On the same day that he -- finally -- acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden's victory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell began to grapple with the first leadership test of the coming Congress: Convincing his Republican colleagues not to formally object to the Electoral College results on January 6.
According to Politico, McConnell told his conference that such a move would force every single one of them into a 'terrible vote' in which they would have to go on the record in affirming that President Donald Trump did indeed lose the November election. And, McConnell argued, such a vote would enrage Trump.
Which is true! After all, Trump lashed out at McConnell early Wednesday morning simply because the Kentucky Republican admitted, after the official Electoral College vote on Monday, that Biden had won (again) and Trump had lost.
'Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot),' tweeted Trump. 'Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!'
Imagine what Trump would do if the Republican-controlled Senate was forced to vote on Biden winning!
That, at least at the moment, remains a real possibility. Here's why.
In order for there to be a vote in both chambers on the election results, at least one House member and one senator would have to raise an objection to the Electoral College count. That is a certainty in the House, where Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks, among other Trump loyalists, has already signaled his plan to do so.
On Tuesday night, in the wake of the news about McConnell's warning to his colleagues, Brooks lashed out via Twitter. He wrote:
'A republic is nothing without honest & accurate elections. Heroic patriots fought & died to give America a republic. Media reports Senate ducks election fraud theft ...because it requires a 'terrible vote'??!! I can only hope that is 'Fake News'.'
(On a related note: Trump won Brooks' Alabama district by 33 points in 2016.)
McConnell's challenge, then, is to keep any Republican senator from joining Brooks' effort. And while he has proven to be a master Senate strategist over the years -- there's a reason no one challenges him for the top spot in the GOP conference -- this is won't be an easy task.
Several Trump-aligned senators have made clear that they are still considering objecting to the Electoral College results come January 6.
Sen.-elect Tommy Tuberville, who will be sworn in on January 6 and could bring a challenge, is weighing making just such a move, according to his campaign chairman. 'I don't know yet if or when he'll do it,' his Tuberville campaign chairman Stan McDonald told a Huntsville radio station. 'I do know that he's very seriously considering it.'
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who Trump beat in the 2016 primary but has emerged as one of the President's most loyal defenders, has also been vocal in his desire to take a wait and see approach to the possibility of an election challenge in January.
'There are multiple lawsuits raising allegations of fraud and irregularities in this election,' Cruz told The Washington Post on December 10. 'We need to allow the judicial process to work its way through and resolve those claims.'
While the Supreme Court rejected the Texas lawsuit designed for invalidating the election results in several swing states the following day, Cruz has yet to acknowledge Biden won or reject the possibility of a formal challenge to the results.
Sens. Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Josh Hawley (Missouri) are seen as potential supporters of an election challenge as well.
The issue for McConnell is that he is asking some of these Republican senators to go directly against their own political interests here.
For Hawley and Cruz, the party base remains, quite clearly, behind Trump despite his loss. Which means that if you want to run for president in 2024 -- as both men do -- there's zero political gain in sitting on the sidelines and, potentially, a major upside for being the one willing to stand up and fight for Trump.
Ditto Tuberville who was elected in no small part due to Trump's advocacy for him (and against former Trump administration Attorney General Jeff Sessions). Given Trump's continued popularity in Alabama, there's unlikely to be a price paid by Tuberville for formally objecting to the results.
What McConnell is asking, then, is for Republican senators, at least in some cases, to go against their own political interests in order to protect the class of senators up in 2022 who really don't want their first vote of the next Congress to be one against Trump. (McConnell apparently isn't even trying to appeal to senators' sense of doing what's right -- since Biden quite clearly won the election fair and square.)
That's a big ask. And one that even someone as gifted a persuader as McConnell may be hard-pressed to successfully make.