A day after the US leader refused to clearly guarantee a peaceful transfer of power, Republican Senate Speaker Mitch McConnell felt it necessary to assure American voters that the winner of the November 3 election would take office as planned in January.
The head of the FBI, meanwhile, implicitly rejected Trump’s suggestion that massive fraud was in the works with the surge in mailed-in ballots.
Trump sparked outrage on Wednesday with his comment that he might not honor the results of the election or treat mail-in ballots as legitimate.
Asked at a White House press conference whether if he is committed to the peaceful handover of power if he is defeated, Trump replied: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”
“You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster,” he said.
– It’s not North Korea –
The remarks were seen as a stunning suggestion that Trump is not committed to the most basic tenet of democratic rule in the United States, respect for the ballot box.
McConnell, a crucial ally of Trump, felt it necessary to clarify the situation, without directly referencing Trump’s remarks.
“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th,” McConnell tweeted Thursday.
“There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”
Other top politicians reacted more brusquely.
“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney tweeted.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, said it was necessary to remind Trump, “You are not in North Korea, you are not in Turkey, you are not in Russia, Mr. President.”
“You are in the United States of America. It is a democracy. Why don’t you just try for a moment to honor your oath of office to the constitution of the United States.”
Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who Trump defeated in the 2016 presidential race, called his comments “pathetic.”
“But because he is the president, we should take his threat seriously,’ she said.
– Vote-by-mail concerns –
Trump’s comments echoed unfounded allegations he has made repeatedly that the vote count could be rigged by Democrats taking advantage of a surge in voting by mail due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“What’s going to happen on November 3rd?” he asked last week, saying “millions” of ballots will not have been counted the day after the election.
“It’s a disaster. Everyone knows it,” he said, adding: “Where are these ballots going? Who’s sending them? Who’s signing them?”
On Wednesday, he asserted that the mailed-in votes will all be suspiciously for his democratic rival Joe Biden, and should not be counted.
“The ballots are out of control,” he said.
“Get rid of the ballots and you will have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation,” he said.
His comments highlight real concerns that there will not be a clear winner on the day after the election, as millions of mailed-in ballots continue to arrive at local election offices and will take time to tabulate.
The FBI and US intelligence have warned that instigators, domestic and foreign, could take advantage of that period to spread fake news about fraud and political manipulation, stirring up public anger and doubts about the electoral process.
However, on Thursday FBI Director Chris Wray told a Senate hearing that they had not seen any coordinated effort to manipulate the election results.
“We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” Wray said.