By Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu
Trump declined to embrace a peaceful transfer on Wednesday in response to a reporter’s question and said he expected his upcoming election battle with Democrat Joe Biden to be settled by the Supreme Court.
Democrats accused Trump of threatening American democracy and further politicizing his upcoming choice to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by suggesting the yet-to-be named nominee would intervene in the election’s outcome.
Republicans invoked the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution, but did not openly condemn Trump.
“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” McConnell wrote in a tweet.
McConnell was joined by fellow Republicans, including Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney and Representative Liz Cheney, who leads the House of Representatives Republican Conference.
“It will be a smooth transition regardless of the outcome,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters.
Trump, who trails Biden in national opinion polls, has long sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election, claiming without evidence that mail-in voting would be rife with fraud.
A record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail this year to avoid the coronavirus, and Democrats hope mail-in ballots will help to motivate large numbers of voters who oppose Trump.
In 2016, Trump also raised questions about whether he would accept the results of the election, which he went on to win.
“President Trump, you are not a dictator and America will not permit you to be one,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who took to the Senate floor to call the president “the gravest threat” to U.S. democracy.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders said in a speech in Washington that Trump was “prepared to undermine American democracy in order to stay in power,” and called for an independent commission to oversee the upcoming elections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cautioned against panicking over the remarks of a president who she said admires autocratic leaders. But at a news conference, she advised Trump: “You are not in North Korea, you are not in Turkey, you are not in Russia.”
Republican Senator Mike Rounds asked what would happen if Trump won. “If President Trump wins the election, will those on the far left agree to be peaceful when the election is complete? We don’t need property damage and we don’t need bodily injury,” he told reporters.
If November’s election is close, Trump could contest the results in the federal courts in hopes of being awarded enough Electoral College votes to retain the White House, according to political analysts.
Only one U.S. presidential election, the 2000 contest between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, has had its outcome determined by the Supreme Court.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally who is overseeing the process to weigh the president’s forthcoming nominee to replace Ginsburg, said he expected a peaceful transition.
“Now we may have litigation about who won the election, but the (Supreme) Court will decide and if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result,” Graham told Fox News. “But we need a full court.”
Trump later said he agreed with Graham but told Fox News Radio: “I think we have a long way before we get there. These ballots are a horror show.”
Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat on Graham’s committee, said Trump’s remarks posed a problem for his Supreme Court nominee, who is expected to be a conservative woman.
“I think this creates a significant complication for the legitimacy of the court,” Coons told NPR.
Biden, speaking to reporters on Wednesday, said Trump’s comments on the transition of power were “irrational.”
The former vice president’s campaign said it was prepared for any “shenanigans” from Trump, and reiterated comments from July that “the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.” (Reporting by Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by David Morgan; Editing by Mary Milliken, Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)