WASHINGTON — Democrats — and even one key Republican — are attacking President Donald Trump’s noncommittal to a peaceful transition of power as dangerous and un-American.
During a White House press briefing Wednesday, Trump demurred after being asked if he would commit to a peaceful handover should he lose November’s election.
"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," the president said.
Trump then repeated his complaints about mail-in voting, which will be more prevalent this year to prevent crowding at the polls during the coronavirus pandemic. He has said, without evidence, that mail-in ballots will result in widespread fraud.
“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” the president said.
Congressional Republicans largely stopped short of criticizing Trump directly. Instead, they sought Thursday only to reassure the American voters that there would be a peaceful transition if Trump loses.
“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky wrote on Twitter. “There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”
“As we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate & fair election," Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted. “It may take longer than usual to know the outcome, but it will be a valid one. And at noon on Jan 20,2021 we will peacefully swear in the President."
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a Trump ally and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told “Fox & Friends” on Thursday, “If Republicans lose we will accept the result." Although he suggested there the result might be disputed by adding, "If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Joe Biden, I will accept that result.”
Later Thursday, the Senate passed by unanimous consent a resolution reaffirming its support for a peaceful transition.
Sen. Mitt Romeny, R-Utah, took a harsher tone than his GOP colleagues, saying: “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.”
Some Democrats have feared that Trump, who trails Joe Biden in the vast majority of nationwide polls, would seek to delegitimize the election results and remain in office. Despite winning in 2016, Trump falsely claimed he only lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because millions of illegal immigrants had voted. He has often joked about staying in office beyond two-term limit. And in July, he floated the idea of delaying this year’s election.
Trump also predicted Wednesday that the election would end up in the Supreme Court, one reason he says he's rushing to fill the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat before Nov. 3.
Wednesday’s comments were not the first opportunity the president had to dismiss concerns that he might not willingly leave the White House should he lose — he made similar remarks in a July interview with Fox News.
That sort of rhetoric has Democrats sounding the alarms.
Asked about Trump’s comments, Biden said Wednesday: “What country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don't know what to say.”
House Speaker Pelosi said it was “very sad” that the president of the United States was even raising this question. “What would our founders think?” the California Democrat asked.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Pelosi reminded Trump that the U.S. is not North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia or other countries with strongman leaders he openly admires.
“You are in the United States of America. It is a democracy,” she said. "So why don’t you just try for a moment to honor our oath of office to the Constitution of the United States?"
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said, “One way or another, there'll be a peaceful transition of power, and President Trump will not get his wish."
"The American people are wedded to democracy," Schumer added. "We believe in democracy, and the kind of thing Trump is talking about just will not happen."
Meanwhile, Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia said America is “careening toward authoritarianism.”
“This thinly veiled threat from the sitting President should send shivers down the spine of every freedom-loving American,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Michigan.
And Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said: “What we heard from President Trump tonight rings of rhetoric we hear from dictators around the world. A refusal to accept a peaceful transition of power & a thinly veiled suggestion to ‘get rid of’ legitimately cast votes.
Later on Tuesday, responding to a question about Trump's noncommittal response about a peaceful transition, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that “the president will accept the results of a free and fair election."
She added that the reporter's question, "is more fitting to be asked of Democrats."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.