Florida’s Rick Scott’s vote on election may hinder him in new Senate GOP role

Scott was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote last week against certifying the Electoral College results.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.
Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]
Published Jan. 12, 2021|Updated Jan. 12, 2021

Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott spent the beginning of this week facing calls for his resignation from a job he had yet to start.

Scott, one of eight Senate Republicans to vote last week against certifying the Electoral College results in either Arizona or Pennsylvania or both states, on Monday began a two-year term leading the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the fundraising arm for Senate Republicans. But on Sunday, even before he’d officially begun, Democratic groups and some anti-Trump Republicans in social media and email began calling for him to step down from the leadership post. And a stream of corporations announced over the past several days that they are distancing themselves from the GOP following last week’s U.S. Capitol breach — though it was unclear how big of a hit in political donations that may mean for Republicans.

“Daily reminder, Senate Republicans have chosen one of the handful of Senators who supported the big lie AFTER death and destruction in the Capitol to be their political leader,” tweeted former Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, who lost her 2018 election to Republican Sen. Josh Hawley. “Rick Scott is in charge of the organization that tries to elect R’s in [2022].”

Scott was the only member of Senate Republican leadership to vote in favor of decertifying the 2020 election results — hours after the riot that resulted in five deaths — though his position as the Senate Republicans’ chief fundraiser appears secure for now.

He was elected to lead the National Republican Senatorial Committee in November without opposition, a position that primarily involves cultivating relationships with donors. But before Scott could assume the job, Republicans lost their Senate majority after losing two runoff elections in Georgia and saw the U.S. Capitol invaded by violent supporters of President Donald Trump.

Leaders for the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s counterpart, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as well as the Democratic super PAC American Bridge, were among the groups to call for Scott to resign his leadership post.

Scott is widely respected among Republicans and feared by Democrats after winning three statewide elections in Florida, particularly his 2018 victory over Democrat Bill Nelson in a year that was good for Democrats nationwide. He’s expected to consider a future run for president.

But on Monday, his goals were more immediate. Scott’s office sent a video to the Miami Herald — in response to questions about calls for his resignation — that had previously been sent to donors to reassure them that Senate Republicans are focused on jobs. In the video, Scott said he will support “all of our incumbents while recruiting strong challengers across the country.”

“There are two things I don’t do, I don’t waste money and I don’t lose elections,” Scott also said in his video message.

Republicans must defend about a half dozen competitive GOP-held Senate seats in 2022, including Sen. Marco Rubio’s in Florida, and all of their potential opportunities to pick up seats held by Democrats are in states won by President-elect Joe Biden. The Senate will be split 50-50, but Democrats will control it once Vice President Kamala Harris assumes office and can cast tie-breaking votes.

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“Some pundits are already saying, ‘Oh, it’s a difficult map and it’s going to be hard to retake the Senate,’ " Scott said. “That’s a bunch of nonsense.”

Tim Miller, a former spokesman for Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign and a vocal opponent of Trump, said Scott is unlikely to lose his leadership post despite defying Mitch McConnell on what the Senate majority leader called at the time “the most consequential vote I have ever cast.”

“Is Rick Scott going to be the fall guy? I think there’s a collective action problem inside the Senate GOP,” Miller said. “Do they ride out the corporate financial stuff for a year until [the corporations] decide they don’t like what Joe Biden is doing as president?”

A host of big corporations, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase, announced they are suspending all political donations for the foreseeable future. Only a small group of companies, notably the hotel chain Marriott, explicitly said they will not donate to lawmakers like Scott who voted against certifying Biden’s election.

“We have taken the destructive events at the Capitol to undermine a legitimate and fair election into consideration and will be pausing political giving from our Political Action Committee to those who voted against certification of the election,” Marriott spokeswoman Connie Kim said in a statement.

But despite the political shock waves from the corporations’ announcements, corporate PAC donations typically account for only a minor portion of candidates’ and committees’ fundraising totals. And as of Monday, heavy-hitting individual Republican donors — the ones who can make or break an entire campaign with a multimillion dollar check to a super PAC — weren’t making the same sort of public stand.

Stanley Hubbard, the CEO of the Minnesota-based Hubbard Broadcasting and a major GOP donor, said that he had previously decided not to make any more donations personally or through his company’s PAC for the first six to 12 months of the year, but only because there wouldn’t be any significant federal elections until 2022.

While he condemned the actions of the rioters at the U.S. Capitol last week, he did not place blame on Trump or any Republican lawmaker, including Scott, saying that the events won’t change his approach to political giving moving forward.

“None of this is going to affect any of us,” said Hubbard, a longtime National Republican Senatorial Committee donor who also contributed to Scott’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign. “We’re going to support the politicians that we think will help our country.”

And Scott, along with the other senators who voted to decertify election results but were not the ringleaders of the effort, has avoided calls for his resignation from Senate colleagues. At least seven Senate Democrats have called for the ringleaders, Hawley and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, to resign or be expelled from the Senate.

Miller said the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been funded for years by a wide array of donors from across the conservative spectrum, and it’s unlikely that a critical mass of donors would demand Scott’s ouster or risk alienating hard-core Trump supporters who still constitute the majority of the GOP.

“Do you really want to dump a Trump-friendly head of the committee who could maybe be an olive branch in favor of somebody who is criticizing the president?” Miller said. “The only clear political decision they have is Trump apologia. The only principled path they have is to throw people overboard who were part of the insurrection and let the chips fall where they may.”

McClatchy DC reporter Adam Wollner contributed to this report.