Conservative group leaders call for McConnell to step down, adding fuel to GOP infighting

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) listens as President Trump speaks during a meeting with congressional leaders and administration officials on tax reform at the White House last month.

WASHINGTON – A constellation of conservative activists who have long clashed with congressional Republican leaders issued a joint call Wednesday for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his top deputies to step down, marking the latest round of criticism the Kentucky Republican has received from members of his party.

In a letter to McConnell and in a joint news conference, the activists vented frustration with the Senate’s lack of major legislative accomplishments this year, including their 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 is signed by six activists.

They did not immediately endorse a replacement for the job of majority leader.

Though McConnell is generally respected and well-liked by Republican senators, who determine their own leadership, some rank-and-file lawmakers have been hesitant to align themselves too closely with him lately. In recent weeks, he has come under intense criticism from elsewhere in the party, including from allies and associates of President Donald Trump, most notably Stephen Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist.

Though McConnell’s job is not seen by Republican senators to be in any immediate jeopardy, the mounting attacks he is facing, which at times have come from Trump himself, have raised questions about his standing in the party.

Addressing reporters in a conference room inside the Capitol Hill office of FreedomWorks, a hard-right organization, the activists said that if McConnell does not step aside, they will wage an effort against him in next year’s midterm elections that will take the form of television ads and other advocacy in individual campaigns where his allies are on the ballot.

“If Mitch McConnell does not step down, we foresee a scorched earth disaster from a furious Republican base that will take it out on elected officials in 2018 and again in 2020,” said Brent Bozell, the president of Media Research Center. “It will begin simply by staying home – and rightfully so.”

A McConnell spokesman did not have any immediate comment on the letter. It was signed by Bozell, Senate Conservatives Fund President Ken Cuccinelli II, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, FreedomWorks president Adam Brandon, For America president David Bozell, and Richard Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com.

McConnell’s inability to pass a bill in his chamber to repeal and replace the ACA like the Republican-controlled House did has made him a target of criticism from a growing number of Republicans. Trump has blamed him for the failure and voiced his disappointment publicly.

But the president has not called on McConnell to step down. Late last month, Trump expressed confidence in him.

Bannon, however, has more bluntly and actively opposed McConnell. He has said he is planning to support a slate of insurgent Republican Senate challengers in 2018 against incumbents loyal to McConnell, just as he did in Alabama, where former judge Roy Moore defeated Sen. Luther Strange, R, last month in a special election primary. McConnell and his allies vigorously backed Strange.

“We’re going to cut off the oxygen to Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell’s biggest asset is the money. We’re going to make it the biggest liability,” Bannon said an interview with Fox News Channel earlier this week. He claimed that donors loyal to McConnell and his allies are coming to him and his associates.

The extent to which Bannon will be coordinating his efforts with the activists who spoke Wednesday is not clear.

“We are talking to many organizations, including Steve Bannon, about this,” said Brent Bozell. But the others who joined him did not specify how extensively they planned to collaborate with Bannon.