Senate Republican says McConnell successor needs to ‘stand his own ground’ on Trump

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) on Sunday called on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)’s successor to remain steadfast in the wake of potential opposition from former President Trump.

McConnell, who announced last week he would step down from his leadership post in November, has had ongoing tensions with Trump and was known to be one of the few GOP senators who openly stood up to the former president.

Asked by ABC’s “This Week,” co-anchor Jonathan Karl how important it is for McConnell’s successor to be “willing to stand up to Trump,” Rounds said, ” Well, that’s what I’m looking for in a leader. I want someone who will work with a president, but who also will stand his own ground.”

“That’s one of the reasons why I very publicly and openly supported John Thune, and I supported Mitch McConnell. I think John Thune will bring some – you know, a fresh breath. That always happens when you have a change in leadership,” Rounds continued.

Shortly after McConnell’s announcement last week, Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) became one of three “Johns” considered likely contenders for the leadership role. The others include Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the latter of whom became the first to formally announce his bid last Thursday.

Last Friday, Politico reported  that Thune has quietly begun campaigning for the role.

Rounds on Sunday the upper chamber has “some really good choices,” but Thune is “the right guy at the right time.”

“Great moral character. He’s the right kind of a guy. And I think he will be independent enough to where he will look out also, just like Mitch did, for the institution of the Senate itself. So, I’m optimistic. It’s the reason why I’m supporting him,” Rounds said.

Several GOP senators argued last week  that McConnell’s departure from his longtime leadership role indicates how the GOP party is drifting away from his leadership and shifting towards the influence and embrace of Trump.

“I think it’s a reflection of Mitch’s understanding of the room. I think it’s a reflection of both his personal situation, as he described eloquently in his speech, and his reading of the political climate and his respect for that,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said last week.

McConnell’s announcement followed repeated pressure from longtime GOP critics in the Senate aligned with the former president. The Kentucky Republican has not endorsed Trump’s White House bid despite most of his leadership, including Thune , already having done so.

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