Thune formally announces bid to replace McConnell as Senate Republican leader

"I’m going to do everything I can to convince my colleagues,” Thune said.

March 4, 2024, 4:56 PM

Confirming what was long suspected, Sen. John Thune formalized his bid to replace Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the next Senate Republican leader in an interview Monday with a news outlet in his home state of South Dakota.

Thune, in the clip, was asked by a reporter from Keloland News about whether he wanted to be the new party leader.

"Well, I hope to be, and I'm going to do everything I can to convince my colleagues," responded Thune, who's No. 2 in the Senate and serves as the party's whip. "They're the voters. They're the ones who ultimately make the decision."

PHOTO: Sen. John Thune speaks after a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill, Feb. 27, 2024.
Sen. John Thune speaks after a policy luncheon on Capitol Hill, Feb. 27, 2024.
Mark Schiefelbein/AP

"But that as we look at a new generation of consistent, principled, conservative leadership in the United States Senate that empowers our Senate Republicans, that puts a check and balance against ... what has been a very liberal Schumer/Biden agenda, I'm prepared to lead that effort," he continued.

McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in history, announced last week that he's stepping down as the Senate Republican leader in November after serving almost two decades in the role.

"To lead my Republican colleagues has been the highest privilege," he said. "But one of life's most under-appreciated talents is to know when it's time to move onto life's next chapter."

In his address, McConnell said he'll finish his term as senator, which ends in 2027.

Thune is now the second Senate Republican to formally state their intentions to run, joining Sen. John Cornyn in that race.

"I believe the Senate is broken -- that is not news to anyone. The good news is that it can be fixed, and I intend to play a major role in fixing it," Cornyn said in a statement announcing his bid. "From experience, I have learned what works in the Senate and what does not, and I am confident Senate Republicans can restore our institution to the essential role it serves in our constitutional republic."

Sen. John Barrasso is also expected to compete for the top spot.

Last week, a spokesperson for Thune's office told ABC News that he was "reaching out to each of his colleagues directly to discuss the future of the Senate Republican Conference and what they would like to see in their next leader" but was keeping the details of those conversations private.

He has the support of Sen. Mike Rounds, who told ABC News' "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday that he "is the right guy at the right time."

"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," he said.

ABC News' Adam Carlson and Brittany Gaddy contributed to this report.