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At the end of his current term, Mitch McConnell, 82, will give up his seat as the longest-serving Senate leader in the country’s history.The Associated Press

Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate minority leader and a power broker of conservative politics who has been willing to openly criticize Donald Trump, will relinquish his influential place in Congress, saying the time has come to give way to a new generation of leadership.

Mr. McConnell, 82, said he will give up his seat as the longest-serving Senate leader in the country’s history, but pledged to remain in the Senate until the end of his current term and to uphold a vision of American power that contrasts sharply with the narrower but ascendant vision espoused by Mr. Trump.

“I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed,” Mr. McConnell said in brief remarks Wednesday.

Mr. McConnell has been a standard-bearer of an American conservatism that Mr. Trump and his supporters have sought to overturn.

In his speech Wednesday, Mr. McConnell pointedly made no mention of Mr. Trump, save to say: “Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time.”

An octogenarian who has on several recent occasions frozen mysteriously while making public remarks, Mr. McConnell acknowledged that “Father Time remains undefeated,” but said that “for as long as I’m drawing breath on this earth, I will defend American exceptionalism.”

His looming departure may mark another important moment in Mr. Trump’s rise to pre-eminence.

Earlier this week, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said she would step down on March 8, saying she could cede way to a leader of Mr. Trump’s choosing. On social media, supporters of Mr. Trump openly celebrated Mr. McConnell’s announcement, with the ultraconservative freedom caucus mocking him as a Democrat.

“What we’re seeing is the institutional rise of Trumpian politics,” said Stephen Voss, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky.

Mr. McConnell’s leadership has reshaped the institutions of American governance in ways decried by the political left. He was a key figure in denying the Obama administration a Supreme Court nomination, paving the way for the conservative court majority that is now redrawing the country’s jurisprudence.

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He also held Mr. Trump “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the riotous insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, although he subsequently voted to acquit Mr. Trump in his second impeachment trial.

“They’ve both had tremendous influence in their own arenas. That will continue to be true. But certainly Trump is the most popular and influential figure in the party,” said Scott Jennings, a former political adviser to Mr. McConnell.

He expects Mr. McConnell to use his remaining time in office “to focus on America’s role in the world. Foreign policy. Defence appropriations. American hard and soft power being a fundamentally good thing.”

Such an agenda suggests an implicit conflict with Mr. Trump, who on Wednesday posted to social media a series of flattering poll results – and an article calling one of his recent speeches “a masterstroke of political genius” – but posted nothing about Mr. McConnell. President Joe Biden, however, spoke well of a political foe, saying: “We fight like hell. But he has never, never, never misrepresented anything.”

Democrats said they hoped Mr. McConnell’s decision would give him political latitude to advocate for foreign policy priorities such as aid to Ukraine.

“It is probably the case that on his way toward retirement, he’s going to work as hard as he can to make sure that the national security bill gets over the finish line,” Democratic House leader Hakeem Jeffries told The New York Times.

After the events of Jan. 6, Mr. McConnell could have done more to gather votes to convict Mr. Trump of impeachment, said Al Cross, a long-time Kentucky political commentator who covered Mr. McConnell as a journalist for more than 15 years.

Stepping down as Senate leader may give Mr. McConnell some more latitude to act independently, although it will not free him from common cause with Mr. Trump. “They’ve got to be co-ordinated and coherent as they try to elect a Republican Senate,” Mr. Cross said.

Still, Tom Daschle, a former Senate Democratic leader, said he worries that whoever comes next will not share Mr. McConnell’s commitment to the institution of the Senate, a body with the power to confirm presidential appointments and ratify treaties.

“Donald Trump has been responsible for the total destruction of so many norms and practices and policies and rules of engagement when it comes to governance,” Mr. Daschle said. “I have no doubt that we’re only seeing the beginning if he is elected again. And I have absolutely no doubt that he will have an enabler in the Senate who will continue to carry out his agenda.”

Mr. Daschle added: “We may yearn for the day that Mitch McConnell would come back.”

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