Susan Collins to write in Nikki Haley for president, bucking Trump

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, reiterated to reporters that she still supports former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley for president despite Haley no longer being in the race for the Republican nomination. 

The Maine Republican will write in Haley's name on her ballot in November rather than former President Trump or President Biden, according to local CBS reporter Dan Lampariello. 

Collins' office confirmed to Fox News Digital her plan to vote for Haley. 

TESTER DENIES TIGHT RACE, SAYS INTERNAL POLLING HAS HIM BEATING SHEEHY: ’KICKING HIS A--’

A spokesperson for the Maine senator noted she has previously said she'd be supporting Haley and not Trump. 

BIDEN DRAGS DOWN MICHIGAN SENATE RACE AS COOK POLITICAL REPORT DECLARES 'TOSS UP'

"I will not be voting for either candidate. I am going to write in Nikki Haley’s name," Collins said, according to another local outlet. 

The Republican senator previously endorsed Haley late in the Republican primary, calling the candidate "extremely well-qualified."

"She has the energy, intellect and temperament that we need to lead our country in these very tumultuous times," Collins said of Haley. 

However, Haley exited the primary race soon after the endorsement. 

The former South Carolina governor's departure from the race didn't change Collins' position though. 

"I cannot support former President Trump. I voted to convict him on the second impeachment charges, so I don't think it should come as a surprise that I cannot support him," she said in March, weeks after Haley had already suspended her campaign. 

DEM SENATOR HELPS BLOCK BIDEN JUDICIAL NOMINEE AMID CONTROVERSY OVER TRANSGENDER INMATE

As Collins pointed out in the spring, she was one of seven Republican senators in 2021 who voted to convict Trump for allegedly inciting insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, when some of his supporters rioted at the U.S. Capitol. 

And while Trump has become the clear Republican nominee and is slated as of now to take on Biden in November, it's apparent Collins' mind has not changed on the situation. 

Trump's campaign did not immediately provide comment to Fox News Digital. 

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

White House walks diplomatic tightrope on Israel amid contradictory messaging: ‘You can’t have it both ways’

The Biden administration has been taking criticism as of late for what some have described as conflicting messaging on key subjects relating to the United States' top Mideast ally: Israel.

During a daily briefing last week, Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich pressed White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre about the administration's attestation to an "ironclad commitment" to Israel while "slow-walk[ing] arms sales."

Jean-Pierre replied, in part, by reiterating America's commitment to Israeli security remains "ironclad."

Meanwhile, President Biden himself pledged that if the Israel Defense Forces incur substantively into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, "I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem."

BLINKEN DELIVERS STRONGEST REBUKE OF ISRAEL YET: ‘GET OUT OF GAZA’

Several lawmakers have taken issue with the administration's stance, including Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chair of the House Armed Services Committee, who called the president's recent tack "another shortsighted decision by Biden that undermines our allies, emboldens our adversaries, and sends the message that the U.S. is unreliable."

"Our adversaries would love nothing more than to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Israel," Rogers told Fox News Digital in a statement Friday. "Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas and Iran."

Rogers' counterpart in the Senate, Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also called out Biden over a May 8 Associated Press report that the U.S. indeed paused a shipment of bombs in response to Israel potentially making a decision on a "full-scale assault" on Rafah.

"If Hamas laid down its weapons, the war would be over. But if Israel lays down its weapons, it would be the end of Israel," Wicker said. 

MIKE PENCE ACCUSES BIDEN OF IMPEACHMENT HYPOCRISY

"Unfortunately, President Biden has this backwards. He has withheld arms for our staunchest ally one day then professed solidarity with the Jewish people the next," the Magnolia State lawmaker added.

Former National Security Council official Victoria Coates said of the administration's conflicting messaging, "you can't have it both ways."

"You're going to have to pick a team and put on a jersey and get in a fight. And the administration is desperately trying to please both sides," Coates said.

"And what they've achieved is that both sides are very angry with them. So, you know, it's it's just a massive failure both on the policy and the political front."

Two other GOP senators, Ted Budd of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa, wrote the White House a detailed letter demanding issue-specific answers from Biden on his comments on arms sales and Rafah.

