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GOP senators call for postponing leadership elections

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A growing number of Senate Republicans are pushing to delay leadership elections after an underwhelming performance in the midterms, creating a new headache for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) are circulating a letter pressing colleagues to sign onto a postponement of elections currently scheduled for Wednesday morning. The movement signals growing discontent within the Senate GOP over the increased likelihood the party remains in the minority next year.

“We are all disappointed that a Red Wave failed to materialize, and there are multiple reasons it did not,” the senators say in the letter, first obtained by POLITICO. “We need to have serious discussions within our conference as to why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”

As McConnell seeks to break former Sen. Mike Mansfield’s (D-Mont.) mark as longest serving party leader, he’s facing fresh questions from at least a half-dozen Republicans that will serve in the Senate next year. The Kentuckian has always won with the full support of his conference, often by acclamation.

But the election may be different this time. In addition to the trio circulating the letter, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) also want to delay the elections. Hawley says he will vote against McConnell as leader, and Senator-elect Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.) has said the Senate GOP needs new leadership.

After talking up their chances of controlling the upper chamber in the run-up to the midterms, Republicans are at serious risk of another two years in the minority — depending on the results of Nevada’s Senate race and the Georgia runoff in early December. It’s a moment reminiscent of the minor rebellion against former Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who faced six no votes in his leadership race after Democrats lost the Senate in 2014.

McConnell had no immediate comment on the letter. Allies predicted he would face limited dissent that falls far short of the votes to threaten his job as GOP leader.

Scott has spent most of the year at odds with McConnell as the Floridian chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The GOP leader made public comments critical of the party’s quality of candidates, later prompting Scott to admit the two had a “strategic disagreement. The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund ultimately spent nearly a quarter billion dollars on Senate races. Scott also flirted with personally challenging McConnell for the top GOP spot.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Lee have often disagreed with McConnell’s management of the Senate GOP. Both won reelection this week, with Johnson receiving support from the Senate Leadership Fund to the tune of roughly $25 million.

All that tension is manifesting itself ahead of the planned Wednesday leadership elections. Scott, Johnson and Lee are looking to postpone the affair until after all the Senate races are called, which will take nearly a month due to the Georgia runoff.

“Holding leadership elections without hearing from the candidates as to how they will perform their leadership duties and before we know whether we will be in the majority or even who all our members are violates the most basic principles of a democratic process,” their letter reads. “It is certainly not the way leadership elections should be conducted in the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

Separately, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted Friday that leadership elections should be delayed while the party makes “sure that those who want to lead us are genuinely committed to fighting for the priorities & values of the working Americans (of every background) who gave us big wins” in places like Florida.

A Rubio adviser said that the Florida senator wants the party to define its vision for the next two years while also taking a look back at how they may end up in the Senate minority for another term. Rubio handily won his reelection race.

“I don’t anticipate that there would be a leadership change, based on doing my own mental vote count on that question, but I do think there’s going to be a sea change in terms of how much power he has as the leader,” said David McIntosh, a former congressman who now heads the conservative Club for Growth.

Unlike Hawley, the other GOP senators aren’t yet saying they’ll oppose McConnell. The letter said they want “a chance to hear from leadership candidates as to what type of collaborative conference governing model we should adopt.”

At the moment, the Republican slate is expected to include McConnell as leader, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) as whip, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) as conference chair, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) as policy committee chair and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as conference vice chair. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) is expected to become chair of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm.

Natalie Allison contributed to this report