President Donald Trump was rebuked by fellow Republicans for refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the US presidential election in November to Joe Biden.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate who rarely censures Mr Trump, on Thursday tweeted that there would be an “orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792” — a reference to the re-election of George Washington.
His comment came amid a bipartisan storm over Mr Trump’s comments on Wednesday, when he was asked if he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power in the event that he lost the November ballot. Mr Trump replied: “We’re going to have to see what happens.”
Mr Trump has long refused to say he would accept the result of the election. He has claimed without evidence that the expected rise in postal ballots because of the pandemic was an “out of control” disaster that would help Mr Biden.
But he went further on Wednesday by not committing to a peaceful transfer — an unprecedented failure for a major party candidate in modern US history.
Underscoring the level of bipartisan concern, the Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution that reaffirmed its commitment to an orderly transfer of power. While the measure has no legal standing, it put every Republican in the chamber on record with their concern.
In the face of the rebukes, Mr Trump refused to retract his comments, telling reporters on Thursday that he continued to believe postal voting could taint the election.
“We want to make sure the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be,” Mr Trump said as he departed the White House for North Carolina, adding postal voting was a “whole big scam”.
But Christopher Wray, the FBI head who was appointed by Mr Trump, on Thursday said there was no evidence that the US electoral process had ever been tarnished with the kind of widescale fraud alleged by Mr Trump.
“We have not seen, historically, any kind of co-ordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” Mr Wray told the Senate homeland security committee.
Prominent Republicans in Washington were in rare near-unanimity in contradicting the president. Mitt Romney, the Utah senator and former Republican presidential nominee, said the peaceful transition of power was what separated the US from authoritarian regimes.
“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power. Without that, there is Belarus,” he said. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
Some of Mr Trump’s closest allies, including Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, also pushed back, saying Republicans would accept losing the White House and any Supreme Court ruling in favour of Mr Biden.
Liz Cheney, the number three Republican in the House who has been mentioned as a possible future presidential candidate, also took the president to task. “The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our constitution and fundamental to the survival of our republic,” she said.
Democrats also rebuked the president, with Mr Biden asking, “What country are we in?” when asked about the remarks. “He says the most irrational things,” he said of Mr Trump.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker, accused Mr Trump of trying to undermine democracy, adding that the US was not North Korea or Russia. “You are in the United States,” Ms Pelosi said. “So, why don’t you just try for a moment to honour our oath of office to the constitution.”
Separately on Thursday, a group of 200 former US generals and admirals, including some who served under Mr Trump as commander-in-chief, published a letter endorsing Mr Biden for president.
Americans are expected to vote by post in far larger numbers this year because of Covid-19, which some experts think will create logistical problems and possible legal challenges.
Mr Trump has said he wanted the Senate to approve his upcoming Supreme Court pick before the election because the court would have to rule on a contested result.
“This will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” he said about the election.
Mr Trump will on Saturday unveil his choice for the ninth seat on the court, which became vacant after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
He is pushing Mr McConnell to hold a vote on his nominee before the election but some Republicans think having the vote afterwards would motivate more of their party to head to the polls on November 3.
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