For the first time since the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly denounced President Trump and his supporters for instigating the insurrection.
"The mob was fed lies," McConnell, R-Ky., said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.
"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."
Two weeks ago, after rioters stormed the Capitol as lawmakers were fulfilling their constitutional duty to tally the Electoral College votes, McConnell strongly condemned the mob but stopped short of calling out Trump for his role.
The outgoing majority leader has spent the past several years cautiously avoiding confrontations with Trump. But he's increased his criticism of the president in the waning weeks of his term as Trump continued to use his platform to spread misinformation about the election, which he lost to Joe Biden.
Ahead of the Jan. 6 insurrection, McConnell used his time on the Senate floor to reject allegations of election fraud by Trump and his allies, saying Trump's claims that the Nov. 3 election was stolen were partly based on conspiracy theories.
"Dozens of lawsuits received hearings and courtrooms all across our country. But over and over, the courts rejected these claims, including all star judges that the president himself had nominated," he said at the time.
"Nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale ... that would have tipped the entire election. Nor can public doubt alone justify a radical break, when the doubt itself was incited without any evidence."
McConnell has not denied the possibility of voting against Trump at a potential Senate impeachment trial, precipitated by the House vote to impeach the president for an unprecedented second time over his role in the insurrection.
It's unclear when a Senate trial would begin as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has yet to deliver the sole article of impeachment against Trump to the Senate.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who will take over that role in less than 24 hours, said Tuesday the Senate will move ahead with an impeachment trial with a plan for a separate vote to bar Trump from holding any future federal office if the Senate votes to convict.
"After what he has done, the consequences of which we were all witness to, Donald Trump should not be eligible to run for office ever again," he said.
"Healing and unity will only come if there is truth and accountability, not sweeping such a severe charge, such awful actions, under the rug."
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