Mitch McConnell officially broke the record for longest serving Senate leader on Tuesday.
In his floor remarks to open the new Congress, McConnell paid tribute to the last Senate leader to hold the record: Democratic Sen. Mike Mansfield of Montana, who served as Majority Leader for 16 years.
“This scholarly Montanan was not an exciting idealist who transformed our national discourse, nor a policy entrepreneur who brought to the leader’s role his own sweeping wish list of federal programs,” McConnell said. “Mansfield made a huge impact through a different road: by viewing the role of leader as serving others.”
McConnell’s standing as the longest serving Senate party leader stood in stark contrast to the situation of GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who on the same day failed to attain the necessary votes to become speaker on a first House ballot. McConnell, meanwhile, achieved his record after beating back his first leadership challenge in November. Ten senators instead voted for Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), following a disappointing midterm performance for the GOP.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close McConnell adviser, said Tuesday he’s not “surprised at all” about McConnell breaking Mansfield’s record.
“If you’ve read [McConnell’s] book, ‘The Long Game,’ this is something he’s wanted to do his whole life,” Cornyn said.
McConnell also commemorated other Senate leaders, including former Senate Republican Leader Henry Cabot Lodge, former Senate Democratic Leader Robert Byrd and former Senate Democratic Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Mansfield succeeded Johnson as Senate leader.
McConnell said under Mansfield’s management of the Senate, “proceedings became more orderly and less theatrical.” And he highlighted Mansfield’s interest in Asia, describing him as a “trusted foreign policy hand.”
“Mansfield was a canny strategist who knew how to rally his conference. He knew when to go to battle, and when to coordinate with his counterpart Everett Dirksen,” McConnell said. “In short, he knew how to work the Senate.”
The 80-year-old McConnell, first elected Senate GOP leader in 2006, was majority leader from 2015 to the beginning of 2021. During that period, McConnell drew Democratic ire for blocking former President Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland from Senate consideration, in addition to Obama’s other judicial nominees. Under former President Donald Trump, Senate Republicans proceeded to confirm three Supreme Court justices, shifting the ideological balance of the court, along with 231 district, circuit court and U.S. Court of International Trade judges.
While McConnell worked closely with the Trump White House on judicial nominees and the 2017 GOP tax cuts, his relationship with the former president soured after the 2020 presidential election. After the Jan. 6 attack, McConnell described Trump as “practically and morally responsible,” but declined to convict him during his second impeachment trial. The Kentucky Republican has since avoided talking about the former president directly.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer congratulated McConnell on breaking the record, during his own floor speech.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, so I hope we can find some ways to come together and not succumb to gridlock,” Schumer said. “For the good of this chamber and for the good of our country.”
McConnell became the longest serving GOP leader in June 2018, beating out former Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.). He is also the longest serving senator from Kentucky, first elected in 1984.
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