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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill, in Washington, on Dec. 11, 2020.JOSHUA ROBERTS/Reuters

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated Democrat Joe Biden as president-elect on Tuesday, saying the Electoral College “has spoken.”

The Republican leader’s statement, delivered in a speech on the Senate floor, ends weeks of silence over President Donald Trump’s defeat. It came a day after electors met and officially affirmed Mr. Biden’s election win.

“I want to congratulate president-elect Joe Biden,” Mr. McConnell said.

“Many of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result,” he said. “But our system of government has the processes to determine who will be sworn in on Jan. 20. The Electoral College has spoken.”

Mr. McConnell called Mr. Biden someone “who has devoted himself to public service for many years.” He also congratulated vice-president-elect Kamala Harris, saying “all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice-president-elect for the very first time.”

The Senate leader’s remarks followed a groundswell of leading Republicans who have now said that Mr. Biden is the winner of the presidential election, essentially abandoning Mr. Trump’s assault on the outcome after the Electoral College on Monday confirmed Mr. Biden’s victory.

Mr. McConnell prefaced his remarks with sweeping praise for what he characterized as Mr. Trump’s “endless” accomplishments during four years in office. He said Mr. Trump delivered on a promise to “shake up Washington,” and cited the President’s nomination and Senate confirmation of three Supreme Court justices, among other accomplishments. The leader said Mr. Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence “deserve our thanks.”

For his part, Mr. Trump continued to push his baseless claims of “voter fraud” in a new tweet on Tuesday.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said now that Mr. McConnell has spoken, “enough is enough.”

Mr. Trump should “end his term with a modicum of grace and dignity,” Mr. Schumer said.

With states having affirmed the election results, the Republicans faced a pivotal choice – to declare Mr. Biden the president-elect, as the tally showed, or keep standing silently by as Mr. Trump waged a potentially damaging campaign to overturn the election.

As the Electoral College voted on Monday, giving Mr. Biden a clear majority, GOP senators began speaking up.

“At some point you have to face the music,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the NO. 2 GOP leader. “Once the Electoral College settles the issue today, it’s time for everybody to move on.”

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the chairman of the inaugural committee, said the panel will now “deal with vice-president Biden as the president-elect.” Just last week, the Republicans on the inauguration committee had declined to publicly do so.

The turnaround comes nearly six weeks after election day. Many Republicans rode out the time in silence, enabling Mr. Trump to wage an unprecedented challenge to the nation’s cherished system of voting.

Some GOP lawmakers have vowed to carry the fight to Jan. 6, when Congress votes to accept or reject the Electoral College results. Others have said Mr. Trump’s legal battles should continue toward resolution by inauguration day, Jan. 20.

“It’s a very, very narrow path for the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a top Trump ally. “But having said that, I think we’ll let those legal challenges play out.”

Historians and election officials have warned that Mr. Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud threaten to erode Americans’ faith in the election system, and that lawmakers have a responsibility under the oath of office to defend the Constitution.

“The campaign to overturn the outcome is a dangerous thing,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public policy at Princeton.

“This is a Republican operation, not a presidential operation,” Prof. Zelizer said. “Without their silence, he couldn’t do what he is doing.”

Mr. Trump is trying to throw out the ballots of thousands of Americans, particularly those who voted by mail, in dozens of lawsuits that have mostly failed. His legal team is claiming irregularities, even though Attorney-General William Barr, who abruptly resigned Monday, has said there is no evidence of widespread fraud that would alter the election results. State election officials, including Republicans, have said the election was fair and valid.

In a decisive blow to Mr. Trump’s legal efforts, the Supreme Court last week declined to take up two of his cases challenging the election process in key states. Some 120 House Republicans signed on to that failed Texas lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to take up the case seeking to throw out election results in the swing-states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia.

One House Republican, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, has vowed to challenge the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, when Congress convenes a joint session to receive the outcome.

At that time, any challenge in Congress would need to be raised by at least one member of the House and Senate. It’s unclear if any GOP senator will join in making the case. It appears highly unlikely there is enough congressional support to overturn the election.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Monday that it’s as if Mr. Biden has to win “again and again and again” before Republicans will accept it.

Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., introduced a resolution in Congress last week suggesting no one be declared president-elect until all investigations are completed. He proposed it after constituents confronted him last month demanding he do more to support Mr. Trump.

Overhanging their calculations is the Georgia runoff elections on Jan. 5 that will decide control of the Senate. Incumbent GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler need Mr. Trump’s support to defend their seats against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Rafael Warnock.

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