McConnell weighs endorsing Trump. It’s a stark turnaround after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is the highest-ranking Republican in Congress yet to back Donald Trump’s bid to return to the White House β€” after once calling the defeated president “morally responsible” for the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol .

But that may be about to change.

McConnell’s political team and Trump’s campaign are in talks not only about a possible endorsement of the former president, but also about a strategy to unite Republicans ahead of the November election, according to a person familiar with the situation and who has granted anonymity. discuss it.

How, when or where McConnell might support Trump is less baffling than the idea that it could happen at all: a stunning rapprochement for two men who haven’t spoken since McConnell infuriated Trump by declaring Joe Biden the legitimate winner of the 2020 presidential election.

But a rapidly evolving series of events ahead of the Super Tuesday elections has been set in motion by McConnell’s sudden announcement that he would step down as leader in the next session and as Trump is on track to inch closer to the Republican nomination.

Taken together, it lays bare just how far McConnell, the Senate’s longest-serving leader and an ever-calculating politician, will go in his efforts to regain Republican control of the Senate in what could be one of his last acts in power .

β€œI have enough gas left in the tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics, and I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm they have become accustomed to,” McConnell said last week as he announced his decision to run for the next session to step aside as leader.

Not long ago, it seemed Trump would have few fans who would politically support his bid to return to the White House, especially from the halls of Congress.

In the aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, key Republicans, including McConnell, unequivocally signaled that they were done with Trump.

In a scathing speech during the Senate impeachment trial on charges that Trump incited the Capitol riot, McConnell denounced Trump’s intemperate language and “completely fabricated atmosphere of impending catastrophe” and “wild myths” about a stolen election.

β€œThe leader of the free world cannot spend weeks trumpeting that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise when people believe him and do reckless things,” McConnell said after the mob siege.

Still, McConnell declined to vote to convict Trump of the impeachment charge in the Senate trial, saying it was up to the courts to decide since the defeated president was out of office by then. β€œHe hasn’t gotten away with anything yet,” McConnell said in the February 2021 speech.

Trump now faces several charges, including a federal charge of conspiring to defraud the U.S. and obstructing an official proceeding in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by supporters trying to prevent Congress from certifying the 2020 election . Trump has appealed and claims immunity.

The first sign that McConnell left the door open to reuniting with Trump came in early 2023 when he was asked about Trump’s possible return to the presidential campaign. At the time, McConnell suggested he would support the Republican Party’s eventual nominee, declining to name names or mention Trump.

But endorsements matter to Trump, who has appointed key campaign aides responsible for securing support from elected officials in what has become a two-way political street. Republican leaders are also confident that Trump will support β€” or at least not attack β€” their own nominees for the House of Representatives and the Senate.

As McConnell weighs his decision to support Trump despite his concerns about Jan. 6, he’s watching core Republican voters flock to the former president. And he’s wary of being the one to try to get in their way.

It’s not just McConnell, but the other Republican leaders on Capitol Hill who have all quickly fallen into line as Trump moves so close to being the party’s candidate at the top of their party list again in November.

Republican Speaker Mike Johnson traveled to Mar-a-Lago last month to meet with Trump at his private club about House races as the new speaker works to preserve his slim Republican majority in the House of Representatives.

The other Republican leaders in the House of Representatives backed Trump as the former president’s team pressed for support ahead of the contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early contests. Senate Republican leaders did the same.

And Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the chairman of the GOP Senate campaign arm and a friend, hunting and fishing partner of the president’s eldest son, Don Trump Jr., had told others as early as 2022 that he hoped that Trump would do that. run again. He became the first member of the Senate GOP leadership to endorse him.

When Daines traveled to Mar-a-Lago for his own visit in February 2023, he told Trump that the most important thing he could do for Trump was provide a Senate majority to confirm Cabinet nominees and conservative to adopt policies, according to another person familiar with the election. situation and granted anonymity to talk about it. Daines remains close to Trump, and the two speak often, the person said.

β€œI encourage the Republican Party to rally behind President Trump,” Daines said in a recent statement to the media, including AP.

McConnell’s political distaste for Trump appears to be no match for the Republican leader’s desire to regain a Senate majority for Republicans one more time as he prepares to leave the leadership phase.

The two have exchanged harsh words even before McConnell’s 2021 speech, with Trump mocking the now 82-year-old as an “Old Crow.”

But in recent weeks, Trump has refrained from berating McConnell or making racist comments against McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, Trump’s former Transportation Secretary who resigned in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack.

While representatives for McConnell and Trump had resumed the conversation, McConnell first received his announcement about stepping down as GOP leader last week.

Once that project was complete, the person said, McConnell’s team could turn its attention to the next project.