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‘He gave me a chance’: Alabama GOP senator praises Mitch McConnell for mentorship

In World
April 03, 2024

At the University of Louisville on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised freshman U.S. Sen. Katie Britt for being the perfect Republican choice to “contrast” President Joe Biden as she delivered her party’s response to the State of the Union address last month.

“There is no better choice to contrast President Biden and his policies,” Leader McConnell said as he introduced the Alabama Republican. The 42-year-old spoke at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center as part of its distinguished lecture series.

McConnell does not always attend the lectures of speakers at his center. But on Tuesday, he introduced Britt almost as a protege, describing her as having an “engaging character (and) in-depth policy knowledge” that has “made her a sought-after partner on both sides of the aisle, which frankly is a rarity for first-term senators.”

The 82-year-old Senate leader announced in February he planned to step down from his leadership role in November, and speculation is mounting about who will replace him. He has not said publicly whether he plans to seek re-election at the end of his term in 2026, though a staffer told the Herald-Leader last month that McConnell would not run again.

McConnell praised Britt, a relative newcomer, for being the face of the GOP’s nationally televised response to Biden’s State of the Union in March. It was the first time many Americans outside of Alabama had heard of Britt, who was chosen to lead the party’s response to the president’s address before she had even given a floor speech.

Some conservatives and plenty of Democrats alike criticized Britt for her overly dramatic delivery and for, at times, inflating and mischaracterizing the truth.

But McConnell said she put “a microphone to the thoughts and concerns of millions of Americans’ frustrations” with the economy and border crisis.

“I was thoroughly impressed with her performance,” he said, “not just that night, but in the nights since.”

He then noted Saturday Night Live’s parody of the speech: “To be in the spotlight, you need a thick skin. She ended up on Saturday Night Live. I did, too (and) we’re both still here,” McConnell said to laughs from the crowd. “It’s going to take a lot more than a few punches from the press to knock her down.”

In turn, Britt credited McConnell for giving her a platform few senators see in their first months in office. She told the story of her own run for federal office, noting that early on in her campaign she was polling at 2%.

In the November 2022 race, she won all but one of Alabama’s 67 counties. She credited a lesson she was taught as a child by her grandfather, that only four qualities “will determine your path in life: your character, integrity, work ethic and the way you treat people.”

Nothing else matters, Britt said, adding, “It’s not what your parents do. It’s not what school you went to. It’s not even what’s in your bank account.”

However, Britt was the hand-picked successor of former Sen. Richard Shelby, for whom she had served as chief of staff. Shelby spent $5 million of his own campaign cash to support Britt during her primary run.

McConnell could find himself in a similar position as Shelby as he faces 2026.

Despite reports he is not running for re-election in 2026, the leader is still holding fundraisers in the state via his re-election campaign arm the McConnell Senate Committee. Just last week, McConnell held a fundraiser at the residence of Cathy Bailey, a former member of the Republican National Committee from Kentucky and U.S. ambassador to Latvia.

Britt’s first five months in Washington were hard, she said. But McConnell invited her under his wing, giving her a pedestal to talk about the things that matter most to her: “Faith, family and freedom.”

After a meeting in which she shared with her colleagues what it’s like to “raise children in this environment,” Britt said McConnell walked over to her and said, “’You have a unique voice, and it’s a voice we need to hear. I want you to come sit at my leadership table.’”

Their fledgling working relationship spurred opportunities, she said; McConnell “was the very first one to allow me to travel abroad on behalf of the United States of America, to meet with foreign leaders, to hear their perspective.”

“Not being like everyone else was actually a strength,” Britt said of McConnell, and “he noticed it and gave me a chance.”

Herald-Leader reporter Austin Horn contributed to this story.

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