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STORY BY STEPHEN COLLINSON - ANALYSIS

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Published on December 16, 2020 11:50 PM

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McConnell sets stage for new face-off with Biden after delivering blow to Trump's election fantasy
(CNN)President Donald Trump is now learning, in the words of his Rolling Stones campaign anthem, that he can't always get what he wants. Sen. Mitch McConnell, on the other hand, usually does.

The Republican Senate majority leader chose Tuesday, the day after the Electoral College affirmed President-elect Joe Biden's victory, as the moment to pull the floor out from under the defeated President. He belatedly congratulated his old Senate colleague 38 days after his election victory that Trump still denies. Putting his authority on the line, McConnell also asked his Senate colleagues not to stage any stunts when Congress meets for a joint session to ratify the election on January 6, effectively crushing the President's hopes of an 11th hour reprieve, CNN reported.

The Senate leader's recognition of the election's result set up a dynamic between him and Biden that will be crucial and fascinating when they face one another from opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. If McConnell clings on to his majority after two run-off elections in Georgia in January, he will be have a huge say in which of the new President's Cabinet picks can win confirmation. Biden's sweeping legislative plan could be under threat and nothing is going to have an easy passage through Congress if the current majority leader retains his current perch. So his courteous words on Tuesday may not be much of a guide for how the relationship will unfold. "Today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. The President-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He has devoted himself to public service for many years," McConnell said, finally recognizing a reality cast in stone on November 3.

His move, characteristically, came in his own time after weeks remaining impervious to demands by Democrats and the media for him acknowledge Biden's rightful win. His indifference to pressure only emphasized his own power, a fact that in his deadpan way he appeared to relish. And his intransigence, which exacerbated the President's corrosive assault on democracy, came as a blow to any hopes that Biden's victory will transform the attitude of a Republican majority pre-programmed to confound Democratic Presidents. Still, McConnell's comments Tuesday were hugely symbolic, because they effectively put a lid on the Trump era. And his gesture toward Biden underscored how he plans to position himself as the counterbalance to the new President -- a longtime Senate sparring partner for whom he has respect.

But the Kentucky Republican's move was not without risk. By defying the President, he risks igniting a long running feud with Trump who appears to be planning to set himself up as the GOP leader in exile after January 20. McConnell's hopes of retaining his perch as Senate Majority leader hinge on two Senate run-offs in January in Georgia that may turn on whether Trump is able to coax his base voters out when he's not on the ballot. But at the same time, McConnell also knows that he needs to bolster his case that a Republican Senate will need to be a check on a Democratic President and House of Representatives, so GOP voters need to show whatever happens.