Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday rebutted Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s plan “to rescue America,” trying to keep attention on Republicans’ perceived failures of the Biden administration as the party looks to take back the Senate this year.
Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senate Committee, released an 11-point plan last week offering a range of fiscally conservative and Trumpian proposals, including ending imports from China, cutting the federal government workforce by 25% and building a wall on the US-Mexico border and naming it after former President Donald Trump.
But the White House and Democratic congressional candidates quickly zeroed in on an idea in Scott’s proposal that would raise taxes – “All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount,” it said – causing a backlash among some conservative policy wonks and Republican political strategists.
Asked about the proposal at a press conference on Tuesday, McConnell firmly stated that Scott’s plan was not his vision.
“Let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda,” McConnell said. “We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people, and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years.”
“That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda,” he reiterated. “We will focus instead on what the American people are concerned about: inflation, energy, defense, the border and crime.”
McConnell’s rebuke of Scott – a rare public admonishment of one of his top lieutenants – demonstrated fissures within the GOP over how to win key Senate races that could determine which party controls the upper chamber after the November elections.
Scott’s plan was meant to jump-start a policy discussion as the 2022 national political environment favors Republicans and their chances to take back the House and Senate. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, Scott had a booth to circulate paper copies of his plan and free wine glasses engraved, “America is worth fighting for. Read my plan at rescueamerica.com.”
Asked last week about raising income taxes, Scott said that as governor of Florida, he cut taxes and fees “100 times,” but wanted a “fair” tax system, trying to portray his proposal as a tax increase on the wealthy rather than the poor.
“My focus is to make sure that it’s fair,” Scott told CNN. “I want to make people’s taxes lower, but at the same time, you got billionaires out there that don’t pay income tax.”
“Billionaires ought to pay their fair share,” he added.
But after McConnell’s remarks on Tuesday, Scott said that he wanted “a conservation about able-bodied Americans who are living off of government programs instead of working” and blamed Democrats for misleading the public about his plan. He also pushed back on McConnell’s remarks.
“I agree with Senator McConnell that this election will primarily be about Joe Biden and the Democrats’ failures, but have been clear that I also believe Republicans should talk about a plan for turning this country around,” Scott said. “I’m a business guy and I’ve always believed in making plans in order to get things done.”
“Republicans, and really all Americans outside of Washington, are demanding it,” he added. “I will continue talking about my plan to rescue America from these radical Democrats.”
Scott has marched to the beat of his own drum ever since he entered the Senate in 2019. While other newly elected lawmakers were sworn in at the US Capitol, Scott stayed back in Tallahassee, where he continued to serve as governor after refusing to resign his seat. Scott joined the Senate several days later – after making dozens of last-minute appointments that angered his successor, fellow Republican Ron DeSantis – and was sworn in alone.
Nor has Scott been shy about bucking the Republican Party in the past. A former health care executive, Scott emerged out of nowhere and spent tens of millions of dollars of his own fortune to claim the GOP nomination for Florida governor in 2010 over an establishment favorite. After winning, his two terms as governor were often marked by dustups with his own party, which controlled the Legislature. And when two sons of Florida ran for president in 2016 – Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio – Scott endorsed neither and offered glowing praise instead for Trump.
Some Republicans praised Scott last week as he unveiled his plan, which he emphasized was a product by him and not the NRSC. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker whose 1994 Contract with America provided the blueprints for future conservative legislative agendas, praised Scott’s proposals as “a very important contribution toward a positive, problem-solving Republican party.” And Ronna McDaniel, the chair of the Republican National Committee, said the plan would lower costs, create jobs, support police and secure the border, adding Scott offered a “clear plan to protect and reinvigorate the America we know and love.” House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy also plans on releasing an agenda later this year.
“I hope we have a real conversation about what Republicans stand for,” Scott told CNN. “It’s good for us.”
But Republicans like McConnell disagree, arguing that the 2022 elections are a referendum on the party in power – the Democrats – and that the time to put forward an agenda is after Republicans take power. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows Biden’s presidential approval rating at 37%, a new low, and his handling of the economy, the Ukraine crisis and the coronavirus pandemic underwater.
“I think Republican senators would hope that Rick Scott would stay focused right now on the job of being chairman of the Senate election committee,” said Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership team.
Democrats seized on Scott’s plan and tried to elevate it as the Republican party’s platform.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office circulated a study from the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution’s Tax Policy Center showing that Scott’s tax proposal would raise tax revenues in 2022 by more than $100 billion, increasing taxes predominately on households making less than $100,000 a year.
Florida Rep. Val Demings, a Democratic candidate for the US Senate, cut an ad attacking Rubio for Scott’s “tax hike.”
Last week, Scott predicted that his plans would cause a firestorm.
“It will be ridiculed by the ‘woke’ left, mocked by Washington insiders, and strike fear in the heart of some Republicans,” Scott wrote in a letter accompanying his plan. “At least I hope so. It’s a start.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.