McConnell planning an ‘escape hatch’ in case he leaves Senate before his term expires, report says

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

When President Donald Trump lost his reelection bid in November, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, then the Senate majority leader, became the most powerful Republican in Washington, DC.

With the upper chamber ultimately split between 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, the 79-year-old McConnell, who was reelected last year to a seventh term, will most certainly fight hard to regain the majority in 2022.

But McConnell, always a tactician, is said to have created a list of successors in case he doesn’t serve out his full term, which expires in January 2027.

Kentucky Republicans told The Intercept that Attorney General Daniel Cameron of Kentucky, a political protégé of McConnell’s who received criticism for his handling of the Breonna Taylor case, was at the top of the list.

Other names on the list are said to include Kentucky’s secretary of state, Michael Adams, as well as Kelly Craft, the former US ambassador to the United Nations.

Under Kentucky law, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear would have the power to pick McConnell’s successor if he steps down from office, so McConnell is backing new legislation that would enable the state GOP to choose a replacement.

Senate Bill 228, which The Intercept reported had been informally called the “Daniel Cameron Election Bill,” would strip the governor from independently picking a replacement and empower the executive committee of the same political party of the previously elected senator to put forward three potential replacements.

The governor would then have to appoint a successor from the party-endorsed list.

If the legislation passes, it would bar Beshear, who is opposed to the bill, from replacing McConnell with a Democrat.

The legislation also details when elections could proceed if there is a vacancy.

State Sen. Tom Buford, a Republican cosponsor of the bill presented by the Kentucky Senate’s president, Robert Stivers, told The Intercept that changes in Senate appointments had been talked about for “several years.”

“It just seemed if we did have a change of venue of US Senate that it would be proper and appropriate the political party that held the office would be the political party that replaced it until the next election cycle, that being in this case Republican,” he said.

McConnell’s office confirmed with The Intercept that the senator was on board with the changes.

“Leader McConnell has discussed the legislation with Stivers and is fully supportive of the measure,” a spokesperson said.

Multiple sources told The Intercept that McConnell was the catalyst for the new legislation, with “health concerns” and “the makeup of the upper chamber” as some of the given reasons.

Several GOP legislators, who did not want to be identified, told The Intercept that the changes were being pushed largely for McConnell to choose his successor, with one elected official calling the bill an “escape hatch” for the senator.

The bill would have to be approved by the Kentucky House and the Kentucky Senate. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

While McConnell has not publicly indicated plans to down, he is also entering uncharted territory among the Senate GOP caucus.

His hold on leadership remains strong, but he faces the looming presence of Trump, whom he strongly denounced over the January 6 Capitol riot, despite voting to acquit the former president of “incitement of insurrection.”

Last month, Trump slammed McConnell as a “dour, sullen, unsmiling political hack” and said Republicans “will not win again” if they continue to support him.

McConnell later told Fox News that he would “absolutely” support Trump if the former president were the 2024 GOP presidential nominee.