Mitch McConnell to step down as Senate Republican leader

Sen. Mitch McConnell

Mitch McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history, announced Wednesday that he plans to step down from his role as leader of Republicans in the chamber come November.

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The 82-year-old lawmaker from Kentucky shared his decision in the well of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. News of his remarks were initially reported by The Associated Press.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” he said. “So I stand before you today ... to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

McConnell said he will continue to represent Kentucky in the Senate, “albeit from a different seat.”

“I’m actually looking forward to that,” he said. Later, he added, “I still have enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics and I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm with which they have become accustomed.”

McConnell was first elected to the Senate in 1984 and became leader of the Republican conference in 2007 after four years in the GOP’s No. 2 leadership position. Last year, he became the longest-serving party leader in the chamber’s history.

“I’m no longer the young man sitting in the back hoping colleagues would remember my name,” he said Wednesday. “It’s time for the next generation of leadership.”

It was not immediately clear who might succeed McConnell. Last year, The New York Times reported that Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming were top contenders.

Aides told the AP that McConnell’s decision to step down was unrelated to his health. Concerns swirled after he twice appeared to freeze in the middle of speaking last year and after he fell in March, suffering a concussion and a rib fracture.