McConnell congratulates Biden on his victory as more Republicans abandon Trump's fight
By Sahil Kapur, Julie Tsirkin and Leigh Ann Caldwell
WASHINGTON — After weeks of delay, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, acknowledged on Tuesday that Joe Biden will be the next president, following an Electoral College vote that officially certified his win on Monday.
"The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden," McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor, in a speech that heralded President Donald Trump's achievements.
Biden told reporters later in the day that he reached out to McConnell "to thank him for the congratulations," and that the two had "a good conversation."
“We've always been straight with one another and we agreed we'd get together sooner than later. And I'm looking forward to working with him,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del. before boarding a plane to Georgia to campaign for Democratic Senate candidates.
McConnell's remarks represent an acknowledgement of the obvious, coming more than five weeks after the election result was clear. Even after Biden's victory was certified by the states, Trump's power over the party reigned supreme and many were leery of contradicting him.
On a conference call with Republicans on Tuesday, McConnell and other GOP leaders warned senators against objecting on January 6th, when Congress holds a joint session to have the results from each state counted, multiple sources told NBC News.
Without an objection, the counting requires no action from Congress. But if a formal objection citing a specific concern is submitted in writing — which has happened twice, once in 1969 and again in 2005 — then each chamber would vote.
McConnell told his colleagues that it would be a "terrible vote" for Republicans, because they would then have to oppose the objection and it would be viewed as voting against Trump.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., also informally took the temperature of GOP senators prior to the call, trying to see if any of them are considering objecting to the election results, one senator said.
"In the end at some point you have to face the music," Thune told reporters on Monday, saying it was "time for everybody to move on" after the Electoral College settled the vote.
Members of McConnell's leadership team also acknowledged the result.
"I was proud to join thousands of people in Wyoming in voting for President Trump. I believe he’s the leader our country needs. I also respect the result of the Electoral College vote today," said third-ranking Republican Sen. John Barrasso, of Wyoming, in a statement.
Sen. Roy Blunt, who chairs the committee responsible for planning the inauguration, said that "now we have the constitutional threshold, and we'll deal with Vice President Biden as the president elect."
"The president continues obviously to have all the options he has available to him but the electoral vote today was significant," he told reporters.
In a speech Monday evening, Biden criticized the 17 Republican attorneys general and 126 Republican members of Congress who signed on to a Texas-led lawsuit to reject the results in pivotal swing states, and assailed that lawsuit as an "unprecedented assault on our democracy."
"Respecting the will of the people is at the heart of our democracy — even when we find those results hard to accept," Biden said. "But that is the obligation of those who have taken a sworn duty to uphold our Constitution."
Trump has not conceded defeat. After McConnell spoke on the Senate floor, he continued to dispute the outcome on Twitter and make assertions about voter fraud.
Lawsuits by Trump and his allies to overturn votes have faced one rejection after another, including at the Supreme Court, and state officials in both parties have denounced his groundless claims of widespread fraud.
Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana each called Biden "president-elect" for the first time.
"The orderly transfer of power is a hallmark of our democracy, and although I supported President Trump, the Electoral College vote today makes clear that Joe Biden is now president-Elect," Portman said.
But despite the new acknowledgments of Biden’s win, some lawmakers continued to dance around the subject on Monday.
"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," said Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a loyal Trump ally.
Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, "You got to have a winner. You got to have a loser. But I think once the president's any legal arguments that he wants to make between now and then are exhausted, that certainly Joe Biden's on a path to be President of the United States."
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said the outcome of the election is "still to be resolved, isn’t it,” after California's electors cast 55 Electoral College votes for Biden, putting him over the 270 needed to win.
Johnson is set to hold a hearing on Wednesday in the Homeland Security Committee he chairs to examine “election integrity," featuring witnesses who brought on Trump's lawsuits in swing states.