Concerns about the health of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and discussion of who might replace him as the top Senate Republican leader resurfaced this week after he appeared to freeze for an extended length of time during a press conference and had to be assisted away from the lectern by GOP leadership colleagues.
President Joe Biden's White House has also reportedly been surveying the most likely candidates to replace McConnell and may have accidentally signaled who they'd most prefer as well as who they'd least like to see in the top leadership role, the Daily Wire reported.
The top three candidates likely include Sen. McConnell's current understudy, Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-SD), plus former Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), and current GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-WY), and while the White House had positive things to say about both Thune and Cornyn, they said nothing at all about the more conservative Barrasso.
Politico reported Thursday that the White House is "closely watching" the fallout and possible replacement talk following the momentary health scare earlier in the week for Sen. McConnell, who as an establishment leader and "institutionalist" has had a good working relationship with President Biden that stretches back decades during their time in the Senate together.
"White House aides view McConnell as a bulwark against some of the more Trumpian forces within the GOP, a check on renegade influences that at times push Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), as well as a reliable partner in the effort to fund Ukraine’s resistance against Russia and ensure the government’s lights stay on past Sept. 30," the outlet noted.
Biden doesn't have anywhere near the same decades-long relationship with any of the other top Senate Republicans who are most likely to succeed McConnell, but he and the White House apparently do have some thoughts on who they'd prefer to see as McConnell's successor and why.
Sen. Thune, the current number two, is viewed as an "acceptable option," as they believe he "largely shares McConnell’s worldview on the importance of institutions and the need, at times, to work across the aisle. They also feel that Thune is unchallenged politically back home, which aides believe is essential to leading from a position of strength. Similar views are held about Cornyn."
Sen. Barrasso went entirely unmentioned by the White House in that Politico article, which the Daily Wire surmised was likely due to the belief that "attacking him to the media could strengthen his support within the Republican Party."
Of the three most probable candidates to replace Sen. McConnell as the top Republican in the Senate, Barrasso is far more conservative than both Sens. Thune and Cornyn, according to the Conservative Review's Liberty Score, which is based on how each individual member of Congress votes on significant pieces of legislation.
Barrasso, who has served in Congress since 2008, ranks mid-pack among all Senate Republicans with a 76 percent "C" score, while Cornyn, who has served since 2004, has a 54 percent "F" score, and Thune, who has served since 2006, received a 51 percent "F" score.
Of course, any talk of replacing Sen. McConnell may be premature, as the 81-year-old senator has insisted that he is "fine" and has no plans to step down from his leadership role or exit Congress until at least the end of his current term.
However, USA Today reported that McConnell's momentary freeze at the podium this week was just the latest of several health scares this year, including several falls, one of which resulted in broken ribs and a concussion in March.
It has since been revealed that McConnell, a polio survivor who has increasingly been using a wheelchair to get around, tripped and fell at a Washington D.C. airport in mid-July, and also tripped and fell during a February visit to Finland.
Taking McConnell's stubborn refusal to resign or retire for what it is -- if, however, he does eventually decide to step aside, hopefully Republicans will take the Biden White House's opinion of who should be the next Senate Republican Leader into consideration and then do the exact opposite of that.