Apr 7, 2022 - Politics & Policy

McConnell pressed on contradiction with Trump and moral red lines

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen speaking with Jonathan Swan of Axios.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks with Axios’ Jonathan Swan. Photo: Chuck Kennedy/Axios

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during an Axios NewsShapers interview with Jonathan Swan that he’d be obligated to support former President Trump despite the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol if the GOP renominates him for president in 2024.

Why it matters: McConnell had not previously been pressed on the contradiction between his Senate floor comments in February of 2021 saying Trump was "morally responsible" for January 6th, followed two weeks later by saying he’d "absolutely" support Trump as nominee.

Driving the news: McConnell also stood by Justice Clarence Thomas' decision not to recuse himself despite wife Ginni Thomas' activism to overturn the 2020 election. And he would not commit to Supreme Court hearings for Biden nominees if the GOP takes the majority in November.

The big picture: The Kentucky Republican previewed how a new GOP legislative majority would govern if they win in November.

Why it matters: McConnell is poised to wield a powerful check on the presidential agenda — and the second half of his term — if Democrats lose control of the House and Senate.

  • As majority leader, McConnell could force Biden to negotiate with him on everything he wants to get passed in Congress.
  • "If the House and Senate are Republican next year, the president will finally be the moderate he campaigned as," McConnell said.

Between the lines: McConnell made clear his approach to supporting candidates is centered on their electability.

  • Herschel Walker: McConnell stood by former football star and likely GOP Senate nominee from Georgia Herschel Walker, who has faced allegations of threatening his wife with a gun.
  • McConnell said Walker "has addressed that issue repeatedly, … he admitted he has some troubles in his life," but that "he’s been an exemplary citizen” in recent years, adding: “I think Walker is completely electable. …We’re fully behind him.”
  • Related: Herschel Walker confronts his mental health, domestic violence allegations
  • Eric Greitens: McConnell declined to condemn or comment on Missouri's Eric Greitens, whose ex-wife accuses him of abuse, and who has lambasted McConnell's leadership. McConnell said the state's voters would decide in the primary.
  • Lisa Murkowski: McConnell said it's "important" that Trump-critic Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) defeat her Trump-backed GOP opponent and remain in the Senate.
  • Liz Cheney: While he supports one of Trump's top critics, embattled Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), he indicated trying to save her would not be a top priority because she's not in the Senate.

The bottom line: McConnell was unapologetic about his refusal to answer several questions or clarify past statements.

  • He said leadership isn't about being popular, and that "I say many things I’m sure people don’t understand."
  • Asked if the electorate has a right to know his position about handling Supreme Court nominees before they vote, he said, "I choose not to answer the question."
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