Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pulled Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who tried to oust him as the Senate’s top Republican in a bruising leadership race, off the powerful Commerce Committee.
McConnell also removed Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who supported Scott’s bid to replace McConnell as leader, from the Commerce panel, which has broad jurisdiction over a swath of federal agencies.
The GOP leader insisted last year that he didn’t take the attempt to end his leadership reign personally, but the latest move sends a clear message to conservatives that challenging McConnell’s leadership carries a cost.
“McConnell got to pick. He kicked me off; he kicked Lee off,” Scott confirmed in an interview.
Scott acknowledged that running against McConnell was the likely reason he was booted from the panel despite his relative seniority on the committee and experience running a major company.
“I probably ran the biggest company almost any senator in the history of the country has ever run. I was governor of the third-biggest economy in the United States, Florida. I’ve got a business background,” Scott said, ticking off his credentials.
But Scott and Lee have teamed up to challenge McConnell’s leadership of the GOP conference on fiscal and spending decisions, and Lee gave one of the nominating speeches for Scott’s bid to take over as GOP leader.
Scott said he learned of the decision in a text message.
One personal familiar with the episode described the Florida senator as “furious.”
Other conservatives agree the leadership fight was a major factor in the decision to remove Scott and Lee from Commerce.
McConnell insisted in November that he didn’t have any hard feelings left over after Scott challenged him in an acrimonious race, which McConnell eventually won by a vote of 37 to 10, with one senator voting present.
“I’m not in any way offended by having an opponent or having a few votes in opposition,” he said after he was reelected following hours of tense discussions within the GOP conference. “I’m pretty proud of 37 to 10.”
Scott had more seniority on the Commerce panel than Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who already serves on two other “A-list” committees — the Banking and Environment and Public Works Committees — and Lee had more seniority than Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who also sits on the Appropriations Committee and serves as the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
One Republican senator said Scott took a risk when he openly questioned McConnell’s leadership of the conference after the disappointing election.
“What did he expect?” the lawmaker said.
McConnell replaced Scott, Lee and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), a conservative who left the panel to take a coveted seat on the Finance Committee, with three first-term GOP senators: Sens. Ted Budd (N.C.), Eric Schmitt (Mo.) and J.D. Vance (Ohio).
The GOP leader had sole discretion to decide whether Scott and Lee could stay on the Commerce Committee because it was the third “A-list” committee seat held by both senators.
Scott asked at a Senate Republican conference lunch meeting who made the decision to remove him from the Commerce Committee and was informed that McConnell alone made the decision.
Scott also sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, while Lee is a member of the prestigious Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources panel.
A Republican aide familiar with the behind-the-scenes jockeying over committee assignments noted that Scott and Lee already sit on prime committees and the group of incoming senators wanted seats on Commerce.
The source noted that losing committee seats is an unfortunate consequence of losing a Republican Senate seat in the 2022 midterm election.