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'It's time to move on': US longest-serving Senate in history McConnell announces 'surprising' retirement date

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, was set to announce his decision on Wednesday in the well of the Senate, a place where he looked in awe from its back benches in 1985 when he arrived and where he grew increasingly comfortable in the front row seat afforded the party leaders.

Ajeet Kumar Edited By: Ajeet Kumar @Ajeet1994 Washington Published on: February 29, 2024 9:39 IST
Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history
Image Source : AP Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history

Washington: Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history who maintained his power in the face of dramatic convulsions in the Republican Party for almost two decades, will step down from that position in November. McConnell, who turned 82 last week, was set to announce his decision on Wednesday in the well of the Senate, a place where he looked in awe from its back benches in 1985 when he arrived and where he grew increasingly comfortable in the front row seat afforded the party leaders.

“One of life's most underappreciated talents is to know when it's time to move on to life's next chapter,” he said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “So I stand before you today.... to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.” His decision punctuates a powerful ideological transition underway in the Republican Party, from Ronald Reagan's brand of traditional conservatism and strong international alliances to the fiery, often isolationist populism of former President Donald Trump.

McConnell said he plans to serve out his Senate term

McConnell said he plans to serve out his Senate term, which ends in January 2027, “albeit from a different seat in the chamber”. Aides said McConnell's announcement about the leadership post was unrelated to his health. The Kentucky senator had a concussion from a fall last year and two public episodes where his face briefly froze while he was speaking.

“As I have been thinking about when I would deliver some news to the Senate, I always imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work,” McConnell said in his prepared remarks. “A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. It arrived today.”

The senator had been under increasing pressure from the restive, and at times hostile wing of his party that has aligned firmly with Trump. The two have been estranged since December 2020, when McConnell refused to abide by Trump's lie that the election of Democrat Joe Biden as president was the product of fraud.

But while McConnell's critics within the GOP conference had grown louder, their numbers had not grown appreciably larger, a marker of McConnell's strategic and tactical skill and his ability to understand the needs of his fellow Republican senators.

No specific reason for the timing of McConnell decision

McConnell gave no specific reason for the timing of his decision, which he has been contemplating for months, but he cited the recent death of his wife's youngest sister as a moment that prompted introspection. “The end of my contributions are closer than I'd prefer,” McConnell said. But his remarks were also light at times as he talked about the arc of his Senate career.

He noted that when he arrived in the Senate, “I was just happy if anybody remembered my name.” During his campaign in 1984, when Reagan was visiting Kentucky, the president called him “Mitch O'Donnell”. McConnell endorsed Reagan's view of America's role in the world and the senator has persisted in the face of opposition, including from Trump, that Congress should include a foreign assistance package that includes USD 60 billion for Ukraine. “I am unconflicted about the good within our country and the irreplaceable role we play as the leader of the free world," McConnell said.

(With inputs from agency)

Also Read: Will Biden government run out of funds? Congress is racing to strike a deal, aid for Ukraine unlikely

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