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McConnell rejects GOP Sen. Rick Scott’s tax plan and agenda, insists he will remain Republican leader

On March 1, Sen. Mitch McConnell rebuked Sen. Rick Scott's bill that the minority leader says will raise taxes and cut Medicare aid. (Video: The Washington Post)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday publicly rejected a proposal by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who last month released a “11-point plan to rescue America” that has drawn criticism from several prominent Republicans. McConnell insisted that if Republicans win the majority in November, he will decide the party’s course, staking out a defiant stance against former president Donald Trump’s efforts to oust him as the GOP leader.

At a Senate GOP leadership news conference Tuesday afternoon, McConnell seemed to take issue not only with Scott’s plan — which included a proposal for all Americans to pay some form of income tax — but also with the fact that Scott, a member of the leadership team, had released one purporting to represent the Republican Party.

“If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader. I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor,” McConnell told reporters. “Let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda: We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.”

McConnell has been adamant that the Senate GOP will not release a platform ahead of the midterm election, saying the party only needs to reveal its plans for running Congress “when we take it back” — a position some other Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), have disagreed with.

New tax plan from leading GOP senator would require all Americans to pay federal income taxes

Scott’s 11-point proposal includes many other long-standing conservative projects, such as eliminating the Education Department, building Trump’s border wall and declaring that there are only two genders.

At Tuesday’s news conference, after each member of the Republican leadership had delivered remarks, reporters asked McConnell about Scott’s plan.

“Sen. Scott is behind me, and he can address the issue of his particular measure,” he said, though at that moment, Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was walking away.

McConnell was told in advance of the Scott plan but did not support it, according to a McConnell adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. During a meeting Monday night ahead of Tuesday’s news conference, McConnell was sharply critical of the idea during a private leadership meeting. Politico first reported on the Monday clash.

“The entire leadership team teed off on Rick Scott for the entirety of the meeting,” said a person familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss what was said. The person feared that Republican senators such as Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) would face Democratic attacks over the plan as they run for reelection this year.

“It’s the political competency or the lack thereof,” the person said.

In a statement Tuesday, Scott did not back down, insisting that the GOP should have a plan and that he would continue talking about his.

“I agree with Senator McConnell that this election will primarily be about Joe Biden and the Democrats’ failures, but have been clear that I also believe Republicans should talk about a plan for turning this country around,” Scott said. “I’m a business guy and I’ve always believed in making plans in order to get things done. Republicans, and really all Americans outside of Washington, are demanding it.”

McConnell decided over the weekend to say something publicly about Scott’s proposal because he watched ads and news releases that his members were forwarding to him, with their opponents attacking them over the plan. McConnell worried the ads would proliferate if he did not say something denouncing the plan, the adviser said.

The argument from McConnell is that Democrats are underwater across the board, and “why would we give our opponents something to attack us with?” the person said. “Why would you want to elevate yourself to be a liability for Senate Republican candidates?”

Rick Scott navigates Trump, winning back the Senate — and his own ambitions

As head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the group that works to elect Republicans to the Senate, Scott has had to walk a tightrope, embracing Trump while avoiding or waving off Trump’s most outlandish claims and feuds. Scott has also met with Trump several times recently, including last month at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate. The NRSC held a high-dollar event at the club, but most of the senators, staying at the nearby Breakers, did not attend.

Over the last year, Trump has intensified his attacks of McConnell, calling him out of touch with the Republican base and a “broken old crow,” among other pejoratives. But Trump’s efforts to pluck away senators from voting for McConnell have not really amounted to much, multiple advisers said, as most senators are noncommittal or positive about the minority leader. McConnell remains the longest-serving Senate Republican leader in U.S. history, unanimously elected by the party eight times since 2006.

Scott has denied that he is planning to challenge McConnell for head of the GOP. In November, Scott defied Trump to state he would back McConnell’s reelection as the Republican leader, as well as the reelection of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whom Trump is also trying to unseat.

“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.”

In McConnell’s orbit, Scott is credited with raising money, but has struggled with candidate recruitment with some “high-profile fails” and “their inability to shape some of the more ugly primaries,” the adviser said. Scott has said he does not plan to get involved in the primary process, instead leaving it to the voters, but some close to McConnell fear this means there will be nominees in states such as Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona that are out of money and politically battered by the time a nominee is picked. McConnell has a massive PAC and can recruit candidates as well.

Jeff Stein contributed to this report.

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