Mitch McConnell, Now the Senate’s Longest-Serving GOP Leader

Kentucky senator surpasses Bob Dole at more than 11 years

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell greets former Sen. Bob Dole during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in January. On Tuesday, McConnell surpasses Dole as the longest-serving Senate GOP leader. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

When Majority LeaderMitch McConnell highlighted the accomplishments of Senate Republicans on his watch at a gathering of conservatives Friday, the Kentucky Republican was taking a bit of a victory lap ahead of becoming the longest-serving GOP leader in history.

“It’s a lot of fun when you have as much good news to report as we do,” McConnell said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “In my view, the last 16 months have been the single-best period for conservatives since I came to Washington ... back in 1985.”

The Kentuckian may never be the most popular among the party faithful — or even folks back home. But it is hard to question his effectiveness at leading his conference with the narrowest of margins.

Frist2/010603 - Senate Majoriy Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., left, and Majority Whip Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walk to the first meeting of the Republican Leadership, Monday, in Russell Building
Senate Majoriy Leader Bill Frist and McConnell walk to the first Republican leadership meeting of the year in January 2003, shortly after McConnell was elected whip. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

And Tuesday, he passes former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas as the longest-serving Republican leader in the Senate’s history, at 11 years, five months and 10 days.

While the two men have very different personalities, their biographies have some unusual overlap. McConnell spoke to many of them during his remarks at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Dole earlier this year in the Capitol Rotunda.

“I didn’t understand how high Bob set the bar until my turn came to follow in his footsteps. You see, Bob and I are members of a small, elite group. We’ve shared a unique role, one with intense demands and awesome responsibilities,” McConnell said. “We’re the only two Americans in history to serve as first gentleman of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Labor.”

Dole’s wife Elizabeth, also a former senator, served in both roles, and McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, is the Transportation secretary under President Donald Trump — and led the Labor Department during the George W. Bush administration.

Schumer Congratulates McConnell for Being Longest-Serving GOP Senate Leader

In the same speech, McConnell said he arrived as an aide to Kentucky GOP Sen. Marlow Cook in 1969, the same year Dole arrived as a young senator.

And McConnell saw the entirety of Dole’s tenure as leader of the conference from within the chamber.

The Jefferson County judge was elected to the Senate in an upset just in time to vote in the hotly contested Republican leadership race for the 99th Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, speaks alongside Supreme Court Nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Feb. 1, 2017. (Al Drago/Pool/The New York Times)
McConnell speaks with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Feb. 1, 2017. (Al Drago/Pool/The New York Times file photo)

Dole, who led the Finance Committee and was already a national figure as the 1976 vice presidential nominee, prevailed in that contest on the fourth ballot, besting legendary Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

Dole and Stevens had tied on the third ballot, in what was a free-for-all contest prompted by the planned retirement of Majority Leader Howard H. Baker of Tennessee.

Late Monday, McConnell recalled to Roll Call that as a senator-elect he voted for Dole to be Republican leader on every ballot. In addition to Stevens, the other candidates in the running were Sens. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and James A. McClure of Idaho.

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