Some of the questions posed included demands on which types of ammunition are reportedly being withheld, whether any arms withheld were part of those directly approved by Congress in a recent supplemental appropriation, and how such reports square with the president's April 23 pledge to "make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Iran and terrorists it supports."

"Why did your administration fail to notify Congress about this decision to withhold assistance to Israel?" Ernst and Budd asked in the letter. 

"We must give Israel the arms it needs to fight the Hamas terrorists that continue to hold Americans hostage. We call on your administration to immediately restart the weapons shipments to Israel today."

In a statement, Budd told Fox News Digital one of his constituents, Keith Siegel, remains in Hamas captivity along with seven other U.S. citizens.

"President Biden is making it harder to secure the hostages’ freedom," Budd said.

Another Republican lawmaker, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul of Texas, called the threat of an arms embargo a "dangerous mistake" and "shortsighted."

On his Fox News program, "Life, Liberty & Levin," former Reagan Justice Department chief of staff Mark Levin went so far as to say Biden's actions have renewed "ancient blood libels against Jews."

Stateside, Biden has condemned the "ferocious surge of antisemitism in America" and said that "there’s the right to protest, but not the right to cause chaos" only after he tried to clean up comments made during a press gaggle where he said, "I also condemn those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians …"

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The administration has been criticized for declining to take a tough stance against criminal acts committed by some anti-Israel agitators on college campuses or call on law enforcement to step in.

In April, 27 Republican senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to demand an update on any efforts to curb the "outbreak of anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist mobs on college campuses."

"These pro-Hamas rioters have effectively shut down college campuses and have literally chased Jewish students away from our schools," the letter reads in part. "The Department of Education and federal law enforcement must act immediately to restore order, prosecute the mobs who have perpetuated violence and threats against Jewish students, revoke the visas of all foreign nationals (such as exchange students) who have taken part in promoting terrorism, and hold accountable school administrators who have stood by instead of protecting their students."

In response to the protests, Rep. Michael Lawler, R-N.Y., of whose district 90,000 Jewish U.S. citizens call home, drafted the Antisemitism Awareness Act, which successfully passed the House, 320-91, with some "nay" votes falling on grounds the bill would purportedly infringe upon First Amendment rights. Lawler's office did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Fox News Digital reached out to the White House for comment but did not receive a response by press time.

Fox News' Jacqui Heinrich, Bradford Betz, Greg Norman and Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this report.

Why the House delayed sending Mayorkas impeachment articles to the Senate to begin trial

Only in Congress can you be late and early at the same time. 

First, there was criticism that House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., didn’t push sending the articles of impeachment for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas after the House voted to impeach him in February.

The argument was that the Senate wasn’t ready yet. Plus both chambers wanted to make sure they waded through two sets of spending bills to avoid partial government shutdowns. 

Then, a coalition of Senate conservatives began haranguing Johnson to delay sending the articles over to the Senate. This came nearly two weeks after Johnson announced the House would send the articles to the Senate by April 10.

Here’s the statement from Johnson’s office sent on March 8: "On April 10th, the House will send the Senate our duly passed articles of impeachment against Secretary Mayorkas. If he cares about the Constitution and ending the devastation caused by Biden’s border catastrophe, Senator Schumer will quickly schedule a full public trial and hear the arguments put forth by our impeachment managers."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., then announced that the chamber would swear-in senators as jurors on Thursday, April 11. It was intimated that Schumer would then move to dismiss the articles — if he had the votes. Thus, if Schumer teed up a vote to dismiss or table the articles, the Democrats could short-circuit the trial by late Thursday afternoon. There would be no formal presentation of the articles of impeachment by the House "managers" (prosecutors). And the Senate would never advance to an actual up/down vote, rendering judgment for Mayorkas

But as FOX News' Aishah Hasnie scooped on Tuesday, Senate Republicans were demanding that Johnson throw on the brakes — even though the plan was set in stone days ago. 

Fox contacted multiple House impeachment managers as to if they knew what was happening. All three had not heard of a delay. In fact, on one text message, one manager mistakenly responded to yours truly, asking someone in leadership if what Fox was reporting was true.

Even though Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is one of the impeachment managers, she learned of the delay from FOX's reporting.

