Trump’s constitutional remarks put McConnell, GOP on the defensive

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell delivered another rebuke of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying that anyone who believes the Constitution can be suspended would have a “very difficult time” becoming president of the United States.

The comment marked the second time in as many weeks by McConnell and other Republicans have been forced to condemn Trump’s words and actions since the former president announced he is running for president again in 2024.

It’s a dynamic that vexed the GOP throughout Trump’s first campaign and presidency, but one that has taken on a less forgiving tone now that Trump faces the prospect of a competitive primary and top Republican strategists and fundraisers increasingly say the party would be best served by moving on.

“Let me just say that anyone who is running for the office of president and who believes that the Constitution can somehow be suspended or disobeyed, it seems to me, would have a very difficult time being sworn in as president of the United States,” said McConnell in the Capitol.

McConnell responded to Trump’s stunningly anti-democratic statement Saturday following revelations of what he called Twitter’s unfair treatment of him during the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Joe Biden. Trump, who has repeatedly called for the election to be overturned, wrote on his social media app: “A massive fraud of this type and magnitude allows the termination of all rules, regulations and articles, even those found in the Constitution.”

McConnell’s words on Tuesday were almost identical to those he used last week, when he also opened his weekly news conference with preemptive responses to questions about the former president’s behavior after Trump’s dinner with a white nationalist Holocaust denier and a rapper who has made a series of anti-Semitic statements.

The senator said at the time that there was “no place in the Republican Party for anti-Semitism or white supremacy,” adding: “Anyone who meets people who espouse that view is, in my estimation, highly unlikely to ever be elected President of the United States.”

Reaction from other Republicans has also been critical, though many GOP officials remain unwilling to directly confront Trump, who remains popular among the party’s base.

Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, said Tuesday in South Carolina that “anyone who serves in public office, anyone who aspires to serve in public office or to serve again in public office should make it clear that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Pence, who is widely expected to challenge Trump for the 2024 nomination, added that while he believes Americans are eager to return to the policies of the Trump White House, “I really believe they want to move on to leadership that shows respect. for our greatest traditions and respect for Americans, regardless of their point of view.”

On Monday, Sen. Mike Rounds, RS.D., said in a tweeted statement: “Anyone who wants to lead our country must commit to protecting the Constitution. They must not threaten to end it.”

“I don’t think there was an escape clause for not defending the Constitution,” added Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

McConnell, as the Republican leader trying to steer his party in a post-Trump era, faces the endless task of responding to the former president’s outbursts. The two men have not spoken since McConnell agreed to the Electoral College tally for Biden in late 2020, and Trump has repeatedly lashed out at McConnell at rallies and in social media posts, calling for his impeachment.

Still, McConnell on Tuesday deflected questions about whether he might support Trump if he becomes the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 2024.

Instead, the Senate GOP leader reiterated the difficulty of taking the oath of office, which requires the president-elect to defend the Constitution.

“It would be pretty hard to be sworn into the presidency if you’re not willing to uphold the Constitution,” McConnell said.

Trump’s Saturday embrace of authoritarianism is the latest controversy in a young campaign that has so far included no public events and no trips to early voting states. Instead, it has been dominated by the backlash over his dinner with the artist formerly known as Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, a noted white nationalist and Holocaust denier. Trump has said he did not know who Fuentes was when they met.

Trump suffered another setback on Tuesday when his namesake was convicted of tax fraud for helping executives dodge taxes on lavish perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars, in a significant repudiation of financial practices at the former president’s company.

While Trump himself was not indicted, a jury found two corporate entities of the Trump Organization guilty on all 17 counts, including charges of conspiracy and falsifying business records.

Republicans have not been able to definitively reject Trump as their potential nominee, although many of them are trying to distance themselves from his recent activities.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to become House speaker when Republicans take control in the new year, has yet to respond to Trump, but told reporters at the Capitol that he fully supports the Constitution.

Republican Representative Liz Cheney, a staunch Trump critic, tweeted directly at McCarthy to condemn Trump’s statement.

“This week Trump said we should repeal all rules, regulations, etc. ‘even those in the Constitution’ to overturn the election. Are you so completely unprincipled that you won’t condemn this too?” she asked.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates also took issue with the silence of some members. “Asking members of Congress to reaffirm their oath of office and uphold the Constitution should not be a heavy lift,” he said in a statement. “Congressional Republicans need to do so immediately, instead of repeatedly refusing to answer the most basic question.”

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Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

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