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GOP Sen. Mullin suggests Trump’s involvement in race for McConnell’s replacement would be a ‘lose-lose situation’

By Avery Lotz, CNN

(CNN) — Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin suggested Sunday that Donald Trump “stay out” of the race for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s successor, calling it a “lose-lose situation.”

“My advice to President Trump, which President Trump is his own man – he’s going to make his decision, and he does a good job in that – is to kind of stay out of the race because it’s a lose-lose situation. He needs to work with whatever leader is there … and whatever leader is there understands that they’re going to have to work with President Trump, too,” the Oklahoma Republican told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

McConnell announced Wednesday he plans to step down from his position in November, paving the path for a high-stakes race for the 82-year-old Kentucky Republican’s successor. Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming are considered to be the leading candidates. The race also sets up a showdown over the future of the Republican Party, as McConnell, one of Trump’s most formidable counterweights, steps aside and leaves a power vacuum within an increasingly divided Senate GOP.

Mullin has backed Thune, who has been critical of the former president in the past but is seen by some in the party as McConnell’s heir apparent as the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

Mullin, who endorsed Trump for president more than a year ago, responded to questions about Thune’s prior critiques of the former president by saying, “After January 6, there were several individuals that came out that had harsh words to say about President Trump at the time.”

“I think if you talk to Sen. Thune right now, he understands the party … needs to be united, and he recognizes that President Trump’s going to be the presidential nominee,” he added.

Thune, who has had the rockiest relationship with Trump of the three “Johns,” endorsed the former president last month after previously questioning Trump’s viability as a general election candidate.

Mullin said he is supporting Thune because he “is very good friends” with him, and pointed to Barrasso, Cornyn and Sen. Rick Scott of Florida as other viable options for the post.

“I’m just better friends with Thune, and I’ve seen his leadership skills move around,” Mullin reiterated, citing how Thune stepped up amid McConnell’s health scare last year.

Mullin said he does “not know” whether Trump could derail Thune’s potential nomination, but the Oklahoma senator told Bash that he and the former president had a “really good conversation last week.”

CNN’s Jack Forrest, Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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