Faced with a chaotic battle that could damage Republicans ahead of the replay rounds in the Georgia Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Republican senators on Tuesday not to join President Donald Trump’s expanded attack on the electoral college results.
In public remarks and private warnings, McConnell worked to move forward with the Biden era and unite a fractured Republican party ahead of the run-off election that would determine control of the Senate.
First, the Republican leader won praise for Trump’s “endless” accomplishments as he congratulated President-elect Joe Biden during his morning Senate speech. Then, he took a pivotal stance, warning Republican senators not to object to the Electoral College tally when Congress convened in joint session on January 6 to confirm the results.
McConnell told senators that that battle would lead to a “terrible vote” for Republicans, according to two people who had given anonymity to discuss the call, which was first reported by Politico. They will have to choose between supporting Trump or facing him openly.
Republicans are concerned about the ill effects of the January 5 run-off election in Georgia, as two Republican senators, David Purdue and Kelly Loweefler, face Democratic rivals John Usov and Raphael Warnock in a state that capsized in November in Biden’s favor.
McConnell has been a staunch supporter of most of Trump’s efforts. But the turn of events six weeks after Election Day showed that the Kentucky senator, with the support of his leadership team, is seeking to normalize relations with the incoming Biden presidency while avoiding the spectacle of the ongoing fighting that would divide the party while Trump reluctantly leaves office.
“I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” McConnell said as he opened the Senate.
“Many of us had hoped that the presidential elections would produce a different result,” he said. “But our government system has procedures for deciding who will take the oath on January 20. The Electoral College has spoken.
Biden told reporters he called to thank McConnell for his remarks and the two had a “good conversation”. When he left for the campaign in Georgia, he said he told McConnell there were “things we could work on together.”
The Senate leader took off into action after weeks of silence after other top Republicans who spoke out after the Electoral College vote late Monday. They finally said out loud what many Republicans were secretly referring to – that Biden is the winner of the presidential election, and that they are abandoning Trump’s election attacks.
From there, the gates opened. Several Republican senators have confirmed that they have spoken with Biden, including Trump ally Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Mitt Romney of Utah, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Some have held meetings with Biden’s running candidates.
The senator’s office said Romney, in his phone call, expressed admiration for Biden’s willingness to endure the rigors of the presidential campaign and serve in the nation’s highest office. The two also discussed the upcoming difficult political environment.
“Stop it,” said Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Senate Democrats, after McConnell spoke.
Schumer said that Trump should “end his term with grace and dignity.”
For his part, Trump continued to promote his baseless allegations of “voter fraud” in a new tweet Tuesday.
Some Republican lawmakers have pledged to continue the battle until January 6, when Congress votes to accept or reject the results of the Electoral College. Others said Trump’s legal battles should continue toward a solution by Inauguration Day, Jan.20.
Republican leader in the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy declined to comment on Tuesday when asked if he was prepared to recognize Biden as the elected president.
Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama plans to challenge the Electoral College results when Congress holds a joint session.
At that time, any challenge in Congress must be posed by at least one member of the House and Senate. It is not clear if any Republican senators will join the cause.
McConnell and his aides, including Senator John Thon of South Dakota and Roy Blunt of Missouri, warned senators of any challenge to the Electoral College, describing it as a dead end because any measure would need the approval of Democrats who hold a majority in the House of Representatives under Nancy. Pelosi, according to a person familiar with a call on Tuesday.
Republican leaders have also warned senators that forcing their colleagues to vote on Electoral College challenges will be difficult, especially for those facing re-election in 2022.
No Republican senator spoke of a contradiction.
Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who is holding a hearing on Wednesday as chair of the Homeland Security Committee over election fraud, “has no plans” to join House Republicans and challenge the results, according to spokesperson Austin Altenberg.
McConnell stunned Washington on Tuesday when he opened the Senate to address the election.
The Republican leader described Biden as “someone who has dedicated himself to public service for many years.” He also congratulated Kamala Harris, saying, “All Americans can be proud that our nation has a vice president elected for the first time.”
McConnell opened his remarks with a sweeping tribute to Trump’s four years in office, saying the president kept his promise to “destabilize Washington.” He cited the president’s nomination and Senate confirmation of three Supreme Court judges, among other accomplishments.
With states affirming the election results, Republicans faced a pivotal choice – to recognize Biden as president-elect or to remain silent while Trump wages a potentially harmful campaign to cancel the election.
“At some point you have to face the music,” said Thon, the leader of the No. 2 Republican Party, late Monday. “Once the Electoral College resolves the issue today, it is time for everyone to move forward.”
Historians and election officials have warned that Trump’s unfounded allegations of voter fraud threaten to undermine Americans’ confidence in the election system.
Trump is trying to disqualify the votes of thousands of Americans, especially those who voted by mail, in dozens of often-unsuccessful lawsuits. His legal team alleges wrongdoing, although Attorney General William Barr, who abruptly resigned on Monday, said there was no evidence of widespread fraud that would alter the election results. State election officials, including Republicans, said the elections were fair and correct.
In a decisive blow to Trump’s legal efforts, the Supreme Court last week refused to hear two of his cases challenging the election process in key states. About 120 Republican House members signed up for this failed effort.
Associated Press writer Amer Madani contributed this story from Wilmington, Delaware.
“Food practitioner. Music junkie. Avid troublemaker. Hipster-friendly creator. Social media lover. Wannabe pop culture fanatic.”