The tense fight for control of the Republican Party showed new signs of volatility on Wednesday, with conservative activists attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, even as he signaled that he plans to intensify efforts to install conservative judges on the federal bench.
A constellation of conservative leaders issued a joint call for McConnell and his top deputies to step down, marking the latest round of criticism the Kentucky Republican has received from members of his own party.
Those activists also shrugged off comments McConnell made in an interview with the Weekly Standard, in which he appeared keen on ending the long-standing practice of giving senators a chance to block judicial nominees who would have jurisdiction over their states. Conservatives have been agitating for a more aggressive shaping of the bench in recent months.
Separately, an outside group affiliated with Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief strategist to President Trump who is waging a public war against McConnell and his allies, endorsed GOP Senate candidates in three states that were not objectionable to traditional Republicans.
The developments, coming in the middle of a weeklong Senate recess, raised new questions about the trajectory of the intensifying war for the soul of the Republican Party and further blurred the battle lines within it. The complex struggle is expected to impact not only the midterm campaign but also the ongoing GOP attempt at a sweeping rewrite of the nation’s tax laws.
In a letter to McConnell, six hard-right activists vented frustration with the Senate’s lack of major legislative accomplishments this year, including its failure to undo the Affordable Care Act.
“It is time for you and your leadership team to step aside, for new leadership that is committed to the promises made to the American people,” says the letter, which has six signatories. They did not immediately endorse a replacement for the job of majority leader.