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Head of RNC says Biden won 2020 election, the first time she's clearly acknowledged his victory

(CNN) Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Thursday she recognizes President Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, even as she claimed there were "lots of problems" with the 2020 election that Republican candidates should address.

"Painfully, Joe Biden won the election and it's very painful to watch. He's the President. We know that," McDaniel said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor in Washington, DC.

While the RNC has for months criticized Biden in press releases and rapid response materials, McDaniel's comments Thursday marked the first time the party chairwoman has clearly stated that Biden "won" the 2020 election.

Her comments also come as former President Donald Trump, who McDaniel said remains an overwhelming influence on the Republican Party, continues to push conspiracy theories about the 2020 election with the help of leaders across the GOP's election apparatus. Earlier this year, the RNC unveiled a "Committee on Election Integrity," and, on Thursday, McDaniel declined to say whether Trump's pressure campaign to convince then-Vice President Mike Pence to block congressional certification of Biden's Electoral College victory was unconstitutional.

"I'm not a constitutional scholar," McDaniel said.

Despite encouraging Republicans to focus on pocketbook issues and their political opponents as next year's midterm elections approach, McDaniel did not bat down Trump's relentless focus on relitigating the 2020 election or his attempts to strong-arm GOP governors and lawmakers into supporting election audits in various states.

"I think every Republican right now should be talking about 2022. I'm not talking about anything else other than what Biden is doing to destroy our country: high gas prices, an open border, an opioid crisis," she said. "Everybody else can do their own thing, but I think we should be talking about Joe Biden."

However, McDaniel added, Republicans in certain parts of the country can also benefit from talking about election reform.

"We have to talk about the things that people saw," she said when asked about Trump's false claims of widespread voter fraud. "We have to show our voters we are putting processes in place that will ensure the election is fair and transparent."

Some Republicans have expressed concern that the party's relentless focus on voter fraud and willingness to enable Trump's lies about the election will depress turnout in the midterms, potentially thwarting a GOP wave that could place the House and Senate back under the party's control. Still, leaders at the highest levels of the party's election apparatus have done little to steer the former President's focus in a different direction.

Over the summer, for instance, the RNC issued a 23-page report accusing Democrat-led states of using the Covid-19 pandemic to change election practices to the benefit of Democratic candidates. The report claimed there were numerous instances in the 2020 election where Democrats "brought chaos and uncertainty to our sacred Democratic processes" and made a series of policy recommendations for Republicans to pursue -- including the elimination of universal mail-in voting.

With McDaniel at its helm, the RNC also joined Trump's 2020 campaign immediately after the 2020 election in filing dozens of unsuccessful lawsuits that challenged statewide results or changes to election practices. At the time, RNC chief counsel Justin Riemer reportedly warned his colleagues in emails later unearthed by The Washington Post that they shouldn't elevate the claims about ballot fraud and a stolen election that Trump's allies were making.

"They are misleading millions of people who have wishful thinking that the president is going to somehow win this thing," Riemer wrote in one of the emails obtained by the Post, specifically referring to Trump attorneys Jenna Ellis and Rudy Giuliani.