Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has, for the first time, acknowledged Joe Biden is the president-elect – becoming the most senior Republican official to break with Donald Trump’s baseless election challenges.
“As of this morning, our country has officially a president-elect and a vice president-elect,” Mr McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result, but our system of government has processes that will determine who is sworn in on January the 20th.
“The Electoral College has spoken. So today I want to congratulate Joe Biden. The president-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He’s devoted himself to public service for many years. I also want to congratulate the vice president, and our colleague from California, Senator [Kamala] Harris.”
He called it a national milestone that she will be the first female vice president.
Mr McConnell began his session-opening remarks with effusive praise for the efforts by Mr Trump and vice president Mike Pence to push federal agencies and private-sector drug manufacturers to develop, test and deploy Covid-19 vaccines by year’s end.
The speech seemed out of place as lawmakers and the White House limp toward a Friday deadline for government funding and a December 26 expiration date for federal coronavirus relief programmes.
But as he pivoted to Monday’s Electoral College votes, which saw state electors hand Mr Biden 306 votes – far more than the 270 needed to win – and the president 232, the praise of a president with such a massive ego made sense.
The majority leader was doing the hard work of starting to help Mr Trump understand that he is leaving office on January 20. But some more drama lies ahead.
Members of Mr McConnell’s caucus who are up for re-election in 2022 – nearly two dozen – still feel beholden to the president because of his popularity among conservative voters they will need to win another term.
Some of those GOP senators remain tight-lipped about whether Mr Biden and Ms Harris are even taking office next month.
At least one conservative House Republican, Mo Brooks of Alabama, has said he intends to challenge Electoral College results when lawmakers meet to assess the outcome. He would need a senator to second his challenge.
But his search for the required one senator to join his challenge appears to have come up short, for now, of securing a dance partner.
The chambers, if Mr Brooks finds a second, would then split up to review the merits of the challenge.
Even Russian president Vladimir Putin released a statement acknowledging Mr Biden defeated Mr Trump in the 2020 election.
The Russian president was one of the last remaining international leaders who had declined to accept Mr Biden’s win until the Electoral College confirmed his victory this week.