Sen. Rick Scott isn’t having a great week. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Joe Biden used the Florida Republican’s plan as an example of GOP radicalism, sparking jeers from Republican lawmakers — who didn’t want to be associated with Scott’s misguided agenda.
The morning after the address, the senator tried to push back against the criticisms, but in the process, Scott ended up doubling down on his own unpopular ideas. It led Politico to marvel at the Floridian’s reluctance to simply take the loss and move on.
Yesterday, the senator, already in a ditch, decided to dig deeper. It started with a disastrous interview on CNN, which Democrats were eager to promote and disseminate, which was soon followed by Scott releasing an ad that was immediately condemned for trying to deliberately deceive the public. All the while, Biden and his White House team treated the Republican and his regressive ideas about Social Security and Medicare like a piñata.
All of which helped set the stage for last night, when the Senate GOP’s leader deliberately made matters worse for Scott. NBC News reported this morning:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Thursday criticized one of his own Republican members, Sen. Rick Scott, over the Florida senator’s proposal to sunset all federal legislation in five years — an issue President Joe Biden skewered the GOP over in his State of the Union speech. “That’s not a Republican plan. That was the Rick Scott plan,” McConnell said in an interview with host Terry Meiners on a Kentucky radio station.
The Kentucky senator didn’t stop there. In the same interview, McConnell said he and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy agree that Social Security and Medicare “are not to be touched,” and the two GOP leaders are in a more "authoritative position to state what the position of the party is than any single senator,” apparently referring to Scott.
Abandoning all subtlety, McConnell concluded, in reference to Scott’s policy blueprint, “It’s just a bad idea. I think it will be a challenge for [Scott] to deal with this in his own re-election in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.”
Part of what made the comments so notable was the electoral context: There is nothing McConnell cares more about than partisan victories. As the Associated Press’ Seung Min Kim explained overnight, for the Senate minority leader to say something damaging about Scott as the Floridian prepares to run for re-election “underscores just how much he loathes him and blames him for their losses in 2022.”
There is every reason to believe the feeling is mutual. Chris Hartline, a member of the Floridian’s political operation, tweeted last night that Scott “knows how to win Florida a hell of a lot better than Mitch McConnell does.” Hartline went on to suggest that McConnell is “parroting Democrat [sic] lies.”
All of which helped highlight another relevant dimension to this: Scott wants the public to believe his far-right blueprint wouldn’t put Medicare and Social Security in jeopardy, as Democrats insist otherwise. With his latest comments, McConnell effectively conceded that Democrats, unlike the Florida Republican, have the facts on their side.
But just as notable is the scope and intensity of the feud between the two prominent GOP senators. From time to time, there will be interpersonal tensions between members of the same party who struggle to get along.
But the burning fire of contempt between McConnell and Scott is a sight to behold. The animosity between the Republicans was painfully obvious last year, leading the duo to trade shots in public, with the Floridian writing a column in September 2022 that threw around words like “cowardice” and “treasonous” in apparent reference to McConnell.
After the 2022 midterm elections, Scott took the tensions to a new level: Hoping to parlay failure into a promotion, he ran against McConnell for Senate GOP leader. As we discussed last week, the incumbent prevailed with relative ease, though it was the first challenge of McConnell’s tenure, and the fight was emblematic of the deep division between the two Republicans.
Yesterday, McConnell — on the heels of stripping Scott of a committee assignment he wanted — raised the stakes a bit more. It’s unlike any intra-party fight we’ve seen in many years.