A few brave Republicans dared to oppose Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) during a leadership vote in December, and now they may be paying the price.
Sen. Rick Scott (FL) was pulled off the Commerce Committee and Sen. Mike Lee (UT) from the Commerce Panel by McConnell this week, prompting questions about whether McConnell was being honest when he said he didn’t take the leadership challenges “personally.”
“McConnell got to pick. He kicked me off; he kicked Lee off,” Scott confirmed in an interview.
“I probably ran the biggest company almost any senator in the history of the country has ever run. I was governor of the third-biggest economy in the United States, Florida. I’ve got a business background,” Scott said about his credentials.
Scott said he got the news about his removal in a text message. A source described him as “furious” over McConnell’s action.
McConnell won the leadership fight 37 to 10 after Scott, Lee and other senators including Ted Cruz (TX) mounted a campaign to question his leadership.
“I’m not in any way offended by having an opponent or having a few votes in opposition,” McConnell claimed after the vote. “I’m pretty proud of 37 to 10.”
But the removal of Scott and Lee, who both had seniority over others on the committee and panel, smacks of retaliation by McConnell.
New senators replace veterans
McConnell replaced the two senators plus Ron Johnson (WI) who left to take a position on the Finance Committee, with first-term senators Ted Budd (NC), Eric Schmitt (MO) and J.D. Vance (OH).
While senators confirmed to Scott at a lunch that McConnell had made the decision to remove them on his own, others saw the move as a way to get newer senators on committees to spread the power around a little. Scott and Lee both sit on other A-list committees–Scott on Senate Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Lee on the prestigious Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources panel.
Some committee seats were lost when the Senate went from 50-50 to 51-49, with Democrats grabbing an actual majority rather than a tiebreaker majority.
Holding on to power
While one would think that McConnell would want veterans like Scott and Lee in important committee and panel positions, the move could also be seen as McConnell trying to preserve his power.
Even though he 80 years old and not up for re-election until 2026, McConnell’s grasp on power in the Senate remains strong, and he does not want to see that hold loosen until he is ready to leave the Senate–particularly with a very good chance to regain the majority in 2024.