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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Republicans nod to Trump’s influence in race to succeed McConnell



Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) heads to his office after delivering remarks on the Senate floor, at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024. Donald Trump is looming over the upcoming leadership battle to replace Mitch McConnell as senators weigh each contender’s independence with their alignment to the former president and the party’s base. (Kenny Holston/The New York Times)

By Kayla Guo


With nine months before Senate Republicans select their new leader to succeed Sen. Mitch McConnell, some are acknowledging the shadow of one figure outside Congress who looms over the race: former President Donald Trump.


“He’s the Republican front-runner; he’s going to have a voice in it,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “The former president will have the opportunity to influence a number of my colleagues, but we also want to be able to have a good working relationship with him if he becomes the next president of the United States.”


It was a reminder of Trump’s potential ability to make or break any senator’s bid for the post atop the Senate Republican conference. And it underscored a political reality that McConnell acknowledged in announcing his decision last week to step away from leadership — that the party’s base, deeply committed to Trump, had so firmly taken over that McConnell, who does not speak to the former president, could not tenably remain its leader.


Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota, two contenders in the race, have been critical of Trump, though both have endorsed him in his 2024 campaign in recent weeks. A third John, Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican, may also jump into the race. He has maintained close ties to Trump and positioned himself to the right of Cornyn and Thune.


Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., suggested Sunday that Trump should stay out of the race.


“It’s a lose-lose situation,” Mullin, who is backing Thune, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He needs to work with whatever leader is there, and let me tell you, whatever leader’s there understands that they’re going to have to work with President Trump, too. So it’s really not in his best interest to lean in the race at this point.”


But he acknowledged Trump’s potential influence, adding, “However, if he chooses to do it, it will make a difference.”


Rounds emphasized that Senate Republicans would make their own decisions on whom to elect as their new leader and on when to buck the former president.


“We’ve got a lot of independent thinkers,” he said, noting that he was looking for a leader who would be willing to stand up to Trump.


“I want someone who will work with the president but also will stand his own ground,” Rounds, who supports Thune’s bid, said, adding that he believed Thune would be “independent enough where he will look out — just like Mitch did — for the institution of the Senate itself.”

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