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McConnell sidesteps Cheney-Trump drama

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' McConnell presses for 'actual consequences' in disclosure of tax data MORE (R-Ky.) sidestepped weighing in on a days-long drama involving Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyGOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO Democrat Matt Putorti challenges Stefanik for NY House seat MORE's (R-Wyo.) comments on former President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE, that may result in her ouster as the No. 3 House Republican.

Asked if he was going to step in to try to help Cheney keep her post, McConnell told reporters in Kentucky that "100 percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration." 

"I think the best way to look at what this new administration — the president may have won the nomination, but Bernie SandersBernie SandersProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Progressives threaten to block bipartisan infrastructure proposal MORE won the argument," he added about Biden, referring to progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

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Pressed if he was concerned that a sizable portion of the GOP base believes the 2020 election was stolen — a false claim dismissed by election experts but spread by the former president — McConnell pivoted again. 

"One hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration. ... What we have in the United States Senate is total unity from Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Energy: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process Wednesday | Bipartisan bill would ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics | Biden admin eyes step toward Trump-era proposal for uranium reserve Bipartisan lawmakers introduce bill to ban 'forever chemicals' in cosmetics as study finds them prevalent Cosmetic chemicals need a makeover MORE to Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism Top admiral shoots back at criticism of 'woke' military: 'We are not weak' Biden tries to erase Trump's 'America First' on world stage MORE in opposition to what the new Biden administration is trying to do to this country," McConnell said. 

McConnell's response to the Cheney drama is a shift from when he came to her aid during a previous unsuccessful attempt to remove her as House GOP conference chair earlier this year. 

"Liz Cheney is a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them," McConnell said at the time. "She is an important leader in our party and in our nation. I am grateful for her service and look forward to continuing to work with her on the crucial issues facing our nation."

While Cheney survived the earlier attempt to oust her, House Republicans appear likely to call another vote as soon as this month.

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Trump has backed Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikHouse fails to pass bill to promote credit fairness for LGTBQ-owned businesses GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO MORE (R-N.Y.), a vocal ally of the former president,  should there be an opening in House GOP leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyHouse fails to pass bill to promote credit fairness for LGTBQ-owned businesses Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO MORE (R-Calif.) and House GOP Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseDemocrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene after her apology House fails to pass bill to promote credit fairness for LGTBQ-owned businesses The Memo: Homegrown extremism won't be easily tamed MORE (La.) — the No. 1 and No. 2 House Republicans — are both backing Cheney's ouster. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump earlier this year, and she hasn't shied away from speaking out against the former president and some of his allies since then. 

Her comments and actions have put her at odds with McCarthy, who is close to Trump and wants his help in 2022, as Republicans hope to win back the majority.  

McConnell has taken a different tactic than Cheney and McCarthy. Like Cheney, he offered scathing criticism of Trump's actions leading up to Jan. 6, calling him "morally responsible" for the attack during a speech in mid-February. 

But McConnell voted to acquit Trump and since then has gone near silent about the former president, frequently stepping around even saying his name while discussing the former administration. 

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McConnell's remarks come after Trump released a statement on Wednesday blasting Cheney and former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard Pence21 Republicans vote against awarding medals to police who defended Capitol on Jan. 6 Virginia couple pleads guilty to misdemeanor charges linked to Capitol riot Juan Williams: GOP preparing the ground to steal an election MORE. He also lashed out at McConnell, calling the Senate GOP leader "gutless and clueless."

McConnell wasn't asked about the statement.

But asked Wednesday if he could talk about his current relationship with Trump, McConnell demurred. 

"I think I've already addressed that," he said.