By Leo Wolfson, State Political Reporter
U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, both R-Wyoming, don’t agree on how they would like to see Senate Republicans move forward with deciding leadership for the next term.
In a letter Barrasso sent to all of the Republican senators Friday, he told his colleagues that although he supports having a “robust” discussion about the GOP agenda, the party will hold its leadership elections on Wednesday as previously planned, denying a request to delay the vote.
As chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, it’s Barrasso’s decision whether to call for a vote on the party’s Senate leadership or hold off.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will be vying to break former Sen. Mike Mansfield’s, D-Montana, mark as longest-serving party leader this year.
For some, McConnell has become a firebrand, earning some blame for the Republican’s disappointing performance in Tuesday’s midterm election, failing to retake the Senate. Others have blamed former President Donald Trump, further widening an already stark divide between the two camps.
More Clarity Needed
A growing contingency of Republicans that includes Lummis, have opposed holding the elections on Wednesday, saying they want more clarity as far as what the next two years of leadership will look like. They want to wait until after December’s runoff election in Georgia to see if Republican candidate Herschel Walker gets a chance to provide input on the matter, if he’s elected.
On Friday, Lummis reposted a tweet made by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, in which Rubio called for delaying the leadership elections to see if those “who want to lead us are genuinely committed to fighting for the priorities & values of the working Americans.”
In her retweet, Lummis commented “Second,” in affirmation to Rubio’s statement.
In an open letter Monday to Republican members of Congress, 72 conservative leaders said “there should be no rushed leadership elections.”
One of the people signing this letter was David Bossie, president of Citizens United, who spoke Saturday to the Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee in Casper.
Barrasso, the No. 3 ranking member of the Senate, has been a longtime ally of McConnell.
He drew heat this past summer when he stood directly behind McConnell as the Kentucky senator announced his support for a piece of gun control legislation.
According to Politico, Republican Sens. Rick Scott of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin circulated a letter last week calling for a delay, saying Senate Republicans need more time to study possible candidates.
Johnson and Scott have both been mentioned as possible candidates to replace McConnell as Senate Republican leader.
“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. “We need to have serious discussions within our conference as to why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”
Barrasso thanked the senators for their letter, but did not accept their requests for a delay. He that said instead, the Senate GOP should have a discussion Tuesday at its first post-election lunch “so every senator has a chance to be heard.”
“After presentations from candidates, and there is every opportunity to address questions from every member, we will complete leadership elections,” he wrote.
The Trump Effect
Former President Donald Trump makes up another large piece of the rift. Trump won Wyoming in the 2020 election with a larger majority than any other state. He endorsed Harriet Hageman in her bid for U.S. congress, and Hageman beat U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney by 38% of the vote in the Republican primary.
Although Barrasso has won all his elections by landslide margins, there is at least some discontent for Wyoming’s senior delegation member.
During the state GOP convention in May, he received a few catcalls from the audience while giving a speech. A month earlier, he received a letter of reprimand from the Park County Republican Party for voting to support a $1.5 trillion government spending bill that included funding for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the United States.
The Park County GOP and Wyoming GOP censured Cheney in 2021 for speaking out against Trump and his alleged role in sparking the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Later that year, the county party sent a letter saying it no longer recognized her as a Republican, followed by the state GOP a few months later.
“Next time he’s next,” Park County Committeeman Troy Bray said at the April meeting, referring to Barrasso’s next election 2024.
McConnell V. Trump
McConnell has long been a target of Trump, who has actively campaigned to have him ousted as leader. McConnell publicly blamed Trump for the Jan. 6 riot and cut support for Republican Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters, a candidate endorsed by Trump. Masters lost his election to Sen. Mark Kelly.
Masters had previously said during the primary campaign he would not support McConnell as leader. He and Trump blamed McConnell for his campaign loss Friday. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, agreed Monday.
“Mitch would rather be leader than have a Republican majority,” Cruz said on his podcast show Monday. “If there’s a Republican who can win who’s not going to support Mitch, the truth of the matter is he’d rather the Democrat win.”
McConnell was negative about Republicans’ chances of flipping the senate in August, describing “candidate quality” for his shoddy outlook.
McConnell spent more than $5 million in Alaska attacking a Trump-backed Republican challenger to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. That candidate, Kelly Tshibaka, who has also been supported by Hageman, will likely advance to a ranked choice runoff against Murkowski on Nov. 23.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned super political action committee, canceled $5.6 million in television advertisements it had in reserve for the final two weeks before the election for Trump-endorsed Republican Don Bolduc, who lost his race.
Politico reports the current Republican slate is expected to include McConnell as leader, Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, as whip, Barrasso as conference chair, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, as policy committee chair and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, as conference vice chair. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Montana, is expected to become chair of the Senate Republicans’ campaign efforts.