McConnell acknowledges Biden and Harris won election in major break with Trump

That it took six weeks for Mr McConnell to speak out is sad and disappointing, says Senate’s No. 2 Democrat

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
,Chris Riotta
Tuesday 15 December 2020 15:21 GMT
Joe Biden asks Trump to accept his 'clear victory' after electoral college vote result
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Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has, for the first time, acknowledged Joe Biden is the president-elect – becoming the most senior Republican official to break with Donald Trump’s baseless election challenges.

"As of this morning, our country has officially a president-elect and a vice president-elect,” Mr McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result, but our system of government has processes that will determine who is sworn in on January the 20th.

“The Electoral College has spoken. So today I want to congratulate Joe Biden. The president-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He’s devoted himself to public service for many years. I also want to congratulate the vice president, and our colleague from California, Senator [Kamala] Harris."

He called it a national milestone that she will be the first female vice president.

Mr McConnell began his session-opening remarks with effusive praise for the efforts by Mr Trump and vice president Mike Pence to push federal agencies and private-sector drug manufacturers to develop, test and deploy Covid-19 vaccines by year’s end.

The speech seemed out of place as lawmakers and the White House limp toward a Friday deadline for government funding and a 26 December expiration date for federal coronavirus relief programs. But as he pivoted to Monday’s Electoral College votes, which saw state electors hand Mr Biden 306 votes – far more than the 270 needed to win – and the president 232, the praise of a president with such a massive ego made sense.

The majority leader was doing the hard work of starting to help Mr Trump understand that he is leaving office on 20 January.

But some more drama lies ahead.

Members of Mr McConnell’s caucus who are up for re-election in 2022 – nearly two dozen – still feel beholden to the president because of his popularity among conservative voters they will need to win another term.

‘Sad and disappointing’

Some of those GOP senators remain tight-lipped about whether Mr Biden and Ms Harris are even taking office next month.

At least one conservative House Republican, Mo Brooks of Alabama, has said he intends to challenge Electoral College results when lawmakers meet to assess the outcome. He would need a senator to second his challenge.

But his search for the required one senator to join his challenge appears to have come up short, for now, of securing a dance partner.

The chambers, if Mr Brooks finds a second, would then split up to review the merits of the challenge.

Mr McConnell’s statement seemed as much about the vulnerable members of his caucus as Mr Trump.

The first sign Mr McConnell might take the major step came from Senate chaplain Barry Black, who referred to president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris.

A few moments later, Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin hailed both men for acknowledging the change of power coming in a few weeks.

Still, he said, that it took the majority leader six weeks to say the words was sad and disappointing.

Overall, Mr Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said GOP senators’ silence about Mr Biden’s victory had been overwhelming.

‘Nature of these elections’

The senate majority leader’s deputy, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, said on Monday that at some point “you have to face the music”.

Speaking just before the Electoral College officially voted to confirm Mr Biden as president-elect, the Republican said: “Once the Electoral College settles the issue today, it’s time for everybody to move on.”

Many top GOP officials held out until Monday before acknowledging Mr Biden’s victory over Mr Trump, who has long falsely claimed he could only lose the 2020 election if the vote was rigged against him. In reality, the Department of Homeland Security described the election as the most secure in the nation’s history, while the Justice Department also suggested it found no evidence of widespread fraud or vote rigging. 

But the statements from many Republican holdouts came flooding in on Monday as electors met virtually and in socially-distanced settings across the country.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who heads the inaugural committee, used the term president-elect in his statement on Monday afternoon and said his panel would cooperate and work with Mr Biden on his inauguration plans for January.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas put it bluntly in a statement that said: “That’s sort of the nature of these elections. You got to have a winner. You got to have a loser.”

‘Have been exhausted’

As the Electoral College met on Monday, it was reported the Trump campaign filed another federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the votes, this time specifically targeting drop boxes for mail-in voting, which were used across the country – and in several key states where Mr Trump lost to Mr Biden – due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Though a growing pool of research proved mail-in voting was a safe and fraud-free way of voting, Mr Trump and his allies have falsely claimed the votes would be manipulated against him.

Mr Cornyn acknowledged the president’s failed legal efforts, saying that once those had been exhausted, Joe Biden was on a path to be president of the United States.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa appeared to accept the reality of the situation on Monday when he said: “It doesn't matter what Chuck Grassley thinks, the Constitution has answered that question for you … that’s all I can say on it.”

Even Russian president Vladimir Putin released a statement early Tuesday morning acknowledging Mr Biden defeated Mr Trump in the 2020 election. The Russian president was one of the last remaining international leaders who had declined to accept Mr Biden’s win until the Electoral College confirmed his victory this week.

While Mr McConnell remained silent, some Republican allies to the president continued to insist his legal challenges could produce something meaningful in the courts just before Mr Biden’s inauguration.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told reporters: “I’d call him Joe until he gets sworn in.”

The president’s continued legal efforts were unlikely to produce any significant changes to the vote count that would overturn the election. Still, it would appear that Mr Trump and some of closest allies don’t seem to have any intention of admitting the truth with just a few weeks before Mr Biden moves in to the Oval Office. 

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

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