Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear won't say if he'd follow the state's new Senate vacancy law and appoint another Republican if McConnell steps down

  • Gov. Andy Beshear this week faced questions about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's health.

  • A 2021 law would require Beshear to appoint a Republican to the Senate should McConnell step down.

  • Beshear attempted to veto that law at the time and could defy it if McConnell ever vacated his seat.

Gov. Andy Beshear of Kentucky this week declined to say if he would adhere to a vacancy law passed in 2021 by the GOP-controlled legislature, which would allow Republicans to decide who would replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell should the veteran lawmaker step down from office amid questions about his health.

During a Thursday press conference, Beshear — a Democrat up for reelection in November — wouldn't commit to following the appointment law, which the GOP-dominated legislature passed by overriding his veto in 2021. The governor, during his appearance, insisted that questions about McConnell's political future were premature.

"There is no Senate vacancy," Beshear said, The Washington Post reported. "Senator 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."

Questions have swirled around the 81-year-old McConnell's health after he had two episodes in the span of about a month during which he appeared to freeze at press conferences. A Capitol physician said the episodes were linked to 'lightheadedness' from a prior concussion, but other physicians have speculated that they could be mini seizures.

McConnell's spokesperson referred Insider to a statement from Brian P. Monahan, the attending physician for Congress, who said McConnell is "medically cleared" to continue his schedule as planned and that "lightheadedness" is not uncommon in concussion recovery and can also be attributed to "dehydration."

In the event that McConnell vacates his Senate seat, the new law would require the Kentucky governor to formally appoint a replacement from a list of three nominees chosen by the party of the outgoing senator, essentially shifting the appointment power from the governor to the Kentucky Republicans.

In his veto, Beshear called the 2021 law "unconstitutional," arguing that it "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."

With Republicans firmly in control of the legislature, they were able to easily override Beshear's veto.

But Michael Abate, a Louisville attorney, told the Louisville Courier-Journal that Beshear could defy the law and seek to install his own replacement — or file a suit against the law.

"Beshear either says, 'hey, Republican Party, thank you for your list, but I'm appointing whoever I want' and then that immediately gets challenged in court, or you could see Beshear taking the route of filing a lawsuit," Abate told the newspaper.

"I mean, he's got the guts to defy it," Abate added, pointing to the governor's previous political battles with the legislature's dominant Republicans.

Jared Smith, a consultant who led Beshear's successful 2015 campaign for state attorney general, told the Courier-Journal that forcing the governor to make a selection from a particular list eschews the governor's ability to make appointments.

"If Mitch does leave office, I think (Beshear) will appoint who he wants to appoint and let them challenge it in court. That's not really a hush-hush secret in Frankfort," Smith speculated.

McConnell, who was reelected in 2020, has indicated that he would not step down before his term ends in 2026.

Some Kentucky Republicans, however, have said McConnell should have stepped down last year. Bob Barney, the GOP party chair in Jessamine County, expressed frustration that the lawmaker didn't cede power as minority leader after the 2022 midterms.

"We're all very disappointed that he didn't let someone else take over as leader in 2022," he told The Post. "That would've been a wise decision at the time."

Other Republicans, of course, are standing by the senator.

Scott Jennings, a McConnell advisor, told The Post that the senator seemed fine during a Wednesday evening GOP fundraiser.

"I observed him up close and watched him, and it was business as usual," Jennings said.

A spokesperson from Beshear's office did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

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