McConnell says he spoke 'inartfully' about GOP nomination going to second ballot

Story highlights

  • McConnell said he only meant to explain the nominating process
  • The influential leader has remained steadfastly neutral in the race

Washington (CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he spoke "inartfully" during a recent television interview when he said he was "increasingly optimistic" the GOP presidential nomination would go to a second ballot at the Republican National Convention this summer.

That upbeat assessment on Saturday was interpreted by many as an expression that he hoped Donald Trump would not have enough delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot, meaning the nomination could fall to someone else on subsequent ballots.
    But at his weekly press conference with reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, McConnell said he only meant to explain the process.
    "You know, I thought you might ask that question," he told reporters with a nervous laugh when he was asked to clarify his comments.
    "What I said, somewhat inartfully, is that we'll have a nominee once we get to 1,237 votes. And if that does not happen on the first ballot, there will be another ballot. And I hope that out of this process, no matter when it ends -- first, second, third, or additional ballots -- we'll have a nominee who will be appealing to the American people and can actually win the election," he said.
    Pressed on whether his comments were passing judgment on Trump or a sign he didn't want Trump, the message-disciplined veteran lawmaker declined to say more.
    "I think we covered that issue pretty well," he said.
    McConnell's initial comments got attention because the influential leader has remained steadfastly neutral in the race, refusing to predict who might win or who he prefers.
    He made them in an interview with WHAS-TV in Kentucky while pointing to the current Republican National Committee rules requiring a candidate to win the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination.
    "When a nominee gets to 1,237 he will actually be the candidate. If he doesn't, there will be a second ballot. And about 60% of the delegates who are bound on the first ballot will be free to do what they want to on a second ballot," he said. "And I'm increasingly optimistic that there may actually be a second ballot."
    Without naming Trump, McConnell mentioned that "some candidates" complained it is "somehow tricky to follow the rules of the convention" but he said, "We are going to follow the rules of the convention."