'The election is over': GOP, McConnell move to accept Biden win

The Electoral College formally affirmed Joe Biden’s victory. Some GOP lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, publicly confirmed Mr. Biden's win. Others are holding out as President Donald Trump continues to try to overturn the election.

Sarah Silbiger/AP
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks at a news conference at the Capitol, Dec. 8. 2020, in Washington. Mr. McConnell acknowledged for the first time on Tuesday that Joe Biden has been elected president.

For the first time, a groundswell of leading Republicans said Monday that Democrat Joe Biden is the winner of the presidential election, essentially abandoning President Donald Trump’s assault on the outcome after the Electoral College certified the vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also broke his silence on Mr. Biden’s November win after weeks in which the Republican and other GOP leaders refused to contradict President Donald Trump’s fallacious declarations that he was the victor in an election marred by fraud.

With states affirming the results, the Republicans faced a pivotal choice – to declare Mr. Biden the president-elect, as the tally showed, or keep standing silently by as Mr. Trump wages a potentially damaging campaign to overturn the election.

“I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden,” Mr. McConnell said. “Many of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result,” he said. "But our system of government has the processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20. The Electoral College has spoken.”

Mr. McConnell made his remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, a day after the Electoral College formally affirmed Mr. Biden’s victory. On Monday, several other top Senate Republicans said it was time to concede that Mr. Biden had won.

“At some point you have to face the music,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the second-ranking GOP leader. “Once the Electoral College settles the issue today, it’s time for everybody to move on.”

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the inaugural committee, said the panel will now “deal with Vice President Biden as the president-elect.”

Just last week, the Republicans on the inauguration committee had declined to publicly do so. He said Monday’s Electoral College vote “was significant.”

Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said barring further legal challenges it appears Mr. Biden will be president.

“That’s sort of the nature of these elections. You got to have a winner. You got to have a loser,” Mr. Cornyn said, adding that once Mr. Trump’s legal arguments are exhausted, “Joe Biden’s on a path to be president of the United States.”

The turnaround comes nearly six weeks after Election Day. Many Republicans have ridden out the time in silence, enabling Mr. Trump to wage an unprecedented challenge to the nation’s cherished system of voting.

Some GOP lawmakers have vowed to carry the fight to Jan. 6, when Congress votes to accept or reject the Electoral College results. Others have said Mr. Trump’s legal battles should continue toward resolution by inauguration day, Jan. 20.

“It’s a very, very narrow path for the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a top Trump ally. “But having said that, I think we’ll let those legal challenges play out.”

Historians and election officials have warned that Mr. Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud threaten to erode Americans’ faith in the election system, and that lawmakers have a responsibility under the oath of office to defend the Constitution.

“The campaign to overturn the outcome is a dangerous thing,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton.

“This is a Republican operation, not a presidential operation,” Mr. Zelizer said. “Without their silence, he couldn’t do what he is doing.”

Mr. Trump is trying to throw out the ballots of thousands of Americans, particularly those who voted by mail, in dozens of lawsuits that have mostly failed. His legal team is claiming irregularities, even though Attorney General William Barr, who abruptly resigned Monday, has said there is no evidence of widespread fraud that would alter the election results. State election officials, including Republicans, have said the election was fair and valid.

In a decisive blow to Mr. Trump’s legal efforts, the Supreme Court last week declined to take up two of his cases challenging the election process in key states.

Former Senate GOP leader Trent Lott said Monday there is little reason for Mr. Trump to continue the fight.

“I don’t see many avenues left for the president to pursue,” Mr. Lott said in an interview. “Once the Electoral College has voted, most people are going to recognize Joe Biden as the president-elect.”

Former House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, has also said it’s clear that Mr. Biden is the winner, stating in a forum last month that, “The election is over, in everybody’s mind except Donald Trump.”

Before Monday, just a handful of current Republican elected officials in Congress had acknowledged Mr. Biden as president-elect. Even fewer have reached out to congratulate him.

Among GOP senators, Susan Collins, Mitt Romney, and Lisa Murkowski have been most outspoken in declaring Mr. Biden the winner.

Others said they were waiting for the Electoral College vote, which is normally a routine step in the elections process but has been amplified by Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede.

“Although I supported President Trump, the Electoral College vote today makes clear that Joe Biden is now President-Elect,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in a statement.

“The presidential election is over,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Still, many Republicans in Congress are backing Mr. Trump’s legal battles. Some 120 House Republicans signed on to the failed Texas lawsuit last week asking the Supreme Court to take up the case seeking to throw out election results in the swing-states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia.

GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who volunteered to argue the case before the Supreme Court, was holding a telephone town hall Monday urging “participation in the fight to defend the integrity” of the election.

One House Republican, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, has vowed to challenge the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, when Congress convenes a joint session to receive the outcome.

At that time, any challenge in Congress would need to be raised by at least one member of the House and Senate. It’s unclear if any GOP senator will join in making the case. It appears highly unlikely there is enough congressional support to overturn the election.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that it’s as if Mr. Biden has to win “again and again and again” before Republicans will accept it.

Many Republicans are unwilling to declare Mr. Biden the winner for the same reasons they avoided standing up to Mr. Trump during his presidency.

The president remains popular back home, and they are reluctant to cross him or risk public retribution from him on Twitter and beyond. As Mr. Trump prepares to leave office, his supporters are voters lawmakers need for their own reelections.

Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., introduced a resolution in Congress last week suggesting no one be declared president-elect until all investigations are completed. He proposed it after constituents confronted him last month demanding he do more to support Mr. Trump.

Overhanging their calculations is the Georgia runoff election Jan. 5 that will decide control of the Senate. Incumbent GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler need Mr. Trump’s support to defend their seats against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. 

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