Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, second from left, departs after paying respects as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose under the Portico at the top of the front steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Washington. Ginsburg, 87, died of cancer on Sept. 18. Credit: Patrick Semansky | AP

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Thursday that she is certain there will be a peaceful transition of power if President Donald Trump loses the 2020 election as he continues to break from past precedent by expressing a lack of confidence in the electoral process.

The senator, who is in a difficult re-election race with House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, in a Democratic-leaning state targeted by Trump this year joined congressional leaders from both parties to push back on Trump. They included Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

“We’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said at a Wednesday news conference, responding to a question about committing to the results. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

By Thursday, the White House sought to clarify Trump’s words, with a spokesperson saying he will “accept the results of a free and fair election.” Kayleigh McEnany, his press secretary, said he wants to “get rid of mass, mail-out voting,” which he claims without evidence will lead to high levels of voter fraud

Reaction to Trump’s comments was strong and negative from Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties — including leaders of Trump’s Republican Party — had no hesitation in committing to an orderly transfer if he loses. Hardly any lawmakers came to the president’s defense.

Collins, who broke with Trump and most of her party this week to oppose seating a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election, told reporters in Washington that she was concerned about his remarks and did not know what his thinking was, but she was “certain” there would be a peaceful transition.

“The peaceful transfer of power is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, and I am confident that we will see it occur once again,” she said.

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.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump’s current Democratic challenger, 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.

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. Of the nine states, only Nevada is a battleground, worth six electoral votes and likely to be pivotal only in a national presidential deadlock.

Story by Lisa Mascaro, Aamer Madhani and Kevin Freking. BDN writer Michael Shepherd and Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Laurie Kellman, Alexandra Jaffe and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

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