Sen. Lindsey Graham, a top congressional ally of former President Donald Trump, appears to be sending a warning to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell that the longtime lawmaker from Kentucky needs to repair his relationship with the former president.
“If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with Donald Trump,” Graham said Wednesday night in an interview on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
“I like Sen. McConnell,” the South Carolina Republican told host Sean Hannity, “but here’s the question: Can Sen. McConnell effectively work with the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump?”
And Graham, a one-time vocal critic of Trump who became a close friend and supporter during the former president’s tenure in the White House, warned that “I’m not going to vote for anybody that can’t … because if you don’t do that, you will fail.”
Graham’s comments took some on Capitol Hill by surprise as he and McConnell have often been allied over the years.
The senator’s sharp comments came a day after the 79-year-old McConnell said that he would run at the end of the year for another term as the Senate’s top Republican.
And Graham spoke hours after McConnell publicly expressed support for Republican Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, who earlier this week was attacked by the former president for recently saying that the 2020 presidential election was fair.
“I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election,” McConnell told CNN. “And I agree with him.”
McConnell angered Trump in December 2022 by acknowledging now President Biden’s White House victory, after the then-Democratic nominee’s Electoral College victory.
McConnell voted in February of last year to acquit the former president, who was impeached on one count of inciting the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory.
But McConnell assailed Trump in a speech on the Senate floor minutes after the trial concluded, saying that the former president “bears moral responsibility” for the storming of the Capitol. A war of words between the two GOP leaders continues to the present day.
Trump continues to make repeated unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was “RIGGED” and stolen, while McConnell urges that Republicans “need to be thinking about the future and not the past” as the GOP aims to win back the House and Senate majorities in this November’s midterm elections.
For months the former president has regularly blasted McConnell as a “broken old crow.” And in an interview last month on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Trump charged that “Mitch McConnell is a disaster. The Republicans have to get a new leader.”
But regardless of Trump’s taunts, just two Republican Senate candidates and no GOP senators have embraced Trump’s calls for McConnell to be ousted as conference leader.
A source familiar with the conversation told Fox News that Graham called Trump ahead of his Wednesday appearance on “Hannity.” But the source noted that Graham’s criticism of McConnell was not coming at the behest of the former president.
Asked about Graham’s comments, a strategist aligned with McConnell’s team told Fox News that “Democrats and the liberal media will do anything to change the subject from inflation, empty grocery shelves, and Biden’s inability to manage either, but you’ll never see McConnell take their bait.”
McConnell angered many in the Senate GOP conference with his handling of the two debt ceiling faceoffs with the Democrats last year. And Senate GOP insiders say McConnell’s actions “agitated” a bunch of Republican senators, including some establishment members.
“The Republican conference is moving farther and farther away from the old McConnell Republican establishment,” a veteran Republican strategist with ties to the Senate told Fox News.