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Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power provokes outrage, rebukes on Capitol Hill

Dylan Stableford and Christopher Wilson
·Senior Staff
·5-min read

President Trump’s stunning refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the election to Joe Biden was met with outrage from congressional Democrats — and implicit rebukes from Republicans.

At a press conference in the White House press briefing room on Wednesday, Trump was asked directly about the transfer of power.

“Mr. President, real quickly, win, lose or draw in this election, will you commit here today for a peaceful transferral of power after the election?” asked reporter Brian Karem. “There has been rioting in Louisville, there has been rioting in many cities across this country, red and... your so-called red and blue states — will you commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferral of power after the election?”

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump responded. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

“I understand that, but people are rioting,” Karem said. “Do you commit to making a peaceful transferral of power...”

“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there will be a continuation,” Trump said. “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.”

After taking a few more questions, Trump abruptly ended the press conference, saying he needed to take an “emergency call.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
President Trump speaks during a White House news conference on Wednesday. (Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Asked about the remarks, Biden appeared almost speechless late Wednesday.

“What country are we in? I’m being facetious,” he told reporters. “I said what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”

“This is what an authoritarian sounds like,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders of Trump’s comments. Sanders was set to give a speech Thursday afternoon on what he called the president’s “unique threats to our democracy.”

“We have a president of the United States who wants to discredit people’s vote,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday morning. “Really? Really? What would our founders think? And what are these Republicans going to say to their children and their grandchildren when they ask them what did you do to strengthen our democracy when it was questioned as to whether an election was a proper way to transfer power in our country.

“I don’t know why the press doesn’t make more of this, to be very honest with you,” added Pelosi. “If he says that people swallow Clorox, we hear about it for the rest of our lives, but he’s trying to have the Constitution of the United States swallow Clorox — I appreciate these questions all of you have this morning I guess provoked by the arrogance and the disregard for the Constitution of the president’s statement last night.”

In an interview with Fox News radio on Thursday morning, Trump reiterated his refusal to commit to the results and again suggested the election would be determined by the Supreme Court.

“Oh, that I would agree with [the court’s ruling], but I think we have a long way before we get there,” the president said. “These ballots are a horror show."

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to members of the press after the weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon September 22, 2020 at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Republicans did not explicitly condemn Trump’s comments or mention the president by name but reinforced the importance of a peaceful transition of power.

“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th,” wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday morning. “There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted Wednesday evening. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

Earlier this week, Romney said he supported holding a vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

“As we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate & fair election,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida on Thursday morning. “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. Rob Portman of Ohio said Thursday morning that “both candidates must commit to abiding by the results, no matter the outcome,” although Biden has not called the validity of the election into question.

“The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the GOP House leadership. “America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath.”

On Fox News Thursday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham made assurances that the transfer of power would be peaceful and said if the Supreme Court were to decide that Biden won, he would accept the result.

However, he said the potential of the election winding up in the Supreme Court was more reason to confirm Trump’s replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If Republicans are successful in confirming a conservative justice to replace Ginsburg, it would mean six of the nine justices were appointed by Republicans, with three of them appointed by Trump himself.

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