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Ted Cruz/ Alex Wong, Mike Lee/ Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, JD Vance/ Chip Somodevilla, Ron Johnson/ Win McNamee, Rick Scott/ Joe Raedle, Mitch McConnell/ Anna Moneymaker- ALL GETTY IMAGES/ DAILY CALLER CREATED MONTAGE

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell’s days leading the Republican minority could be numbered following the collapse of Senate leadership’s bipartisan national security supplemental aid bill this week. Several prominent Republican senators expressed that the border bill debacle could push the GOP conference over the edge to remove McConnell from leadership, they told the Daily Caller in exclusive conversations Wednesday.

“Mitch McConnell, in effect, gave the largest in-kind campaign contribution to the Democrats’ Senate campaign committee in history,” Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz told the Caller.

Conservatives both inside the official Republican Party apparatus and out have long criticized McConnell, an institution in the Senate with a reputation for shrewd negotiation and savvy maneuvering, for not taking sufficiently hardline stances on key issues to the party’s base. McConnell has continued to keep a stranglehold on power in the Republican conference for nearly two decades, but momentum to remove him has reached a fevered pitch after a tidal wave of backlash to the border policy proposal unveiled this week.

“I think this is our opportunity to take him out, and we’re sort of working to figure out if that’s possible. I think that there’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem where I think you probably have the votes, but you need somebody to step forward and that person’s that unwilling to step forward unless you have the votes, it can’t just be a Mike and Ted and a sort of everybody who hates Mitch thing,” one Republican senator, who was granted anonymity to speak freely without worry of retaliation from leadership, told the Caller. “You obviously have to get kind of the middle of the conference. So that’s all being worked on behind the scenes. And I think, frankly, how this vote works out will help determine whether the conference, broadly speaking, is willing to go in that direction.”

McConnell put Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford in charge of border deal negotiations with Democrats and the Biden administration. Every Senate Republican the Caller spoke with laid the blame on McConnell, however, saying he was the one truly crafting the deal behind the scenes and used Lankford, who is not running for reelection, as a pawn to take the fall for what the lawmakers said is a gift to their opponents.

“Every single Democrat candidate in the country running for Senate, running for House will use the identical talking points — they will all say: We wanted to secure the border. We tried to secure the border, but the Republicans wouldn’t let us,” Cruz continued. “Now, that is a wild-eyed lie. It is completely false. This bill would have made the border crisis worse.”

“As long as I’ve been serving in the Senate, there’s never been an issue where the American public is so overwhelmingly in support of our position, which is to secure the border. So how can you take as leader, how do you take an issue where the American people support us and lead us into a box, where now, when a bill is produced, it is worse than doing nothing,” Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said. “When that’s rejected, we get blamed. I mean, you got to work overtime to screw that up.”

“I’ve even heard privately, Democratic colleagues, tell me ‘your leadership was desperate to make a deal, that it made us less willing to negotiate’. So this is an open secret that these guys were not driving a hard bargain and you see the results in the border package that came out,” Republican Ohio Sen. J.D. Vance told the Daily Caller. “And now we’re seeing the second step of the process, which is kill the border package. Jam through the Ukraine package. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The Senate deal, which included $60 billion in aid for Ukraine, was shut down Wednesday afternoon after a motion to proceed failed 49-50. Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and Lankford were the only GOP Senators who voted to pass the legislation. Meanwhile, several Democrats also opposed the deal, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez and Massachusetts Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then put a package on the floor to ship aid to Ukraine and Israel, with no provisions for border security.

Meanwhile, the predictions of Cruz and others came true before the body of the deal was even cold Wednesday. This week, President Joe Biden blamed Republicans for the crisis at the southern border, stating that their inability to pass legislation to solve the problem was going to be used against them every day on the campaign trail between now and November. Other Democrats have begun deploying the same line.

Republican hopes of using Ukraine aid to secure a big win on perhaps 2024’s biggest issue, the border, went up in flames.

