Trump won't commit to ensuring peaceful transfer of power if he loses election
Top Republicans, while not condemning Trump by name, say there will be an orderly transition
U.S. President Donald Trump received pushback from members of Congress in both parties on Thursday after declining to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the Nov. 3 presidential election.
"We're going to have to see what happens," Trump said at a news conference on Wednesday, responding to a question about whether he'd commit to a peaceful transfer of power. "You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster."
Before heading to a campaign stop on Thursday afternoon, he told reporters: "We want to make sure the election is honest, and I'm not sure that it can be."
Trump has baselessly claimed widespread mail voting will lead to massive fraud, sometimes earning warnings or labels from the social media giants. The five states that routinely send mail ballots to all voters have seen no significant fraud.
It is highly unusual that a sitting president would express less than complete confidence in the American democracy's electoral process. Congressional leaders from both parties, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, swiftly pushed back Thursday.
McConnell and other leaders of Trump's Republican Party had no hesitation in committing to an orderly transfer if Trump loses.
"The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th," McConnell said in a tweet. "There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792."
The Senate, led by Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, passed a resolution in the afternoon pledging to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
I'm proud that the Senate unanimously passed my resolution reaffirming our commitment to the peaceful transition of power. The President's threat to not accept the results of our free & fair election run counter to who we are as Americans & is an affront to our democracy. <a href="https://t.co/rZ5qGbE4Sx">pic.twitter.com/rZ5qGbE4Sx</a>—@Sen_JoeManchin
While Republicans have often been reluctant to criticize Trump or have feigned ignorance over the president's controversial comments in the past, several came out
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox & Friends on Thursday, "If Republicans lose, we will accept the result. If the Supreme Court rules in favour of Joe Biden, I will accept that result."
Other prominent Republican members of Congress including Kevin McCarthy, Liz Cheney and Marco Rubio also tweeted that there would be a peaceful transfer of power.
For her part, Pelosi reminded Trump the U.S. is not North Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia or other countries with strongman leaders he openly admires.
"You are in the United States of America. It is a democracy," she said. "So why don't you just try for a moment to honour our oath of office to the Constitution of the United States."
Pelosi said she has confidence in American voters to cast their votes and choose the president.
Expats in Canada, elsewhere encouraged to vote
Trump's current Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, was asked about Trump's comment after landing in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday night.
"What country are we in?" Biden asked incredulously, adding: "I'm being facetious. Look, he says the most irrational things. I don't know what to say about it. But it doesn't surprise me."
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a briefing to reporters Thursday: "The president will accept the results of a free and fair election.
McEnany didn't specify what had changed in the previous 24 hours or if she had spoken to Trump.
As well, what is largely at issue is what Trump would consider a "free and fair election" given that he has been pressing a months-long campaign against mail-in voting this November by tweeting and speaking out critically about the practice.
More states are encouraging mail-in voting to keep voters safe amid the coronavirus pandemic, and there are expectations of a considerable number of ballots coming from Americans at overseas military installations or expatriates.
Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. ambassador to Canada under Barack Obama, is among several Democrats working on the Vote From Abroad project, CBC's Washington correspondent Alexander Panetta reports.
Heyman said in an interview with CBC News that as of last week, the Democratic-affiliated portal had already surpassed the 2016 total of ballots requested from Canada by eight to 10 per cent.
"That bodes really well," Heyman said Thursday of the implications for the Democrats in the Nov. 3 vote.
Heyman and other Democrats say the votes could be crucial in key swing states, such as Michigan and Florida.
A U.S. federal report said there were 622,492 American citizens living in Canada who were eligible to vote in the U.S. election in 2016 — just 5.3 per cent cast a ballot.
Changes aren't widespread
Some Republicans officials have criticized Trump this year for his stance, which could possibly backfire and depress mail voting from his party's supporters.
Trump on Wednesday appeared to suggest that if states got "rid of" the unsolicited mailing of ballots there would be no concern about fraud or peaceful transfers of power.
"You'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer frankly," Trump said. "There'll be a continuation. 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."
It's unlikely that any chaos in states with universal mail-in voting will cause the election result to be inaccurately tabulated, as Trump has suggested.
The five states that already have such balloting have had time to ramp up their systems, while four states newly adopting it — California, New Jersey, Nevada and Vermont — have not.
Of the nine states, only Nevada is considered a battleground, worth six electoral votes and likely to be pivotal only in a national presidential deadlock.
Regarding the acceptance of the election outcome, Trump made similar comments ahead of the 2016 election. When asked during an October debate whether he would abide by the voters' will, Trump responded that he would "keep you in suspense."
In a July interview, Trump similarly refused to commit to accepting the results.
"I have to see. Look ... I have to see," Trump told Chris Wallace of Fox News. "No, I'm not going to just say yes. I'm not going to say no, and I didn't last time either."
Wallace will moderate Tuesday's first debate between Trump and Biden, in Cleveland.
With files from CBC News