Mitch McConnell has stepped down as Senate GOP leader, ending a historic 17-year run

Washington – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced later this year that he would step down as GOP leader of the upper chamber, ending a 17-year run to become the longest-serving party leader in Senate history and often the most powerful Republican in Washington.

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced his decision on the Senate floor Wednesday.

“I have always envisioned a moment of complete clarity and peace about the sunset of my work. I firmly believe that I have helped to protect the ideals that I believe so strongly in,” he said. “That day came today.”

In emotional remarks, McConnell reflected on his 40 years in the Senate, saying that when he was first elected to the chamber in 1984, he “couldn't have imagined” being the longest serving senator in state history.

“It has been the honor of my life to serve Kentucky in the Senate, and the highest privilege to lead my Republican colleagues,” he said, before announcing that this would be his last term as Senate GOP leader.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024.

Senate TV via AP

The announcement comes as McConnell's grip on his convention appears to be slipping in recent months, along with former President Donald Trump's march to the GOP presidential nomination. McConnell and Trump have long been at odds.

McConnell signaled that the political dynamics at work had changed in recent weeks, when much of McConnell's caucus quickly rejected a bipartisan Senate-negotiated border security deal at Trump's urging. Although McConnell succeeded a few days later in getting several Republican senators to support a foreign aid bill that included funding for Ukraine, the episode still prompted some vocal opposition to McConnell's continued leadership.

“Mitch McConnell is the least popular politician of any party in America. He's a symbol of everything that's wrong in Washington,” McConnell told reporters Wednesday ahead of his announcement.

McConnell Survived the leadership challenge After the 2022 midterm elections, he overcame opposition from a group of disillusioned conservatives in his charge of the GOP convention.

In his speech, McConnell said he plans to remain in office until his party chooses a new leader, who will be elected in November and take over the leadership in 2025. He said he plans to stay in the Senate to “get the job done.” The people of Kentucky elected him to remain in the chamber until his term ends in 2026.

“Father's time is undefeated. I'm not the guy who sits back and hopes his peers remember my name,” McConnell said. “It's time for the next generation of leadership.”

Although he has not endorsed a successor, the president said he has “full confidence” in his convention to choose his replacement.

“I still have enough gas in my tank to completely fool my critics, and I want to do it with all the enthusiasm they've become accustomed to,” he said.

Allen contributed to this report.

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