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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday rebuked his Republican colleagues' efforts to block the certification of the Electoral College, saying in an emotional speech on the Senate floor that overturning the results of the election "would damage our republic forever."

Why it matters: In a complete break from President Trump and other Republicans, McConnell denounced "sweeping conspiracy theories" about widespread election fraud and said he "will not pretend" voting to overturn the election would be a "harmless protest gesture."

Between the lines: McConnell fears the vote will 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 fueling Democratic charges they are undermining democracy.

  • The speech comes hours after the country learned that Democrats were likely to take control of the Senate after winning the Georgia runoffs, making McConnell minority leader for the first time in six years.
  • Many Republicans are privately furious with Trump for blowing their Senate majority by spending the last two months attacking Republicans and condemning the presidential vote in Georgia as "rigged."

What he's saying: "I've served 36 years in the Senate. This will be the most important vote I have ever cast," McConnell said.

  • "Congress will either override the voters, overrule them — the voters, the states, and the courts — for the first time ever, or honor the people's decision. We'll either guarantee Democrats' delegitimizing efforts of 2016 become a permanent new routine for both sides, or declare that our nation deserves a lot better than this," he continued.
  • "We will either hasten down a poisonous path where only the winners of elections actually accept the results, or show we can still muster the patriotic courage that our forebearers showed not only in victory, but in defeat."

Go deeper

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.

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."