WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans pushed back Thursday after President Donald Trump again declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said Wednesday at a news conference, responding to a question about whether he’d commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, “If Republicans lose, we will accept the result. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Joe Biden, I will accept that result.”
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the House GOP leadership, tweeted: “The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath.”
It is highly unusual that a sitting president would express less than complete confidence in the American democracy’s electoral process. But Trump also declined four years ago to commit to honoring the election results if his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, won.
His current Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, was asked about Trump’s comment after landing in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday night.
“What country are we in?” Biden asked incredulously, adding: “I’m being facetious. Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say about it. But it doesn’t surprise me.”
Trump has been pressing a monthslong campaign against mail-in voting this November by tweeting and speaking out critically about the practice. More states are encouraging mail-in voting to keep voters safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
The president, who uses mail-in voting himself, has tried to distinguish between states that automatically send mail ballots to all registered voters and those, like Florida, that send them only to voters who request a mail ballot.
Trump has baselessly claimed widespread mail voting will lead to massive fraud. The five states that routinely send mail ballots to all voters have seen no significant fraud.
Trump’s latest comments were widely denounced by Democrats as threatening the very nature of the nation’s democracy. Several Republicans came forward, as well.
“Regardless of how divided our country is right now, when elections are over and winners are declared, we must all commit ourselves to the Constitution and accept the results,” tweeted Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, a former chair of the House Republican campaign arm.
Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the lone GOP voices to cross Trump, referred to an electoral crisis in Europe, tweeting: “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
But Graham’s repeated suggestion on Fox that the Supreme Court could — when acting upon seemingly inevitable legal challenges to the election — end up all but declaring the winner came with an unspoken subtext: that the Senate was moving to confirm a Trump-appointed jurist to fill the vacancy left by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death before the election, potentially stacking the deck for Republicans.
Trump on Wednesday had appeared to suggest that if states got “rid of” the unsolicited mailing of ballots there would be no concern about fraud or peaceful transfers of power.
“You’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer frankly,” Trump said. “There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control, you know it, and you know, who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”
In a July interview, Trump similarly refused to commit to accepting the results.
“I have to see. Look … I have to see,” Trump told Chris Wallace during a wide-ranging July interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
The Biden campaign responded Wednesday: “The American people will decide this election. And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
The American Civil Liberties Union also protested Trump’s remarks. “The peaceful transfer of power is essential to a functioning democracy,” National Legal Director David Cole said. “This statement from the president of the United States should trouble every American.”
Trump made similar comments ahead of the 2016 election. When asked during an October debate whether he would abide by the voters’ will, Trump responded that he would “keep you in suspense.”
It’s unlikely that any chaos in states with universal mail-in voting will cause the election result to be inaccurately tabulated, as Trump has suggested.
The five states that already have such balloting have had time to ramp up their systems, while four states newly adopting it — California, New Jersey, Nevada and Vermont — have not. Washington, D.C., is also newly adopting it.
Of those nine states, only Nevada is a battleground, worth six electoral votes and likely to be pivotal only in a national presidential deadlock.
California, New Jersey, Vermont and D.C. are overwhelmingly Democratic and likely to be won by Biden.
Story by Aamer Madhani and Kevin Freking. Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.