The Intercept has learned from “Kentucky Republicans” that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is working on an exit strategy with state Republicans. As such, he has prepared a list of possible replacement candidates.
The current governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, is a Democrat. Under current law, Beshear would be tasked with selecting a replacement for a retiring official.
New legislation, Senate Bill 228 — dubbed by some inside the state Legislature as the Daniel Cameron Election Bill — was filed on February 10, 2021, during the Kentucky General Assembly’s 30-day “short” session. The bill alters current state statute that allows the governor to appoint a replacement in the event of a vacancy to the U.S. Senate. If the bill becomes law, the appointment to fill a vacancy will be selected from a list of three names submitted by the state executive committee of the same political party as the senator who held the vacant seat. According to the bill, the appointee from that list will then serve until a successor has been elected by voters. The legislation goes on to list instructions on when elections take place in the event of a vacancy.
The legislation is currently before the state Senate and then would need to pass the House. Beshear, the Democratic governor, is reportedly opposed to the bill, but Republicans have held veto-proof majorities in both chambers since 2017.
McConnell’s list includes “his protégé, state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft (whose billionaire coal magnate husband is a major McConnell donor), and Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams, a former McConnell Scholar.”
The long-time senator blamed the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on former President Donald Trump. And, although he voted for Trump’s acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial, he denounced him again on the Senate floor. He followed up the Monday after Trump’s acquittal with a derogatory op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
This didn’t play well in a state that voted heavily for the former president. Republican party leaders throughout the state have “called for his censure.”
McConnell, age 79, first won his seat in 1984.
The Intercept spoke to state Sen. Tom Buford, a Republican. He insisted that “there has been a discussion for ‘several years’ about changing the way Kentucky replaces U.S. senators.”
“It just seemed if we did have a change of venue of U.S. 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,” Buford said.
Multiple sources say it is McConnell who is pushing this bill, but the claimed reasons for why he is pushing the legislation vary from health concerns to the makeup of the upper chamber.
McConnell’s health has been a concern since boyhood. In 1944, he contracted polio and with his mother’s persistence, the young McConnell recovered and learned to walk again. In 2003, McConnell underwent a triple bypass heart surgery. In late October 2020, McConnell dismissed concerns over his health after appearing with bruised and bandaged hands days before his reelection. The previous year, the Kentucky Republican spent weeks recuperating after a fall which forced him to have surgery for a shoulder injury.
There have been numerous theories to explain why this is happening. Some “see this move as less about McConnell’s health and more about hand-selecting his replacement and giving that successor the benefit of incumbency. One frustrated Republican elected official, who declined to be named for the same reason, referred to the bill as McConnell’s ‘escape hatch.'”
I just think McConnell royally pissed off state Republicans with his unnecessary and over the top pronouncements about Trump, and they are trying to come up with a graceful way to push him out without further undermining the Republicans already weak position in the Senate.