority leader in 2014. He enjoys strong, almost universal, support from his fellow senators, even though he has the highest dispproval rating among the upper chamber.
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