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McConnell commemorates President Trump’s last day by blaming him for a riot

But his remarkable denunciation overlooks his own party’s responsibility.

Mitch McConnell leaves the Senate chamber on January 19.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

On President Donald Trump’s final full day in office, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed him by name for the riot that occurred at the US Capitol on January 6.

“The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like,” McConnell said Tuesday on the Senate floor.

McConnell has reportedly privately expressed interest in purging Trump from the Republican Party, but this was his sharpest public rebuke yet of a president he stood by through an impeachment, a disastrous pandemic response, and a never-ending string of scandals.

McConnell, of course, is right to blame Trump, who spent two months lying to his followers about the election being stolen from him and still hasn’t properly conceded to President-elect Joe Biden. Trump encouraged his supporters to come to DC on January 6 for a “big protest” to “stop the steal”; then that day, he delivered an angry speech in which he invoked “fight” or “fighting” more than 20 times just before some of his supporters descended on the Capitol for a riot that left five dead and disrupted Congress’s finalizing of Trump’s Electoral College loss.

The House responded to the riot by impeaching Trump for an unprecedented second time last week. The New York Times reported that McConnell is pleased with that move, though he hasn’t yet indicated whether he’ll vote to convict Trump following a Senate trial.

While it’s good that McConnell is now willing to call out Trump by name, it’s not like he’s blameless. For one, even though the Trump campaign and its allies were unable to produce any evidence of large-scale fraud, McConnell didn’t recognize Biden’s victory until December 15, when he delivered remarks on the Senate floor congratulating the president-elect and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their victory. Trump responded by repeatedly savaging McConnell on Twitter, saying he would “NEVER FORGET!” his treachery.

“Mitch & the Republicans do NOTHING, just want to let it pass. NO FIGHT!” he tweeted on December 26.

Yet even after the president more or less declared war on the Senate leader and helped incite a deadly riot at the Capitol, eight Senate Republicans voted to help Trump overturn his election loss. Notably, instead of blaming those Republicans for their role in provoking the riot, McConnell during his speech on Tuesday generically called out “powerful people.”

The bottom line is the departing president is no longer useful to the soon-to-be minority leader in particular, and establishment Republicans more broadly, who received little help from Trump as their party lost two Senate runoffs earlier this month and thus majority control of the chamber. There are no more tax cuts or conservative judges to be had. On the contrary, McConnell has self-interested incentives for speaking out against a president who has heaped scorn on him, not to mention directly endangered his personal safety.

McConnell tossing Trump under the bus on the president’s way out of the White House is a remarkable thing — but it doesn’t mean he’s turned over a new leaf. Instead, he’s already tried to sabotage Biden by refusing to hold a single confirmation hearing for his nominees during the transition period. With President Trump out of the picture, McConnell is likely to resume the role he had when he was minority leader during the early Obama years: obstructing a Democratic president at every turn.

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