“We agreed to try to say that if we’re going to pass any Ukraine aid, if we’re going to pass a bill providing aid to Ukraine, given that Democrats really want that and we really want a secure border, we should find a way to leverage that desire among Democrats in order to secure what we want, which is control of the border,” Republican Utah Sen. Mike Lee told the Caller. “And among other things, we suggested attaching HR2 would be good. We get something out of it, but the most consistently expressed suggestion, demand, request, was tie Ukraine funding to the achievement of certain border security metrics.”

“A lot of us said we can’t support Ukraine if we don’t secure our border. And then a lot of us said, well, we have a lawless administration, so we have to have something to tie, the Biden administration, that they want, to lower numbers around the border. And McConnell said that’s not to be part of this deal and didn’t tell us that was never part of the deal,” Republican Florida Sen. Rick Scott said. “The entire reason in my opinion on why we were doing this was we actually wanted to get real border security, not an immigration bill. So what we ended up with was an immigration bill with no border security. And now what they want to do is say, ‘well, we tried.’ No you didn’t.”

Before the text was released, several Senate Republicans told the Caller they were extremely concerned with the border deal negotiations between the White House and GOP leadership. Even some of the leaked proposals were non-starters for much of the conference. Schumer held the procedural vote Wednesday on the original border-Ukraine deal, knowing it would fail to garner enough votes.

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson declared the bill would have been “dead on arrival in the House” after the text was released, even if it did make it through the upper chamber. McConnell then told Senate Republicans to block the very bill he helped craft.

Now, McConnell’s seat is as hot as it’s ever been since he took control of the conference 17 years ago.

“I was one of the leaders at the beginning of this Congress to vote to replace him (McConnell). Rick Scott was willing to run, knowing that his chances are quite low, but I certainly helped lead the effort to at least mount a challenge against McConnell,” Johnson said. “So we will mount another challenge next time we have a vote on this. But I hope my Republican colleagues really assess the reality of the situation here and really start asking, how did we get ourselves in this position? Who put us in a position where now we’re getting blamed for Joe Biden and his Democrat allies in the Congress for their open border policy? I mean, how did that happen?”

Scott, the most recent Republican to challenge McConnell for the top leadership spot, said he still believes change is needed: “Well, you know, I ran against McConnell for this reason. The conference is basically being run by one person making the decision. And then working with Schumer and giving us a bunch of bad bills … it takes it takes 25 people to do it. I ran a little over a year ago. So I believe there ought to be a change in how we’re operated and I’ve believed that for quite a while.”

Cruz added that the debacle is a result of “Senate leadership efforts” and said it would be a “massive political mistake” for Republicans to help pass a Ukraine bill with no border security. He claimed that a sizeable portion of the conference agrees with him.

“Now, McConnell is going around saying internally and externally: ‘Well, we were right to do what we did. We were right to set the objectives that we set up a few months ago. But, Political winds have shifted’. That is not true. That is not true at all,” Lee explained. “What happened was, we asked for something to secure the border. What was negotiated didn’t achieve that. I think the answer to that is not ‘Okay. Let’s give up and just give them all the Ukraine aid they want with nothing else’. The answer to that should be ‘okay. Let’ tell them we’re not going to give them the votes.”

Cruz said McConnell’s handling of the process played right into Schumer’s hands. “However, the real purpose of the bill from Chuck Schumer’s perspective. Was exactly what happened, which is Schumer wanted number one, a bill that did nothing to secure the border,” he said. “He got that. Number two. Schumer wanted the bill to fail. He got that. But then, number three, the real purpose of the bill. And Schumer’s perspective was to provide camouflage for Democrats, and he got that enormously.”

Vance echoed the sentiment that Republican leadership “didn’t actually try,” adding that McConnell and company tried to “two-step” the rest of the party.

Republicans must press on in the border fight despite the setback, Johnson said, because the voters demand it. “It shows what his priority always was here. It was about securing Ukraine’s borders before we secure our own. We rejected that. You know, our supporters rejected that. So I’m not giving up.”

“We can’t let this die. We can’t say, ‘oh, we fail. Let’s move on.’ No, this this issue’s not going away. We need to secure the border. We can’t let Biden get away with blaming Republicans for the problems he caused.”

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