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Lawmakers push back against Trump’s refusal to commit to peaceful transfer of power

A day after President Donald Trump refused to promise a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the 2020 election, lawmakers pushed back on his statements.

“I have confidence that he won’t get away with saying, for example, I won with … the vote on the ground, the vote in the mail doesn’t count, and the rest of that,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters on Thursday. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Thursday: “The president will accept the results of a free and fair election.”

At a press conference Wednesday, Trump said, “we’ll have to see what happens,” when it comes to whether he would peacefully hand over his office. 

“I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster,” Trump said, seemingly referring to mail-in ballots. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots as a voting mechanism, claiming — without evidence — that they are susceptible to massive fraud. Many more voters are expected to vote by mail this election as a health precaution due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Trump, himself, has voted by mail.

At a congressional hearing Thursday, FBI director Christopher Wray said the agency has not historically seen “any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”

Democrats have become increasingly concerned about how the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic will influence the outcome of the election and transition of power if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the electoral vote. With more voters expected to vote by mail, many expect the race will be impossible to call on Election Day unless one candidate wins in a landslide.

That could leave room for candidates to cast doubt on the outcome of the election. Social media companies are already preparing for the possibility of one candidate prematurely claiming a victory. And with one Supreme Court seat open following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg last week, a more conservative court may be left with the deciding vote on the election outcome if it ends with a legal challenge.

At a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Thursday, Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he would accept whatever decision the Supreme Court decided if the election results reached that point. Graham’s committee is tasked with reviewing judicial appointees and said he would support Trump’s efforts to fill Ginsburg’s seat, contradicting his statements in 2016 saying the next president should make the appointment if a vacancy occurred close to the election.

“Bottom line is whatever the court decides I will accept,” Graham said Thursday. “Al Gore’s greatest legacy in many ways, to me, is what he did after he lost. He accepted a result of the Supreme Court that was 5-4, like 500 votes in the state of Florida. How many places in the world would power peacefully transfer under those circumstances? How many places in the world where you actually have a peaceful transfer of power to begin with?”

Graham added, “there is no alternative to a peaceful transfer of power.”

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

Some Twitter users pointed out that McConnell’s language left room for interpretation, given many votes are expected to not yet be counted by election night.

In statements on Twitter, several other Republicans reaffirmed a peaceful transition, though they did not call out Trump by name or directly reference his comments.

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

“As we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate & fair election,” tweeted Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. “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.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday, “There will be a very peaceful transition,” according to The New York Times. He added that the same question should be asked of Democrats like “Hillary Clinton, who said never concede the race.”

Clinton’s comments about not conceding the race referred to the potentially incomplete results that could come out on Election Day due to the expected surge in mail-in voting. In an interview released in August, she said Biden “should not concede under any circumstances” on Election Day given that it could take more time to find out the winner.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, tweeted that, “Smart candidates never concede anything before an election. They focus on what it takes to win.”

Correction: An earlier version misstated House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s title.

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