Weeks ago, Mitch McConnell began laying the groundwork for his own potential early retirement. First he threw his weight behind Kentucky legislation that would force the state’s Democratic Governor to replace McConnell with a Republican if he retires before his term ends in 2026. Now McConnell is reportedly floating a list of people he’d like to see appointed in his place if he resigns. Then last night Republican Senator Ron Johnson announced that he’s leaning toward retiring next year instead of seeking reelection. So what’s going on?
At first we suspected that McConnell might simply have had no interest in remaining Senate Minority Leader, and that he was preparing for a potential exit from the Senate if he doesn’t win back the Majority Leader position in the 2022 midterms. But then came the news this week that the DOJ is sitting on a criminal referral against McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao, meaning she could potentially be prosecuted once Attorney General Merrick Garland is confirmed this month. It was enough to raise the question of whether McConnell might be preparing to leave public life if his wife is arrested.
And now Ron Johnson, the Republican Senator who has spent the past few years behaving like a Kremlin asset in almost cartoonishly blatant fashion, is suddenly talking about ending his Senate career next year as well. We can’t help but notice that Johnson is also laying the groundwork for his potential exit from the political stage just as Merrick Garland is on the verge of being confirmed. Is he afraid he’s going to be investigated by the DOJ for his ties to the Kremlin? Is he hoping that exiting politics will decrease his odds of ending up criminally indicted?
We’ll see where this goes. But the timing of it all, with Mitch McConnell paving a path for his resignation at a time when his wife is potentially on the verge of being criminally charged, and Ron Johnson suddenly talking about ending his career at a time when his foreign allegiance might finally be criminally investigated, feels like one heck of a coincidence.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report