"The last thing I heard, and I’m an impeachment manager, and those articles of impeachment have my name on them. I have not been told that we may be holding them now. You’re the one that told me that. So apparently you’re getting the news quicker than I am," Greene said Tuesday afternoon.

THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO MAYORKAS' IMPEACHMENT TRIAL

Aides to Johnson appeared to be trying to get clarity as well. At first, one aide said they had not heard that. Later, the aide told FOX there were conversations. Then FOX was told the aides wouldn’t push back on reporting that they were holding the articles until next week. Then a statement came from Johnson’s office. 

"To ensure the Senate has adequate time to perform its constitutional duty, the House will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate next week. There is no reason whatsoever for the Senate to abdicate its responsibility to hold an impeachment trial," said Johnson a spokesman.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also didn’t appear to be dialed-in when asked about a potential delay in initiating the impeachment trial.

You’ll find more whiplash on Capitol Hill than at a chiropractic clinic. But what political purpose does the back and forth serve? Who benefits? The outcome will likely be the same in the end.

And Johnson bowing at a moment’s notice to Senate conservatives who asked for a delay — apparently going over the head of McConnell — demonstrates three things. First, Senate conservatives were late to the table to push this. They knew the start of the trial since late March. This was likely an idea they only engineered in the past few days. Secondly, this reflects McConnell losing ground to conservatives in his conference. That trend has been ongoing for some time now. It’s why McConnell even declared he could read the room politically when he announced over the winter he would step aside as Republican Leader at the end of the Congress. Finally, this episode also underscores concerns some Republicans have about Johnson. They doubt that he’s truly in charge — even if they agree with the ultimate decision. 

"That is a failure of leadership. Real leaders do not lead their members where they’re blind," said Greene. "Any smart person watching this broadcast right now knows that successful have a plan and they’re able to execute it. Leaders have a plan and they lead their members. This is a complete failure of Mike Johnson." 

Thus, Republicans score a few more days to talk about the impeachment of Mayorkas and how the Senate is likely to short circuit the trial. This earns a few more news cycles and some conversations on the Sunday shows — especially if the articles head over on Monday.

Republicans are also able to propound their talking points that Schumer would set "a terrible precedent" by ending the trial quickly and curating the narrative that Democrats "aren’t serious" about border security or are giving a tacit endorsement to Mayorkas. The GOP also thought there might be some attendance problems for the vote to dismiss. By rule, the trial cannot begin until 1 p.m. So if the Senate was going to formally start the trial part of the production on Thursday afternoon, the Senate may have quickly dismissed the articles and senators would have left the Capitol for the weekend. This retooled scenario maximizes focus on the impeachment articles by buying more time.

That said, there is another issue afoot: FISA Section 702 and aid to Ukraine. We’ll start by noting that many arch-conservatives oppose renewing FISA and there are disagreements about reforms. Moreover, some on the right are also opposed to assisting Ukraine.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE'S RED LINE ON SPEAKER JOHNSON

It’s possible that efforts to renew the foreign surveillance program (known as FISA Section 702) could blow up on the House floor. That would compel the Senate to pivot to a short-term reauthorization of the program. The Senate would then pass the plan along to the House.

But here’s the other issue: There is still no concrete scheme to tackle aid to Ukraine in the House. Floor time is at a premium. Dragging out impeachment takes focus off the House as it struggles to deal with Ukraine. The initial gameplan was for the House to do a Ukraine aid bill next week — one which differs from the Senate passed bill. It’s still unclear if the House can even pass a Ukraine bill. But the Senate will likely accept whatever the House can manage on Ukraine. Therefore, punting the impeachment trial into next week rather than clearing the decks this week puts a squeeze on the Senate. Especially if the House is able to approve a DIFFERENT Ukraine bill. That could make it challenging for the Senate to align with a potential House bill. 

Thus, delaying the impeachment trial until next week serves several goals of conservatives. And stretching it out maintains the spotlight on Mayorkas and the border: a key tenet of the GOP’s political agenda for fall. 

GOP leaders unleash on Janet Yellen over $110B energy tax hike

FIRST ON FOX: A group of 24 Senate Republicans are calling out the Biden administration for "weaponizing" the tax code to stifle domestic energy production in the president's proposed 2025 budget.

