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Graham says he won’t support McConnell for GOP leader unless he has ‘working relationship’ with Trump

Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) arrive for a meeting with other GOP senators on Capitol Hill on May 19, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday that he would not support Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for reelection as the Senate GOP leader if he did not have a “working relationship” with former president Donald Trump.

“Elections are about the future. If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with President Donald Trump,” Graham told Fox News host Sean Hannity. He added that Trump was “the most consequential Republican since Ronald Reagan” and that he could handily win the GOP nomination if he wanted it and be reelected president in 2024.

“Here’s the question: Can Senator McConnell effectively work with the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump?” Graham said. “I’m not going to vote for anybody that can’t have a working relationship with President Trump, to be a team, to come up with an America First agenda ... because if you can’t do that, you will fail.”

While two pro-Trump Republican Senate candidates — Eric Greitens of Missouri and Kelly Tshibaka of Alaska — have publicly stated they would not support McConnell for GOP leader, so far no sitting senators other than Graham have publicly broached taking such a stand.

Trump and McConnell’s relationship soured after the Jan. 6 insurrection, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol to try to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral college win. The violent siege resulted in five deaths and injured dozens of law enforcement officers.

More than 10 months after leaving office, former president Donald Trump maintains a powerful hold over the Republican Party. (Video: Zach Purser Brown/The Washington Post)

After the attack, McConnell said Trump had been “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the mob, and he reportedly vowed never to speak to Trump again. The Senate minority leader’s votes and actions, however, have more often hewed closer to Trump’s interests, and McConnell has said he would vote for the GOP’s 2024 nominee, even if it is Trump again.

Trump, who has repeatedly mocked McConnell as a “Broken Old Crow” and a “loser” who is an ineffective leader for the party, intensified his attacks after McConnell joined 18 Republican senators to vote for Biden’s infrastructure bill, giving Biden a long-sought, bipartisan win.

As with many other Republicans, Graham’s stance on Trump has evolved significantly since the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

“Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way‚” Graham said that night when the Senate reconvened after the rioters had been cleared out. “But today ... all I can say is, count me out. Enough is enough.”

About a month later, Graham rushed back to Trump’s defense, becoming an even more vocal supporter of the former president. In February, he pronounced on “Fox News Sunday” that the Trump movement was “alive and well” and called Trump “the most potent force in the Republican Party.” Graham also slightly criticized McConnell, who he said had made himself a target for pro-Trump Republicans in 2022.

By the end of the year, Graham was openly questioning McConnell’s leadership, calling him out in televised interviews for agreeing to a deal with Democrats to raise the debt ceiling without the risk of Republican filibuster.

“We’re going into an election cycle where the wind’s to our back. We can’t do this again,” Graham said in December. “But when you look forward to this party, Donald Trump is the most consequential Republican in the entire Republican Party, maybe in the history of the party since Ronald Reagan. And if you’re going to lead this party in the House and the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with Donald Trump or it will not work.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has tried to walk a tightrope when it comes to placating Trump while working with the GOP establishment. But he has openly supported McConnell.

“I’ve known Mitch McConnell since the early ’90s,” Scott said in November. “I actually lived in Kentucky and supported him then. I have a good working relationship with Mitch McConnell.”

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