McConnell will step down as the Senate Republican leader in November after a record run in the job

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history who retained his power for nearly two decades despite dramatic convulsions in the Republican Party, will leave office in November.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, was expected to announce his decision Wednesday in the Senate chamber, a place he watched in awe from the backseat when he arrived in 1985 and where he has grown increasingly comfortable with the front row seat afforded him. the party leaders.

“One of life’s most underrated talents is knowing when it is time to move on to the next chapter of life,” he said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

His decision underlines a powerful ideological transition underway within the Republican Party, from Ronald Reagan’s traditional conservatism and strong international alliances to the fiery, often isolationist populism of former President Donald Trump.

McConnell said he plans to serve out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027, “albeit from a different seat in the House.” Aides said McConnell’s announcement about the leadership post was not related to his health. The Kentucky senator suffered a concussion from a fall last year and two public episodes in which his face briefly froze while he spoke.

“As I thought 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,” McConnell said in his prepared remarks. “A moment when I am sure that I have contributed to preserving the ideals in which I believe so strongly. It arrived today.”

The senator was under increasing pressure from the restive and sometimes hostile wing of his party, which was firmly behind Trump. The two have been estranged since December 2020, when McConnell refused to adhere to Trump’s lie that the election of Democrat Joe Biden as president was the product of fraud.

But while McConnell’s critics within the Republican conference had grown louder, their numbers had not increased noticeably, a sign of McConnell’s strategic and tactical skill and his ability to understand the needs of his fellow Republican senators.

McConnell gave no specific reason for the timing of his decision, which he has been considering for months, but he cited the recent death of his wife’s youngest sister as a moment that prompted introspection. “The end of my contributions is closer than I would like,” McConnell said.

But his comments were also lighthearted at times when he talked about the trajectory of his career in the Senate.

He noted that when he arrived in the Senate, “I was just happy when someone remembered my name.” During his 1984 campaign, when Reagan visited Kentucky, the president referred to him as “Mitch O’Donnell.”

McConnell endorsed Reagan’s view of America’s role in the world and the senator continued to insist despite opposition, including from Trump, that Congress should include a foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine.

“I have no conflicts about what is good in our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world,” McConnell said.

Against all odds, he managed to secure 22 Republican votes for the package now being considered by the House of Representatives.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment. I have many mistakes. Misunderstandings about politics are not one of them,” McConnell said. “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 spoke of. As long as I draw breath on this earth, I will defend American exceptionalism.”

Trump has pulled the party hard to the ideological right, questioning old military alliances such as NATO and international trade deals and pushing for a tough crackdown on immigration while clinging to the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

McConnell and Trump had worked together during Trump’s first term, giving the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary a much more conservative image, and on tax law. But there was also friction from the start, with Trump regularly taking shots at the senator.

Their relationship is essentially over since Trump refused to accept the Electoral College results. But the rift widened dramatically after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. McConnell blamed and blamed Trump and said he should be held accountable for his actions through the criminal justice system.

McConnell’s critics insist he could have done more, including voting to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial. McConnell did not, arguing that since Trump was no longer in office, he could not be subject to impeachment.

Rather than fade from prominence after the Capitol riot, Trump continued to assert his control over the party and is on a clear glide path toward the Republican nomination. Other members of the Republican Senate leadership have endorsed Trump. McConnell has not done so, and that has drawn criticism from other Republican senators.

McConnell’s path to power was hardly linear, but from the day he entered the Senate in 1985 and took his seat as the youngest Republican senator, he had his sights set on the role of party leader. What set him apart was that so many other Senate leaders wanted to run for president. McConnell wanted to run the Senate. He lost races for lower party positions before steadily rising, eventually becoming party leader in 2006 and winning nine consecutive elections.

Most recently, he defeated a challenge led by Florida Sen. Rick Scott last November.

McConnell built his power base through a combination of care and nurturing for his members, including understanding their political imperatives. After seeing the potential danger of a rising Tea Party, he also created a super political action committee, the Senate Leadership Fund, which has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to support Republican candidates.

Despite concerns about his health, colleagues said in recent months they believe he has recovered. McConnell had no cognitive limitations, but did have some additional physical limitations.

“I love the Senate,” he said in his prepared remarks. “It’s been my life. There may have been more prominent members of this body throughout our history, but I doubt there are any who have more admiration for it.”

But, he added, “Father Time remains undefeated. I am no longer the young man sitting in the back, hoping colleagues will remember my name. It’s time for the next generation of leaders.’

There would be a time to reminisce, he said, but not today.

“I still have enough gas left in the tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics and I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm they have become accustomed to.”