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Kentucky governor won’t commit to GOP appointment if McConnell steps down


Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear this week declined to say whether he would follow a state law that says Republicans would get to choose a replacement for Sen. Mitch McConnell if the Senate GOP leader leaves Congress before the end of his term.

The Democratic governor was asked during a news conference Thursday about making an appointment in the event of a Senate vacancy but said he would not speculate on the matter.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.Jon Cherry / Getty Images file

“There is no Senate vacancy,” Beshear told reporters. “Sen. McConnell has said he’s going to serve out his term, and I believe him, so I’m not going to speculate about something that hasn’t happened and isn’t going to happen.”

McConnell’s health has come under increasing scrutiny after the 81-year-old senator, who this year became the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, appeared to freeze up during a pair of news conferences in July and August.

In late July, McConnell said he plans to complete the six-year term he secured in the 2020 election.

When pressed on the matter Thursday, Beshear said: “Well, I respect Sen. McConnell and his health not — first of all, to not sensationalize it and, second, there is no vacancy. So he has said he’s going to serve out his term and I fully believe him.”

State laws vary when it comes to filling congressional vacancies, and the Kentucky General Assembly changed its procedures in 2021 after the GOP-controlled legislature was able to override Beshear’s veto of a bill that limited the governor’s power to temporarily fill a Senate vacancy.

Under the amended law, the governor selects a Senate appointee from a list of three names submitted by the state executive committee of the outgoing senator’s affiliated party.

Kentucky state law previously permitted the governor to appoint a replacement for a vacant Senate seat until the next general House election, which occurs every two years.

In a veto statement, Beshear cited the state Constitution in suggesting that the bill “improperly and unconstitutionally” restricted the governor’s power to fill Senate vacancies.

The bill “upends a century of precedent by delegating the power to select the representative of all Kentuckians to an unelected, unaccountable committee of an organization that represents only a fraction of Kentuckians,” he said in the statement.

McConnell’s first on-camera freeze up took place in July during a news conference on Capitol Hill, with the senator abruptly pausing, with a blank look, until he was briefly escorted away. After returning, he appeared to brush off the incident, telling reporters, “I’m fine.”

A similar episode occurred in Kentucky on Wednesday when he stood motionless and did not speak for more than 30 seconds after a reporter asked whether he planned to run for re-election in 2026.

In a statement Thursday, Brian Monahan, the U.S. Capitol’s attending physician, said that McConnell is “medically clear” to continue to work after conferring with the senator’s neurology team who was treating him for a concussion after a fall in March.

Kentucky has not had a Democratic senator since 1999, following the retirement of then-Sen. Wendell Ford.

Beshear is facing a challenging re-election campaign in the Republican-dominated state. In November, he goes up against state Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who’s been endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.