In a letter Thursday to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the GOP lawmakers — led by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. — highlighted the more than $110 billion in tax hikes targeting domestic production of oil, gas and coal proposed in the budget. They said such an action would only lead to higher prices for Americans and allies worldwide.

"The administration has once again doubled down on weaponizing the tax code against U.S. energy producers," Barrasso and the other senators wrote. "It is alarming that the administration believes utilizing our nation’s abundant natural resources will be detrimental to long-term energy security."

"Sadly, the administration would willingly suppress energy production knowing it means fewer jobs and higher prices for the American people," they continued. "America is fortunate to have abundant energy resources. Our nation needs to be focused on unleashing American energy and innovation instead of throwing away one of our biggest economic and geopolitical advantages."

GOP LEADERS OPEN JOINT PROBE INTO GLOBAL ENERGY GROUP INFLUENCING NET-ZERO POLICIES IN US

Earlier this month, Biden released his fiscal year 2025 budget, a behemoth $7.3 trillion government spending package that Republicans quickly condemned and characterized as a non-starter. As part of the proposal, the Treasury Department released a green book detailing the mechanisms for raising government revenue, a report which listed tax hikes on energy production.

The Republicans noted that in the green book, the Treasury Department explained that it would strip tax incentives worth $110 billion from the energy industry because "oil, gas, and coal tax preferences distort markets by encouraging more investment in the fossil fuel sector than would occur under a neutral system." 

130+ HOUSE, SENATE REPUBLICANS JOIN FORCES IN OPPOSITION OF BIDEN'S UPCOMING EV MANDATE

"This market distortion is detrimental to long-term energy security and is also inconsistent with the administration's policy of supporting a clean energy economy, reducing our reliance on oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions," the Treasury Department added.

Among the tax incentives the budget would strip are the intangible drilling costs incentive, which allows independent producers to deduct expenses related to drilling, and the percentage depletion incentive, which, according to the lawmakers, allows producers to have a deduction of taxable income to reflect the declining production of reserves over time.

In their letter, the Senate Republicans said the administration's explanation in the green book is "troubling" and "acknowledges its intention to chill investment in conventional energy production."

BIDEN ADMIN HAMMERED BY DEMS, GOP ALIKE AFTER LATEST CRACKDOWN ON OIL PRODUCTION

"It is alarming that the administration believes utilizing our nation's abundant natural resources will be detrimental to long-term energy security," they wrote to Yellen. "Sadly, the administration would willingly suppress energy production knowing it means fewer jobs and higher prices for the American people."

Meanwhile, the budget comes months after the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) published a 59-page report showing that the renewable energy sector enjoys significantly larger taxpayer backing than the fossil fuel industry. 

According to the EIA report, while renewable energy sources like wind and solar power account for about 21% of domestic electricity production, such sources received a staggering $83.8 billion in subsidies, by far the largest share compared to any other category. 

In addition to Barrasso, Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch of Idaho also signed the letter.

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to what to look for in a leadership race to succeed McConnell

It is almost too early to truly understand and divine where the votes might for someone to succeed retiring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

The reason? The universe and conditions under which Republican senators will vote next fall to pick their new leader haven’t formed yet. Yes, take a look at the three Johns: Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), former Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Even someone like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) could be in play. A source tells FOX is interested in the race. 

GOP WON’T TAP MCCONNELL'S SUCCESSOR UNTIL NOVEMBER

But beyond that, we don’t know much.

Here’s why:

We have to first know who wins the presidential election. And if 2024 is anything like 2020, we might not definitively know until week or more after the election. A delay in figuring out the winner could delay the internal secret leadership election which Senate Republicans will take in mid to late November. But the winner of the presidential election will dictate who the GOP wants – especially if former President Trump prevails and has much to say about it.

Ironically, FOX is told that the antipathy between the former President and McConnell was not a major factor in the decision-making of the Kentucky Republican to step down.

MITCH MCCONNELL SENDS 'SHOCKWAVES' THROUGH SENATE WITH SURPRISE ANNOUNCEMENT

Another factor: who has control of the Senate – and by how many seats. Keep in mind we didn’t know until January 2021 as to which party would control the Senate in the last Congress.

