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Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In an extraordinary conference call this morning with fellow Senate Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his Jan. 6 vote certifying Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election will be "the most consequential I have ever cast," according to a source on a call and two other sources briefed on the private remarks.

The big picture: The conference call came in the wake of Sen. Josh Hawley defying McConnell's wishes and publicly declaring that he'll object to certifying the electoral votes in Pennsylvania and perhaps in other states as well.

  • McConnell had previously urged senators not to force this vote, which he believed would put Republicans up for re-election in 2022 in a horrible position — forcing them to choose between defying the most popular politician in the party, Donald Trump, and undermining democracy.
  • His remarks to his conference are likely to escalate President Trump's anger with him for daring acknowledge Trump's defeat.

Behind the scenes: McConnell said on the call that the Jan. 6 vote is "a vote of conscience," these sources said.

  • A source paraphrased McConnell as saying, "I'm finishing 36 years in the Senate and I've cast a lot of big votes." including over war and impeachment.
  • "And in my view, just my view," McConnell said, "this is will be the most consequential I have ever cast."
  • "The context was McConnell saying we're being asked to overturn the results after a guy didn't get as many electoral votes and lost by 7 million popular votes," the source said.

Between the lines: Many Republican senators are furious at Hawley for forcing them to take what Trump is setting up as the ultimate loyalty test on January 6th.

  • On the call, McConnell asked Hawley to explain what he planned to do on Jan. 6, said a source on the call.
  • Then, Indiana Sen. Todd Young pressed Hawley on which states he planned to contest, and Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey defended the integrity of his state's elections.
  • There was just one problem: They were met with silence. Hawley hadn't dialed into the conference call — a fact first reported by Politico's Alex Isenstadt.

What's next: Hawley has no plans to back down from his decision to object to the certification of the electoral votes — a ploy destined to fail on Jan. 6.

  • Hawley has been fundraising off of his planned objection to the election results, and this afternoon he emailed his Senate colleagues explaining his reasoning and copy-pasting a public press release he issued the day before to announce his decision.
  • In his email to his colleagues, Hawley made clear he was responding to pressures from his constituents.
  • "If you've been speaking to folks at home, I'm sure you know how deeply angry and disillusioned many, many people are — and how frustrated that Congress has taken little or no action," he wrote.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 7: Trump turns on Pence

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Elijah Nouvelage, Alex Wong/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 7: Trump turns on Pence. Trump believes the vice president can solve all his problems by simply refusing to certify the Electoral College results. It's a simple test of loyalty: Trump or the U.S. Constitution.

"The end is coming, Donald."

The male voice in the TV ad boomed through the White House residence during "Fox & Friends" commercial breaks. Over and over and over. "The end is coming, Donald. ... On Jan. 6, Mike Pence will put the nail in your political coffin."

Chuck Schumer is now majority leader as 3 new Democratic senators are sworn in

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is officially Senate majority leader after the inauguration of Vice President Kamala Harris and the swearing-in of new Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Why it matters: With a 50-50 Senate, Schumer will control a narrow majority with Harris as the tie-breaking vote. Democratic control of the Senate is crucial to President Biden's agenda, from getting his coronavirus relief proposal passed to forgiving student debt.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.