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Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions

President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE is maintaining a tight grip on Senate Republicans even as he's frustrated them this week by announcing new policies and firing administration officials.

The president’s troop drawdown in Afghanistan and a staff shakeup are exposing cracks between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, where national security has been a perennial sticking point that encapsulated many of the skirmishes between Trump and his GOP allies in Congress.

But Republicans are still sticking close to the president — whom they need in their corner for an impending government funding battle and two Senate runoff elections in Georgia — in a sign they’ll support Trump’s post-election legal fights for now, even as he rankles them on other issues.

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“The election outcome is at some point going to resolve itself,” said Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRepublicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Overnight Defense: Pentagon set for tighter virus restrictions as top officials tests positive | Military sees 11th COVID-19 death | House Democrats back Senate language on Confederate base names MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, asked if the disagreements would cause GOP lawmakers to break with Trump on the election.

Thune added that some Republican senators view Trump’s decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan or his firing of Chris Krebs, a top cybersecurity official, as “a big mistake,” but “I don’t think they converge really ... the political stuff is going to resolve itself.”

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Texas) — who voiced some of the strongest pushback in the Senate GOP caucus to Krebs’s firing and has spoken out against the president’s actions in Afghanistan — indicated he didn’t expect those disagreements to influence how he positions himself on Trump’s election strategy or change his overall posture toward the White House.

“If I have disagreements with him, I’ll have that discussion in private,” Cornyn said.

Trump’s policy and personnel shifts, with the potential for more on each front, come as he’s digging in on the result of the presidential election. Nearly two weeks after The Associated Press and national media outlets called the race for President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Biden transition adds new members to coronavirus task force MORE, Trump has yet to concede and is making baseless claims that the election was “stolen” from him.

His legal team is locked in myriad legal challenges in key battleground states where Trump is trailing Biden by significant margins.

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The court battles have yielded little success, but Republicans are being careful not to jump ahead of them. And even though more GOP lawmakers are acknowledging the inevitable or have urged for Biden to receive intelligence briefings, none have called on Trump to concede and only a handful have congratulated Biden as the president elect.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) broke with Trump’s Afghanistan decision in multiple speeches, warning that a “precipitous drawdown” would be a “mistake.” 

But when asked about the General Services Administration certifying Biden as the election winner, something it has not yet done, McConnell pulled back.

“There's a way to deal with disputes, it's called the courts. And the courts in the various states are dealing with whatever disputes there are, whatever evidence may be provided, and we are going to have an orderly transfer from this administration to the next one. What we all say about it is frankly irrelevant,” McConnell said.

Asked on separate occasions about the firing of Krebs and about his relationship with Biden, his Senate colleague for decades, McConnell gave reporters the same response: silence.

Sen. Ben SasseBen SasseTrump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism The Memo: Trump election loss roils right Whoopi Goldberg blasts Republicans not speaking against Trump: 'This is an attempted coup' MORE (R-Neb.), who released a statement saying Krebs should not have been fired, declined to tell CNN if he voted for Trump in the presidential election, saying he didn’t “have anything to say right now.”

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsDemocrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks Trump keeps tight grip on GOP amid divisions Hillicon Valley: Trump fires top federal cybersecurity official, GOP senators push back | Apple to pay 3 million to resolve fight over batteries | Los Angeles Police ban use of third-party facial recognition software MORE (R-S.D.), who said he was “very disappointed” by Krebs’s firing, pushed back on a question about whether Trump should concede the election.

“I think when the president has completed, and he has assured himself and his supporters, that it has been a fair election, without having issues that he's challenging right now. He's got to bring up the facts. He's made some serious allegations in a number of different states. And I think the president has the right and the obligation to follow through on those, those allegations,” Rounds said.

Whether Republicans eventually seek more distance from Trump remains unclear. Some have pointed to state certifications as a key milestone for officially acknowledging Biden’s victory, while others have indicated they’re waiting for the Electoral College to meet in mid-December.

Republicans have garnered criticism for not challenging some of Trump’s election allegations, with critics warning that claims of fraud or that the election was “rigged” could undermine confidence in the country’s democratic underpinnings. A Vox and Data for Progress survey found that 73 percent of likely Republican voters said the claims of voter fraud have made them question Biden’s victory.

Asked about Republican senators accepting that Biden has won, Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Del.), who has close ties with members of the GOP caucus, called it a “vigorous discussion” amongst his colleagues.

“I was just standing within earshot of a vigorous disagreement between two senators, one of them insisting that they need to stand by President Trump come hell or high water and the other saying, ‘This is over, come on,’” Coons said.

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“Most of the Republican senators I’ve talked to recognize that with the certifications that are coming ... that there will be no path, no path, for President Trump,” he added.

There are political reasons Republicans could want to keep Trump close, even as he’s on his way out. Trump is reportedly mulling a 2024 presidential bid that could ensure he’s an influential figure in the party after Biden takes office.

Congress also has a jam-packed lame-duck agenda that includes a Dec. 11 deadline to avoid a government shutdown, as well as an unresolved fight over a plan to rename Confederate-named bases and military installations that was part of the mammoth legislation passed by the House and Senate. Lawmakers need Trump to sign both bills.

Republicans are also hoping Trump will go all-in for the two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, which will determine which party controls the Senate next year.

“We need all of the president's supporters to step up so that we can retain the United States Senate," Rounds said. "If not, we're going to see a major change and a major shift."