This is why other figures may emerge. Especially dark horses. 

As I have written before, leadership elections in Congress are not "partisan politics" They are "particle politics." The person who is propelled into leadership is not always the obvious choice: Think former House Speakers John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Or even current House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

WHY ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS' IMPEACHMENT TRIAL MAY BE ON 'HIATUS'

FOX is told that some Senate Republicans are tired of what one senior Senate GOP leadership source termed a "weekly MAGA show" by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), JD Vance (R-Ohio) and others at the weekly Senate Republican Conference meetings. So if former President Trump loses and if the GOP doesn’t have control of the Senate, that could dictate who Republicans pick.

However, if Republicans prevail with a substantial majority, look at Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) as a possibility. He leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP’s campaign arm. Daines has made many of the right moves so far in GOP contests. If Republicans win the Senate by a good margin, some members (especially the new ones), might be willing to give Daines a look – if he’s interested. 

The same factor could undercut Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). It’s not clear if Scott is interested. He ran unsuccessfully against McConnell in the fall of 2022. Scott led the GOP’s campaign efforts in 2022 – and Republicans failed to win the Senate. That could be an albatross for Scott and potentially inhibit him from making another run at leadership.

Sen John Cornyn declares candidacy for Republican leader after McConnell steps down

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has officially entered the race to succeed Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell, 82, announced Wednesday that he plans to step away from leadership after becoming the longest-serving party leader in Senate history. Cornyn is one of McConnell's top lieutenants in the GOP conference, though he does not currently hold a leadership role. 

"I am asking my Republican colleagues to give me the opportunity to succeed Leader McConnell," said Cornyn, 72, in a statement released Thursday.  

In the developing pool of potential successors, Cornyn is frequently mentioned as one of the "three Johns" likely to next lead the conference. The other two are Sens. John Thune, R-S.D. and John Barrasso, R-Wyo. 

CROWDED FIELD OF POTENTIAL MCCONNELL SUCCESSORS EMERGES IN SENATE

Of the three, Barrasso is considered the most conservative, a source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions told Fox News Digital. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don't always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Donald Trump early last month.

However, Cornyn and Thune have also endorsed Trump for re-election, and Cornyn boasts that he voted with Trump more than 92% of the time during his term in the White House. 

The Texas Republican's pitch is that he's a proven election-winner with a track-record of building consensus to advance legislation. His statement pointed to his two terms as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, during which time Republicans unseated five Democrats and positioned the conference to capture the majority in 2014. 

 "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.

MITCH MCCONNELL STEPPING DOWN AS REPUBLICAN LEADER

To assuage criticisms from hardline Republicans over the Senate process, Cornyn pledged to "improve communication, increase transparency, and ensure inclusion of every Member's expertise and opinion." 

"We will restore the important role of Senate committees and reestablish the regular appropriations process, rather than lurch from one crisis to another. And we will return power back to our members; there will be no more backroom deals or forced votes on bills without adequate time for review, debate and amendment," Cornyn pledged. 

Those promises appear to be an answer to Sen. MIke Lee, R-Utah, one of the most conservative members of the conference and a frequent McConnell critic.

"Anyone wanting to be the next Senate GOP leader should tell Senate Republicans — as specifically as possible — how he or she would do the job differently than it’s been done since 2007," Lee posted on X after McConnell announced he would step down.

MCCONNELL SAYS SENATE TRIAL FOR MAYORKAS IMPEACHMENT IS THE 'BEST WAY FORWARD'

Lee demanded that the next Republican leader leverage "must-pass" spending bills to achieve conservative priorities like cutting spending and slashing regulations; that they refrain from interfering in GOP primaries against conservative candidates; and that they not "organize ambush sessions in an effort to scold and humiliate conservative senators," among other grievances hardline senators have long voiced against McConnell. 

But only a handful of senators ever sided with Lee and others against McConnell. 

When Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., challenged McConnell for leadership in 2022, the vote was 37-10 in favor of McConnell. One Republican voted "present." Some of those who reportedly voted against McConnell were Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Mike Braun, R-Ind.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Even so, in a field with several candidates and GOP factions at odds, 10 votes may hold a powerful sway over any senator who would be leader. Announcements come first, and then the backroom deals begin. 

