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Alaska Senate candidate challenging Murkowski says she will not support McConnell as GOP leader

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnel and Sen. Lisa Murkowski in July. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican challenging Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), says she will not support Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as GOP leader, the second Senate hopeful to oppose McConnell as other Republicans publicly attack him to further align themselves with former president Donald Trump.

Tshibaka, whom Trump endorsed last month, accused McConnell on Monday of having “repeatedly bailed out Joe Biden, giving him gifts of Senate votes” and thus “keeping the Biden administration on life support.” She referred to McConnell vowing in October that Republicans would not help Democrats raise the debt ceiling this month.

Last week, however, McConnell brokered a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling without risk of Republican filibuster and prevent the country from defaulting on its loans for the first time in history.

Such a compromise was unacceptable, in Tshibaka’s opinion.

“The actions of McConnell and Murkowski on the debt ceiling show that it’s the political elites pitted against real Americans,” Tshibaka said in a statement. “When I defeat Murkowski and become Alaska’s next U.S. senator, I will not support Mitch McConnell as leader. It’s time for new, ‘America First’ leadership in the Senate.”

Tshibaka was echoing Trump’s own attacks on McConnell — as well as Murkowski, whom Trump has worked to oust ever since she voted to convict Trump during his impeachment trial in February. Trump has regularly disparaged McConnell since the minority leader called Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and after McConnell reportedly said he would never speak to Trump again.

The former president over the weekend issued multiple statements through his Save America PAC criticizing and mocking McConnell over the debt ceiling deal.

“Mitch McConnell is giving the Democrats victory on everything. What is wrong with this Broken Old Crow?” Trump said Sunday. “He’s hurting the Republican Senators and the Republican Party. When will they vote him out of Leadership? He didn’t have the guts to play the Debt Ceiling card, which would have given the Republicans a complete victory on virtually everything. The Dems were ready to fold! Watch, they will use the Debt Ceiling against us at their first opportunity, and they won’t fold. It will not be pretty. GET RID OF MITCH!”

McConnell was one of 19 Republican senators to back the infrastructure bill, drawing the wrath of other Republicans for giving President Biden a long-sought, bipartisan win.

Another Trump statement Monday read, simply: “McConnell has saved the Democrats!”

After raising the debt limit for decades, Republicans in recent years have leveraged it to enact spending cuts while also threatening government default. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

Until this fall, however, Trump’s efforts to turn Senate Republicans and Senate hopefuls against McConnell were mostly ineffective. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has tried to walk a tightrope when it comes to placating Trump while working with the GOP establishment. When asked last month if the NRSC would financially support Murkowski in her reelection campaign, Scott said the group “absolutely” would.

“The National Republican Senatorial Committee, we support all of our incumbents. And fortunately for us, we’ve got great candidates running in our primaries,” Scott told NBC’s “Meet the Press” then.

Scott also said he would support McConnell as Senate majority leader again if Republicans took back the Senate in 2022.

“I’ve known Mitch McConnell since the early ’90s,” Scott said then. “I actually lived in Kentucky and supported him then. I have a good working relationship with Mitch McConnell.”

Others recently have become bolder in their public criticisms of McConnell, though. In September, former Missouri governor Eric Greitens (R), who is running for Senate, declared that he would not support McConnell as GOP leader if he wins next year, saying that Republicans need “strong, uncompromising leadership.” At the time, Greitens said he was the first GOP Senate candidate running in 2022 to take such a stance.

And on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a onetime Trump critic who has since become one of Trump’s most ardent supporters, suggested that McConnell could not be an effective Republican leader if he did not start building a better relationship with Trump, whom he called “the most consequential Republican” in the party.

“If we’re going to be successful in 2022, we’re going to have to work together as a team,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” “And here’s what I would say to every Republican: If you want to be … a Republican leader in the House or the Senate and you don’t have a working relationship with Donald Trump, you cannot be effective. So, I hope we’ll get on the same page here.”

Felicia Sonmez and Mariana Alfaro contributed to this report.

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