Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has warned fellow Republican senators against joining President Donald Trump’s extended assault on the Electoral College results.
In public remarks and private warnings on Tuesday, Mr McConnell worked to push ahead to the Joe Biden era and unite a fractured Republican Party before the Georgia run-off elections that will determine Senate control.
First, the Republican leader heaped praise on Mr Trump’s “endless” accomplishments as he congratulated president-elect Joe Biden during a morning Senate speech on Tuesday.
He then privately warned Republican senators against disputing the Electoral College tally when Congress convenes in a joint session January 6 to confirm the results.
That fight would yield a “terrible vote” for Republicans, Mr McConnell told the senators, according to a report by Politico.
They would have to choose whether to publicly back Mr Trump – or not.
Overnight, Mr Trump mentioned Mr McConnell in a tweet, saying it is “too soon” to give up.
“Republican Party must finally learn to fight,” he wrote.
Republicans are worried about bad effects on the January 5 run-off election in Georgia, where two incumbent Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, face Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in a state that flipped in November for Mr Biden.
Mr McConnell has been a strong supporter of most of Mr Trump’s efforts.
But the turn of events six weeks after election day showed the Kentucky senator, backed by his leadership team, seeking to normalise relations with the incoming Biden presidency while avoiding the spectacle of pitched floor fight that would divide the party as Mr Trump reluctantly leaves office.
“I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” Mr McConnell said as he opened the Senate on Tuesday.
“Many of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result.
“But our system of government has the processes to determine who will be sworn in on January 20.
“The Electoral College has spoken.”
Mr Biden told reporters he called to thank Mr McConnell for the remarks and the two had a “good conversation”.
As he departed to campaign in Georgia, he said he told Mr McConnell there are “things we can work together on”.
Mr McConnell’s comments after weeks of silence followed other leading Republicans who spoke out after the Electoral College voted late on Monday.
They finally said aloud what many Republicans had been signalling privately – that Mr Biden is the winner of the presidential election and they are essentially abandoning Mr Trump’s election attacks.
From there, the floodgates opened as several GOP senators confirmed they had spoken with Mr Biden, including Mr Trump’s ally Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Mitt Romney, of Utah, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee.
Some have had meetings with Mr Biden’s nominees for administration posts.
In his phone call, Mr Romney expressed admiration for Mr Biden’s willingness to endure the rigours of a presidential campaign and serve in the nation’s highest office, the senator’s office said.
The two also discussed the challenging political environment ahead.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said now that Mr McConnell has spoken “enough is enough”.
Mr Trump should “end his term with a modicum of grace and dignity”, Mr Schumer said.
For his part, Mr Trump has continued to push his claims of “voter fraud”.