CNN  — 

On Tuesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly acknowledged the obvious: Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States.

“The Electoral College has spoken,” McConnell said in a statement. “So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. The President-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He has devoted himself to public service for many years. I also congratulate the vice president-elect, our colleague from California, Senator Harris. Beyond our differences, all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female vice president-elect for the first time.”

And with that simple statement, McConnell took away the safety net for the vast majority of his House and Senate colleagues who have, to date, refused to admit that Biden is the President-elect.

See, prior to McConnell, every Republican senator who avoided comment could rest assured knowing that unless and until McConnell came out with a definitive pronouncement about the election winner, they were golden. Because as long as McConnell held out, he would be the focus of every question. And while it might be a little uncomfortable dodging questions – see Sen. John Barrasso – it was a heck of a lot better than having to deal with an angry Trump tweet if they admitted that the incumbent had lost.

Which is why 210(!) Republican House members and senators, as of noon Tuesday, had yet to respond in any way, shape or form to The Washington Post’s question of who won the election. (McConnell joins 34 other colleagues in saying Biden won; two House members – Reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Paul Gosar of Arizona – said President Donald Trump won.)

Why would they pop their heads up and watch Trump try to knock them off? Just for the principle of it? Ha! Well, no.

But McConnell’s decision to get off the fence in such a public way makes all of those calculations much, much more difficult. The party leader – with Trump on his way out of office – has declared the election over. So why won’t the rank-and-file do the same?

McConnell’s move also sets up a clear choice for every Republican elected official who has so far stayed on the sidelines of the “who won” debate. With McConnell now in the “Biden won” camp, there’s a clear line being drawn: Either you are part of the Mitch McConnell version of the Republican Party or you are part of the Donald Trump/Mo Brooks/Paul Gosar version. You can’t be both.

Which means that Republicans need to decide whether they want to be on record as believing – despite a total and complete lack of any actual, you know, evidence – that the election was stolen from Trump (and that he actually won). Or would they prefer, like McConnell, to say that they wanted Trump to win, he did a lot of things they supported in his one term but, yes, he did lose the election to Biden?

That’s the choice for elected Republican officials now. Hiding behind McConnell is no longer an option. Time to pick sides.