Fox News' Chad Pergram and Fox News Digital's Julia Johnson and Jamie Joseph contributed to this report.

Mitch McConnell stepping down as Republican leader

Longtime Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced Wednesday he will step away from leadership in November. 

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced his decision in the well of the Senate shortly after noon, a place where he looked in awe from its back benches in 1985 when he arrived and where he grew increasingly comfortable in the front-row seat afforded the party leaders.

"One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter," he said in prepared remarks reported by The Associated Press. "So I stand before you today ... to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate."

The dramatic decision, which will set up a leadership election in the GOP conference with several likely candidates, comes as Republicans have expressed increasing discontent with McConnell's handling of the bipartisan border bill and national security supplemental package that included aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. 

MCCONNELL SAYS MAYORKAS IMPEACHMENT TRIAL IS THE ‘BEST WAY FORWARD’

McConnell has also butted heads with former President Donald Trump, the 2024 Republican presidential front-runner, who recently said at a Fox News town hall, "I don't know that I can work with [McConnell]." 

Though McConnell will not be GOP leader after this year, he intends to finish his current senate term, which ends in January 2027. Sources familiar with his thinking told Fox News Digital the senator's health was not a factor in his decision. McConnell had a concussion after a fall last year and two public episodes when he appeared to freeze while addressing reporters. 

"As I have been thinking about when I would deliver some news to the Senate, I always imagined a moment when I had total clarity and peace about the sunset of my work," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "A moment when I am certain I have helped preserve the ideals I so strongly believe. It arrived today."

Looking ahead to his departure, McConnell said it is time for "the next generation" to assume leadership in the Senate. 

TRUMP TEASES FIGHT WITH MCCONNELL IN FOX NEWS TOWN HALL: ‘I DON’T KNOW THAT I CAN WORK WITH HIM'

"There will be a new custodian of this great institution next year. As you know, I intend to turn the job over to a Republican majority leader," he said. "I have full confidence in my conference to choose my replacement and lead our country forward." 

Potential successors may include one of McConnell's lieutenants, Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, John Thune, R-S.D., or John Barasso, R-Wyo. 

Florida Senator Rick Scott had previously challenged McConnell for GOP leadership in 2022, but lost that leadership election 37-10. 

Reacting to the announcement, several Republicans expressed gratitude for McConnell's leadership and honored his decades-long career in government.

RAND PAUL: KENTUCKY SO UPSET WITH MCCONNELL OVER UKRAINE AND BORDER, A TOP DEMOCRAT COULD WIN HIS SEAT

"Mitch has had a long and honorable tenure as the Republican leader. I am grateful for his service," said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who had called on McConnell to step down earlier this month. "He made the decision that it was time to step down as Leader, and I certainly respect his judgment in that regard. He has many legacies, but none is more consequential than confirming hundreds of principled constitutionalists to the federal judiciary."

North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis called McConnell "a true legend of the U.S. Senate" and praised his leadership on tax reform, the coronavirus response and support for Ukraine. 

"He has stayed true to President Reagan's principle of peace through strength as a stalwart supporter of NATO and Ukraine's fight for freedom against Russian aggression. I will always be grateful for Mitch's friendship, advice, and steadfast leadership of our conference during unprecedented times," Tillis said. "He leaves very big shoes to fill." 

Others were less kind.

"I called on McConnell to step down over a year ago. This is good news," said Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. But why wait so long — we need new leadership now." 

Fox News Digital's Jamie Joseph, Liz Elkind and Julia Johnson, as well as the Associated Press contributed to this report.

GOP senator fumes over Biden admin providing veteran medical resources to illegal immigrants

President Biden is facing increased scrutiny over his administration providing health care administrative services to illegal migrants amid a worsening border crisis, potentially exacerbating long wait times for American veterans utilizing Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) facilities.

In an interview with Fox News Digital, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., touted his recently introduced No VA Resources for Illegal Aliens Act, which he introduced alongside Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., that would ban such action, one of the many problems he says are facing the country as a result of the border "disaster" taking place under Biden's watch.

