McConnell names Ayotte to replace Hutchison as counsel

“Sen. Ayotte brings invaluable insight to our conference on issues that affect American families. Firmly committed to getting our fiscal house in order, she will perform a critical role as a member of the Senate Republican Leadership team,” McConnell said in a statement.

Ayotte will serve alongside Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) in the informal leadership post, and replaces Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who retired this year.

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Ayotte and Corker's positions differ from the Senate's official Republican leadership, which includes Whip John Cornyn (Texas), Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.) and Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso (Wy.). Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.) also serves as the Conference vice chairman, and Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.) chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Ayotte has taken an increasingly prominent role in the Senate, partially propelled by her surrogate work for Mitt Romney's campaign last fall. She was reportedly considered as a candidate for Romney's running mate before the former Massachusetts governor selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

The New Hampshire lawmaker also made headlines late last year when she joined Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in questioning the qualifications of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Rice was seen as President Obama's top choice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of State in his second term. 

Rice met directly with Ayotte but was unable to win her favor, amid GOP criticism of the ambassador's handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Obama later nominated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the position.