Senate Republicans are sending a clear message to President Trump: The election is over and Joe Biden won.
While Trump is digging in and showing little sign of ending his public campaign despite a long losing streak in the courts, GOP senators — from leadership on down — are signaling they view the election result as settled and want to move on without a messy weeks-long fight.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) publicly congratulated Biden during a Senate floor speech, in his first public acknowledgement of the former vice president’s victory.
He subsequently urged Senate Republicans during a caucus call, which was quickly leaked to the media, not to object to the election results on January 6 as Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) has said he's looking for a GOP senator to join him on his plan to contest the Electoral College count.
McConnell’s remarks in the call reflected two truths: that he and other GOP Senate leaders want an end to the fight, and that they are worried that House Republicans are ready to keep it going. If a single GOP senator joins Brooks, it would ensure a vote by both chambers of Congress that would divide Republicans and publicly force them to vote against Trump, which the Senate’s top Republicans seem keen to avoid.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), an advisor to McConnell, said it was the “explicit feeling” of Senate GOP leadership that it was time to accept the results of the Electoral College, which formally certified Biden’s win on Monday, and move on.
“I think you know that the Electoral College made the definitive vote obviously ...and it's timely for Senator McConnell to move forward,” he said. “Let's turn the page and start a new administration and thank the previous one.”
It's a significant shift after weeks of the GOP leader, and much of his caucus, refusing to acknowledge Biden’s election victory even as Trump faced a long-shot effort to overturn the election results after losing to Biden in several key battleground states.
The GOP leader is far from the only senator who is signaling to the president, through public comments, that they are ready to close the book on a chaotic presidential election, however.
“I think everybody realized yesterday that counting the voting of the electors was a pivotal moment. And I agree,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close ally to McConnell.
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) dismissed the idea of trying to challenge the election in Congress next month, arguing that it would only delay the inevitable: That Biden won the election.
“It creates a debate that has a certain outcome and that will certainly fail,” he said.
Biden has already had calls with several GOP senators as he tries to lay the groundwork for his administration. Regardless of which party controls the Senate majority, Biden is going to need cooperation from Senate Republicans to get most legislation passed.
In addition to McConnell, Biden also spoke to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Tuesday.
“Senator Romney congratulated President-elect Biden on his win and expressed admiration for his willingness to endure the rigors of a presidential campaign and serve in the nation’s highest office. ...The Senator wished him well,” a spokesperson for Romney said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — a close Trump ally who was recently calling up state officials to question their election processes — disclosed shortly after the Electoral College made Biden’s win official that they had already talked “a while ago.”
“I have already talked to him once. ...We'll try to be trying to be helpful where I can,” Graham told reporters. “There's things we can do together. Some things that we can't do together. It was a very pleasant conversation.”
The shift drew notice from Democrats, who have offered blistering speeches in recent days over the refusal from congressional Republicans to break with Trump on the outcome of the election.
“For the sake of the country, President Trump should take his cue from Leader McConnell that it’s time to end his term with a modicum of grace and dignity, qualities that his predecessors took great pains to display during our grand tradition of a peaceful transfer of power,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Trump is showing no signs of conceding, however.
“Tremendous evidence pouring in on voter fraud. There has never been anything like this in our Country!” Trump tweeted on Tuesday.
Trump also tweeted about an article on Brooks' plan to challenge the election results in Congress next month.
While no GOP senators have joined Brooks so far, there’s likely to be intense pressure on conservatives or 2024 hopefuls to support the long-shot effort.
GOP Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) are refusing to acknowledge Biden as the president-elect. And while McConnell has publicly congratulated Biden, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steven Scalise (R-La.) — the top two Republicans in the House — haven’t taken the same step.
Senate Republicans also are still treating Trump with kid gloves, with most refusing to call on him to formally concede or to chide him over his unsubstantiated claims that fraud cost him an election win.
McConnell retreated when asked if he had concerns about Trump’s claims of fraud or if he should accept the election results.
“Look, I don't have any advice to give the president on the subject. I said for me and I think on the basis of the way the system works the decision by the Electoral College yesterday was determinative,” McConnell told reporters during a weekly press conference.
Asked if he thought Trump should concede, Cornyn also demurred.
“I’m not going to give him any advice. I think he will do the right thing,” he said.
Rounds, asked if it would be helpful if Trump conceded, argued that it was unlikely to sway the president.
“I don’t think what other people tell him is going to necessarily make a difference. I think he has to decide for himself what’s right,” Rounds said.
It underscores the fine line Senate Republicans are having to navigate. They don’t want a public feud with the president, who retains a strong grip on their base. They also need Trump for political and legislative fights like funding the government or the two runoff elections in Georgia next month.
Republicans say they are also fine with letting Trump’s legal team continue to fight out a myriad of long-shot fights, even as they make it clear they are moving on.
“It’s a very, very narrow path for the president. I don't see how it gets there from here, given what the Supreme Court did. But having said that, I think we'll let those legal challenges play out,” Graham said.
But, in a sign that he’s looking ahead to a Biden administration, Graham immediately started ticking off a laundry list of Cabinet picks, some of whom he’s already spoken with.