"[Biden's] decided, OK, we've got to feed all these 10 million people we've let come across the border, we've got to house them, and we've got to give them health care," Tuberville said. "They've opened up care from the doctors in these [VA] community care systems. The lines now in the VA's are getting longer. Our funds that are supposed to go to the veterans are going to these illegal immigrants that are coming across."

KAMALA HARRIS ‘READY TO SERVE’ AS DEMOCRATS SOUND ALARM ABOUT BIDEN'S AGE: REPORT

Tuberville lamented that the VA was already not able to provide care for all 19 million veterans living across the country and that the community systems he mentioned had helped reduce wait times until the border crisis began to get worse.

The arrangement between the VA's Financial Service Center (VA-FSC) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to process claims for migrant medical care is a longstanding one that actually predates the Biden administration and was outlined in a 2020 memo during former President Trump's administration.

When an illegal migrant under ICE detention requires health care, they are typically treated onsite by medical professionals. However, if specialist or emergency care is required, they may be taken to an independent private provider.

TREASURY CONFIRMS TERMS LIKE ‘MAGA,’ TRUMP,' KAMALA,' ‘BIDEN’ USED IN PRIVATE BANK TRANSACTION SEARCHES

In such cases, ICE contracts with the VA’s Financial Service Center (VA-FSC) to process reimbursements to those providers. According to a report from July, ICE has hundreds of letters of understanding in which ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) will reimburse providers at Medicare rates. That uses the VA-FSC’s Healthcare Claims Processing System, which a portal that allows providers to submit and view claims and access other resources.

The VA told Fox News Digital in December that it has had an interagency agreement with the IHSC since 2002 to provide processing, but it also noted that the department neither provides health care nor pays for it. Under the agreement with IHSC, ICE pays fees for the claims processing services rendered and covers disbursements made to pay for claims.

However, the crisis at the border, with record numbers of migrants crossing into the U.S. and needing medical care, has likely worsened what one former veterans' affairs adviser told Fox News Digital in December was a "history of a backlog of medical claims which has resulted in veterans getting bills they shouldn't be getting, and … having dissatisfied community care providers who are not getting paid in a timely manner."

BIDEN CONSIDERED RESIGNING VICE PRESIDENCY ‘IN PROTEST’ OVER OBAMA'S AFGHANISTAN POLICY: HUR REPORT

Tuberville expressed hope that the bill could get some bipartisan support, considering the election year and that a number of Democrats up for reelection are running close races.

"I think we've got a great opportunity to get this, maybe not to a vote, but at least where we discuss it on the floor, where the American people start to understand it," he said. "An election year is a great year to try to get some kind of bipartisan help on any type of bill, especially when it comes to the veterans. That means so much to us here in our country."

Tuberville went on to blast the Biden administration's selling of border wall materials purchased under the previous administration rather than using them as a barrier to deter border crossings, and he blasted Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who narrowly survived an impeachment vote last week, as a "globalist" who has no interest in walls or borders.

"If we don't get a guy like President Trump in office, heaven help us. I don't know what we're going to do," he added.

Fox News Digital has reached out to the White House for comment.

Fox News' Adam Shaw and Jamie Joseph contributed to this report.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to potential timing for the Senate and the international aid package

The Senate has now cleared the first barrier to starting debate on the $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

But how long until there’s a final vote?

In short, this might take a while.

Expect the strong possibility of weekend sessions and even important overnight votes. It’s possible this may not wrap up until next Tuesday – or beyond.

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To wit:

The Senate overcame a filibuster just to start debate on the bill. From a very technical standpoint, the Senate is not on the bill just yet. Opponents of clearing the filibuster are awarded 30 hours after the vote early today.

So, unless there is an agreement to speed things up, the Senate could vote Friday evening around 7 pm ET just to get on the bill.

At that stage, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will likely "file cloture" to try to end debate on the bill.

By rule, if Schumer files on Friday, the Senate cannot vote to overcome the second filibuster until Sunday. "Cloture" (to end a filibuster) requires an "intervening day" before voting to end the filibuster. So that means the Senate can’t vote to break the second filibuster until Sunday. Saturday serves as the "intervening day."

But this is where this gets tricky.

