Another McConnell Freeze Puts Wyoming’s Barrasso In Leadership Spotlight

With Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s health in even more doubt after another awkward public freeze up on Wednesday, Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is near the top of possible replacements.

LW
Leo Wolfson

August 31, 20235 min read

Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, left, helps U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in July after McConnell suddenly froze up during a press conference. After another episode Wednesday, there's talk about who would succeed McConnell. As the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, Barrasso is near the top of the list.
Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, left, helps U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in July after McConnell suddenly froze up during a press conference. After another episode Wednesday, there's talk about who would succeed McConnell. As the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, Barrasso is near the top of the list. (Getty Images)

Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso’s time may be coming.

Those who doubt Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 81, will continue to hold his spot as the No. 1 Republican in the Senate much longer because of his age and declining health were given more validation after McConnell awkwardly froze up for about 30 seconds during a press conference in Kentucky on Wednesday.

It was the second time in the last five weeks McConnell froze up during a press conference.

In both incidents, McConnell’s staff claimed the senator briefly got “lightheaded.” 

Barrasso is the No. 3 ranking Republican in the Senate and considered at least a contender for McConnell’s position as minority leader should he resign from the position. Now, McConnell’s future as minority leader may only be a question of when, not if, he will step down. 

Why Barrasso

Barrasso has expressed interest in the top Senate GOP leadership role in the past. When asked about it Thursday, a spokesperson for Barrasso told Cowboy State Daily that he will continue to serve the Republican Conference “wherever his colleagues believe he is most effective.”

Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that although “it’s too soon to discuss the future of Senate Republican leadership,” she will support the 71-year-old Barrasso “in whatever role he chooses to pursue in the Senate.”

“Senator Barrasso has the most conservative voting record among the current Senate Republican leadership, and as the lead Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, his work is pivotal to Wyoming’s interests and to America’s ability to become energy independent once again,” she said. “I am confident that his roles in leadership will continue to benefit our state and our nation for years to come.” 

Wyoming House Speaker Albert Sommers, R-Pinedale, said getting Barrasso in the leadership role would not only be a win for Wyoming, but the West as a whole.

“It’d be great to have a good Western senator in there like John Barrasso,” he said. 

Sommers said McConnell has been a “fair ally” as far as giving priority to Western issues, but also believes these issues sometimes get put on the back burner in D.C. 

His Leadership Resume

Barrasso is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and a ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Additionally, Barrasso has previously served as chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as well as the Indian Affairs Committee.

“I know Barrasso would be solid on the Western values like oil and gas, public lands, even wildlife,” Sommers said.

Barrasso is closely aligned with McConnell, escorting the Kentucky senator to his office after he froze up the first time in July. He is often seen standing immediately next to or behind McConnell at press conferences.

Since joining the Senate in 2007, Barrasso has slowly worked his way up through the Senate Republican ranks, including an early role as chair of the Republican Policy Committee.

Casper resident Reid Rasner, who is challenging Barrasso for reelection in the Republican primary in 2024, issued a press release Wednesday where he said all members of Congress and Barrasso should be subjected to term limits.

Also In The Mix

Barrasso’s leading challengers for the leadership role also are named John and also represent states west of the Mississippi River. 

The No. 2 leader among Senate Republicans is John Thune, a fourth-term senator from South Dakota and the current minority whip. He is predominantly seen as the most likely successor to McConnell.

Thune led Republican negotiations on the annual Pentagon Bill, a role historically taken up by McConnell and past party leaders.

Also, like McConnell, Thune is considered a traditional conservative and has found himself at odds with former President Donald Trump. In 2020, Thune drew Trump’s wrath when pushing back on his claims that the election had been stolen and for expressing concern about Trump’s leadership of the GOP. 

Barrasso was criticized by Trump in a radio interview in January when the former president called him a “flunky” for McConnell.

During the July press conference in which McConnell abruptly froze and stopped talking for more than 10 seconds, Thune quickly stepped in and picked up where McConnell had left off. On Wednesday, McConnell was unable to speak for about 30 seconds.

Members of the Senate vote to elect leadership at the start of each new congress.

If Thune doesn’t want the leadership role or his party doesn’t elect him, Barrasso would most likely be next up.

Former whip John Cornyn of Texas also is in the picture. 

Cornyn ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee for four years and served as whip for three election cycles. At one point he was also considered a candidate for the Supreme Court.

Cornyn is still considered a close McConnell advisor, according to Politico, and has expressed interest in the opportunity to succeed him.

“That is something I’d like to pursue,” Cornyn said in 2022 of the Senate GOP’s top spot. “It’s a unique sort of a race because you know who the voters are, and it’s not really influenced by outside influences. It’s really more of a matter of relationships and trust.”

Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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LW

Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter