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Barrasso opts against run for Senate GOP leader

Currently a two-way race for GOP leader, but more could jump in

Senate GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming, left, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Nov. 18.
Senate GOP Conference Chair John Barrasso of Wyoming, left, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Nov. 18. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Three “Senate Johns” are now officially running for new Republican leadership posts — but Wyoming’s John Barrasso on Tuesday announced that there will be no three-way race to replace Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as GOP leader.

Barrasso made clear in a Tuesday statement that his focus is on the No. 2 post.

“I have had time to reflect on how I might best serve the Republican Conference and our country,” he said. “After a lot of thought, I will ask my colleagues for their support and help to work for them as the assistant Republican leader.”

Former GOP Whip John Cornyn of Texas announced last week that he is running for the conference’s top job, which the 82-year-old McConnell said during a floor speech he will leave later this year due to age and a changed Republican Party.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the current GOP whip, told home-state news outlets on Monday he’d be jumping into the race as well. “I hope to be, and I’m going to do everything I can to convince my colleagues,” Thune said.

There also has been scuttlebutt that a senator from the Donald Trump-aligned “Make America Great Again” faction of the conference might throw a hat in the ring. No such conservative GOP member has announced a bid for leader yet, although Sen. Rick Scott of Florida has challenged McConnell before and has made noises about entering the race again.

Scott on Monday night posted a photo of himself meeting with Trump. “We’re going to continue working together to win big in 2024 and fix Washington,” Scott wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Should Barrasso move up a rung on the GOP leadership ladder, it would open the door for a new conference chair. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa is currently the Republican Policy Committee chair, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia is vice chair of the Republican Conference and Sen. Steve Daines of Montana is the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair.

None has announced what they might do in the coming leadership scramble.

Daines has said he is, for now, focused on November’s election. Control of the chamber is up for grabs, and he is running the conference’s campaign efforts — including its fundraising and spending decisions. That could give him a boost, much like Cornyn, who has been a prolific fundraiser for his colleagues.

As GOP conference chairman, Barrasso is the third-highest-ranking Republican in the Senate and plays a key part in driving the party’s messaging and legislative agenda. His own policy priorities are rooted in his home state and energy policy — Wyoming is home to significant fossil fuel activity, uranium mining and huge chunks of federal land.

Barrasso stepped away from the Environment and Public Works Committee to claim the top Republican slot on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the 117th Congress.

Wyoming has been the top coal-producing state since 1986, and in 2022 was the eighth-largest oil producer and 10th-largest gas producer among U.S. states, according to the Energy Information Administration. Barrasso has used his committee post to sharply criticize the Biden administration’s fossil fuel policies and oppose policies at odds with his state’s oil and coal interests.

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