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By rule, the Senate must vote to crack the second filibuster one hour after the Senate meets on Sunday. This presents "The Super Bowl Scenario." What the Senate MIGHT do if they are really trying to step on the gas (and get senators the game or to watch the Super Bowl), is meet at 12:00:01 am et SUNDAY. The intervening day (Saturday) will have expired. By rule, the Senate can vote at 1:00:01 am ET Sunday to end debate on the overall bill.

However, there is also the "non-Super Bowl" situation here. We’ll call this the "Ravens-Lions" scenario. Say for a moment that senators don’t give a care about the Super Bowl. So the Senate might meet at noon or 1 pm et Sunday. By rule, the procedural vote to end the filibuster would happen one hour after the Senate meets. So just after 1 pm ET Sunday or 2 pm ET Sunday.

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If the Senate gets 60 votes to break a filibuster, the bill is on a glidepath to eventual passage. 

But we are far from finished.

Opponents of the bill can require the Senate to burn up to 30 hours after the Senate breaks the filibuster before the Senate can vote on final passage.

So, unless there’s an agreement, the Senate couldn’t vote on final passage of the bill until Monday night after 7 pm et or so… or… in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. Everything will hinge on when the Senate concludes the procedural vote to end the filibuster.

In addition, there’s lot of interesting stuff to watch in between. Debate. Votes on amendments related to the border. You name it. And, it’s entirely possible that the Senate may actually take several days of debate and amendment votes – and elect to not try to break a filibuster and then pass the bill until late next week.

This is all developing right now.

Calls grow for Congress to subpoena Jeffrey Epstein’s flight logs despite Democrat ‘stonewalling’

Calls are growing for Congress to subpoena convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's flight logs in order to identify possible perpetrators who may have partaken in his sex trafficking ring.

In a Monday letter to the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said there were still many unanswered questions surrounding Epstein's operation, including the identities of "America's most powerful and well-known people" who may have been involved.

"The American people have a right to know who took part in Epstein's disgusting business that ruined so many lives," Burchett wrote. "More importantly, their victims deserve justice and accountability."

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Burchett also accused Senate Democrats of recently blocking an effort by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to subpoena the flight logs. In a statement following the letter, Burchett accused Democrats of "stonewalling" attempts to get them.

"This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but Senate Democrats completely disrespected my friend Marsha’s attempts to find out who participated in Epstein’s disgusting business so we can hold them accountable," Burchett said. "We should all be concerned about the horrors of sex trafficking, especially when it involves kids, but I’ll call on Republicans to show some leadership in this field if the Democrats insist on stonewalling it like this."

Blackburn first moved for the flight records to be subpoenaed in early November in response to efforts by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to target justices on the Supreme Court. She then unsuccessfully moved to force a subpoena during a hearing on Nov. 30.

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The failure of that effort Blackburn blamed on Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the committee chair.

"[Durbin] BLOCKED my request to subpoena Jeffrey Epstein’s flight logs. What are Democrats trying to hide?," Blackburn posted on X after calling it a "sad day in the history of the prestigious Judiciary Committee."

In a statement following the failed subpoena attempt, Blackburn said Democrats "don’t want to have a conversation about the estate of Jeffrey Epstein to find out the names of every person who participated in Jeffrey Epstein’s human trafficking ring."

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A Democrat aide to the committee told Fox News Digital that Durbin made clear he was willing to stay all day in order to allow Republicans to offer as well as debate the 177 amendments that they filed ahead of the hearing, and that the committee would vote on the subpoena authorization after.

However, several Republicans on the committee allegedly began to filibuster and didn't allow Blackburn to offer the first amendment to the authorization, the aide added.

Dubbed by some in the media as "The Lolita Express," Epstein's plane was allegedly used to fly underage girls to his private island in the Carribean, as well as his other homes around the U.S. and other parts of the world.

A number of big-name actors, politicians and other public figures have reportedly been passengers on the plane at some point, including former Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker, Prince Andrew, billionaire businessman Bill Gates and a number of others.

There is currently no evidence to suggest anyone who flew on Epstein's plane participated in any crime.

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Epstein pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and sex trafficking conspiracy in July 2019 in a New York court after being accused of having preyed on dozens of victims as young as 14.

He was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell the following month. His death was ruled a suicide.

Epstein previously pleaded guilty in Florida to charges of soliciting and procuring a person under age 18 for prostitution.