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McConnell amid Trump criticism: 'I'm looking forward, not backward'

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay Democrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl MORE (Ky.) sidestepped questions on Thursday about recent criticism from former President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE, saying he was focused on the Biden administration.  

"I'm focused entirely on the present and the future not the past. ... My view at the moment is we need to turn this administration into a moderate administration," McConnell told reporters at a stop in Kentucky, asked if Trump's criticism was a distraction from the infrastructure debate. 

Asked at a second event on Thursday about Trump's criticism of him and Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyCheney: 'It is disgusting and despicable' to see Gosar 'lie' about Jan. 6 GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas McCarthy pushes back on Biden criticism of GOP at NATO MORE (R-Wyo.), as well as if he thought Cheney should stay in House leadership, McConnell took a similar stance. 

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"What I'm focusing on in this new administration. I'm looking forward not backward and unifying my troops in the Senate around reacting to where we are today and going forward," McConnell said. 

The back-to-back questions underscore how even though the Senate is out of town for the week, and McConnell is using the stops to talk up his opposition to the Biden administration's $4 trillion spending plan, he hasn't been able to escape the long shadow of Trump and the GOP's infighting. 

He also faced questions Wednesday about if he thought Cheney should remain in leadership and if he had concerns that a sizable portion of GOP voters have said they believe Trump's false claim that the election was "stolen."  

"One hundred percent of my focus is on standing up to this administration," McConnell said on Wednesday

It's a shift from when McConnell defended Cheney during an unsuccessful attempt in early February to oust her from the House No. 3 leadership spot after she became one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump. 

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McConnell voted to acquit Trump during the subsequent impeachment trial before offering withering criticism of him from the Senate floor as "morally responsible" for the attack on Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters breached the Capitol.  

But since then McConnell has largely avoided talking directly about Trump as Republicans try to avoid a civil war with the former president and his allies in 2022, when they want to win back the majority. 

Trump, however, has continued to lash out at McConnell, including in a statement this week where he called the Senate GOP leader "gutless and clueless" in addition to blasting Cheney and former Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence heckled with calls of 'traitor' at conservative conference The Hill's Morning Report - ObamaCare here to stay The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? MORE.

McConnell similarly brushed off Trump's criticism last week during a Fox News interview, after Trump told Fox Business’s Maria BartiromoMaria Sara BartiromoCourt sets Smartmatic dismissal date on Giuliani, Bartiromo, others The US can solve the border crisis by decoupling from China Democrats control the language of politics and culture — but for how long? MORE that he expects GOP candidates to do very well in 2022 but said the party needs new leadership in the Senate.

“I think we’re going to do very well. We need good leadership. Mitch McConnell has not done a great job, I think they should change Mitch McConnell,” Trump said during the interview Thursday morning. 

McConnell told Fox News that he would support the GOP presidential nominee in 2024, even if it was Trump, but that he was focused for now on moving the party forward.  

"Well look, we're looking to the future, not the past. And if you want to see the future of the Republican Party watch Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottSen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Kerry Washington backs For the People Act: 'Black and Brown voters are being specifically targeted' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Bipartisan group reaches infrastructure deal; many questions remain MORE's response to President BidenJoe BidenObama: Ensuring democracy 'continues to work effectively' keeps me 'up at night' New Jersey landlords prohibited from asking potential tenants about criminal records Overnight Defense: Pentagon pulling some air defense assets from Middle East | Dems introduce resolution apologizing to LGBT community for discrimination | White House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine MORE last night," McConnell said during a Fox News interview last week