McConnell endorses Trump for president. He once blamed Trump for ‘disgraceful’ Jan. 6, 2021, attack

FILE - Then President Donald Trump, left, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., greet each other during a campaign rally in Lexington, Ky., Nov. 4, 2019. McConnell has endorsed Donald Trump for president. McConnell announced his decision after Super Tuesday wins pushed Trump, who is the GOP front-runner, closer to the party nomination. It’s a remarkable turnaround for McConnell, who has blamed Trump for “disgraceful” acts in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)(AP/Timothy D. Easley)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Donald Trump for president on Wednesday, a remarkable turnaround from the onetime critic who blamed the then-president for “disgraceful” acts in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack but now supports his bid to return to the White House.

McConnell, who was the last top GOP leader in Congress to fall in line with Trump, declared his support in a short statement after Super Tuesday wins pushed the GOP front-runner closer to the party nomination.

The two men have not spoken since 2020 when McConnell declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner of that year’s presidential election. But more recently, their teams had reopened talks about an endorsement.

“It is abundantly clear that former President Trump has earned the requisite support of Republican voters to be our nominee for President of the United States,” McConnell said in the statement.

McConnell said, “It should come as no surprise that as nominee, he will have my support.”

The nod from McConnell, who has criticized Trump as “morally responsible” for the 2021 mob siege of the Capitol, lends an imprimatur of institutional legitimacy to the indicted former president’s bid to return to the White House.

It comes after McConnell made his own sudden announcement last week he would step down after this term as leader, a position he has held longer than any other senator, and as he tries one more time to win back Republican control of the Senate, with Trump likely at the top of the GOP ticket.

Trump responded on social media, “Thank you, Mitch. I look forward to working with you and a Republican Senate MAJORITY to MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Trump now counts the GOP leaders in Congress, including Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Republicans vying to replace McConnell as leader, as backing his bid for the White House. Another Republican in leadership, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, announced her support for Trump on Wednesday after the last major GOP challenger, Nikki Haley, suspended her campaign.

McConnell, of Kentucky, said he and Trump “worked together to accomplish great things for the American people.”

He noted in particular policies that “supercharged our economy and a generational change of our federal judiciary — most importantly, the Supreme Court.”

Trump signed a GOP tax cuts package into law and, with McConnell leading the Senate, was able to confirm three justices to the nine-member Supreme Court and fulfill conservatives’ long-term goal of overturning Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to an abortion.

McConnell, at his weekly news conference, noted that he had announced as far back as February 2021 that he would support the eventual Republican presidential nominee, even if it was Trump.

Still, his endorsement is a striking reunion for the two men, who have put political interests ahead of any personal displeasure with one another. They did not speak before the announcement, according to a Republican familiar with the situation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump routinely bashed McConnell as an “Old Crow” in public, and Trump hurled racist insults at the senator’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served as Trump’s transportation secretary and stepped down in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack — which McConnell labeled an insurrection.

With McConnell’s endorsement of Trump, it gives the green light to other remaining skeptical Republicans — and the deep-pocketed donors who fuel campaigns — to fall in line despite any reservations they may have about a return to the Trump era.

After the Jan. 6 attack of the Capitol, McConnell issued a grave rebuke of Trump’s behavior, blaming the defeated president for spreading “wild” claims of a stolen election.

While McConnell refused to convict Trump in the Senate trial on House impeachment charges of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol, which could have left him ineligible to serve again as president, he warned that Trump was not immune from civil or criminal prosecution once he left the White House.

“He didn’t get away with anything yet — yet,” McConnell said in the Senate at the time.

“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation, and former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one,” he said.

Trump has been indicted on federal charges of conspiring to defraud Americans and obstruct an official proceeding in his efforts to overturn Biden’s victory and the Jan. 6 attack, but he has claimed immunity in a challenge that is now before the Supreme Court.

Despite his concerns about Trump’s behavior in the White House, McConnell appears ready to set aside those issues in favor of the outcomes he said the former president was able to accomplish during his term.

McConnell said he looks forward to “switching from playing defense against the terrible policies the Biden administration has pursued” to going on offense on policies that he believes will make a difference.

___ Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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