The Senate majority leader acknowledged Biden’s win on the Senate floor Tuesday morning, one day after the electoral college made it official.
“The electoral college has spoken, so today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” said McConnell (R-Ky.). He also nodded to the historic elevation of his Senate colleague, Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), to the vice presidency.
McConnell’s statement comes after some of his Senate colleagues strained to avoid saying the same thing Monday. The No. 3 Senate Republican, John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), called questions about the matter “gotcha” questions. Top Trump ally Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), meanwhile, offered a pretty remarkable word salad.
McConnell’s comments should have the effect of taking some pressure off his colleagues, but they also matter practically speaking. The position of the Senate GOP leader is now clear, pretty much negating any chance that Senate Republicans would participate in some kind of unlikely end-run not to accept the verdict of the electoral college.
To be sure, such an effort was never going to succeed, for reasons Philip Bump explained Monday. But 126 of 196 House Republicans just last week signed on to an ultimately failed effort to get the Supreme Court to overturn the results in key states. The vast majority of GOP state attorneys general also joined them. Republicans have long trodden uneasily around Trump’s claims, but momentum behind questioning the legitimacy of Biden’s win was building in the party.
The Senate was the best shot Trump had to at least gum up the works Jan. 6. If one House member and one senator object to accepting a given state’s slate of electors, Congress has to consider it. If a GOP senator does that now, they’ll be acting expressly in opposition to what their leader says. It might still happen, but McConnell’s statement should let some air out of the balloon. The gambit was never going to succeed, mind you, but it could have created some heartburn in our body politic; McConnell is basically signaling he won’t participate in such shenanigans.
Given that, the more intriguing immediate question is what this means not for the 2020 presidential results, but for the Republican Party as it’s constituted, and the upcoming Georgia runoffs.
Trump has very much not given up on all of this. He even retweeted pro-Trump lawyer L. Lin Wood’s call Tuesday morning for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to go to jail. Trump still hasn’t weighed in on McConnell, but shortly after McConnell made the comments, Trump made clear he’s not giving up on his doomed crusade.
“Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud,” Trump said falsely. “There has never been anything like this in our Country!”
He also promoted a House member who promised to keep fighting.
If Trump is still going after Kemp for not doing his bidding, why would McConnell be spared Trump’s wrath? And if he really wants to press the issue, Trump can give McConnell major headaches in Georgia’s decisive Senate races. There, party leaders are concerned about GOP turnout dropping thanks to Trump’s voter fraud claims — and for apparently good reason. McConnell’s recognition of Biden’s win could be read as an attempt to move beyond this phase and focus more intently on Georgia.
But Trump hasn’t always been a team player there. He has offered mixed signals, for instance, when it comes to whether GOP voters should entertain boycotting the runoffs if Kemp and others don’t do his bidding. If Trump views McConnell’s statement as the kind of rebuke that it clearly is, he can keep going down that road and essentially hold the GOP hostage. And it’s been clear for five years that Trump cares far less for the future of the party than he does about himself.
In the end, McConnell was truly in an impossible position. He appears to have chosen the less-bad route, which is to acknowledge reality rather than let this drag on and on while his status as majority leader is uncertain, and hope this all blows over sooner than later.
But if Trump truly believes in his cause — rather than if this is, say, just an exercise aimed at fundraising and claiming he never actually lost — how can he let this one lie? He can’t.
Now is when we find out who is truly running this party from this point forward because its two top leaders’ positions are completely irreconcilable.
UPDATE: Trump and the White House still have yet to comment, more than three hours later. At a briefing just after 1 p.m. Eastern time, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany punted, saying, “I haven’t gotten the president’s reaction to that yet, but the president, again, is pursuing ongoing litigation. I would refer you to the campaign for further [comment]."