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Fallout from the GOP's poor showing in midterms continues on Capitol Hill

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The fallout for Republicans' poor showing in the midterm elections continues on Capitol Hill. Florida Republican Rick Scott is now challenging Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his leadership job.

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RICK SCOTT: I'm not satisfied with the status quo. And so I think we ought to have an option.

MARTÍNEZ: Republicans met for more than three hours on Tuesday to air grievances. Afterward, McConnell says he welcomes the contest.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Look, I don't own this job. Anybody in the conference is certainly entitled to challenge me.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis is covering the leadership fight. Susan, Rick Scott was the 2022 Senate campaign chairman. He promised but could not deliver a majority. So why does Scott say he should be the leader instead of Mitch McConnell?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, these two senators have been feuding for quite some time and for most of the 2022 election cycle. They've differed over strategy to reclaim the majority. And they've also differed on the kind of candidates they thought they would need to get there. Rick Scott announced his bid in a closed-door meeting. He also sent out a letter to colleagues announcing it. And he also said McConnell should have done more to outline a specific policy agenda that Republicans could have ran on in 2022. Now, Rick Scott did do that in a pretty glossy way. He did a ton of interviews on it. He was also criticized by a lot of Republicans because it included a lot of ideas that the conference had not rallied around, like overhauling Medicare and Social Security potentially. And, you know, they're pretty politically controversial ideas. I think it's good to think about this election as a bit of a proxy war for the future of the party. You have sort of the Trump-aligned conservatives on one wing. This would include people like Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, who are agitating for change and for Scott. And they're also questioning Mitch McConnell's leadership.

MARTÍNEZ: So when's this vote supposed to take place, and any sense of what kind of support Rick Scott might have?

DAVIS: I think it's fair to call it a longshot bid. Republicans will meet today. Cruz and others have said that they're going to first make a motion to delay the election until after the Georgia special for the Senate seat happens on December 6. Their argument is 2022 isn't even fully over yet. If that motion fails - and it's expected to fail - then they'll hold the leadership vote today. McConnell is not popular with a lot of the party base. He's not popular with the former president, Donald Trump. But among these 48 senators who are going to cast their votes, he still has a lot of loyalty. One of them, Joni Ernst - she's from Iowa - I talked to her yesterday. She said she thought someone like Rick Scott should get to challenge McConnell. He just hadn't made a strong enough case for why it should be him. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, another McConnell loyalist, said he gives Mitch McConnell a lot of credit for what he's done for the party, most notably his role in shifting the Supreme Court ideological balance to the right. Expect Mitch McConnell to win this race, A. But how many votes he gets or how few votes he gets might tell us something about how strong his grip on power remains in the top job.

MARTÍNEZ: And actually, there's going to be a significant vote later today in the Senate whether to take up a bill to protect the right to same-sex marriage under federal law. And that right is currently protected by a 2015 Supreme Court decision. How's that one looking?

DAVIS: So Democrats have been making a push to codify same-sex marriage ever since the court overturned Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. Think of this is a preemptive legislative strike. It already passed the House with pretty notable bipartisan support. There's similar support in the Senate. Co-sponsors said this week they think they have 10 or more Republicans who are going to vote for it. Today is a procedural test vote hurdle. If they clear that and get the supermajority, expect a final vote in the coming days, and it will pass. There is no immediate legal threat to marriage rights in this country, but this would essentially establish a federal law to protect them if one were to emerge in the future.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR political correspondent Susan Davis, thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
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