President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the election to President-elect Joe Biden is splitting the GOP — and increasingly putting congressional Republicans in a bind.
GOP lawmakers offered dueling sentiments on Sunday, a day after Biden secured the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House and as Trump continued to make unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud.
And some top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have notably declined to weigh in since Biden was declared the winner — neither bolstering Trump’s claims nor pressuring him publicly to concede. But such a stance may not be tenable for long, and how McConnell and other leaders in the party approach the matter will undoubtedly shape the transition of power in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, Trump’s steadfast allies are urging him to continue fighting, as his campaign mounts several long-shot legal challenges to various vote totals in key battleground states.
“Don’t accept the media’s declaration,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo on Sunday. “Don’t concede, Mr. President. Fight hard.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), also on Fox News, agreed that it was premature to call the presidential contest for Biden.
“What we need in the presidential race is to make sure every legal vote is counted, every recount is completed, and every legal challenge should be heard,” McCarthy said. “Then, and only then, America will decide who won the race.”
Other Republicans said they were not surprised that the president would challenge the results, given his nature. But they acknowledged that in the end, Biden will almost certainly remain the winner of the presidential contest, even after recounts and re-canvassing efforts are completed in several states.
“It’s time for the president’s lawyers to present the facts and then it’s time for those facts to speak for themselves,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said on ABC’s This Week. But, he added, it “seems unlikely that any changes could be big enough to make a difference.”
“The reality is, given the fact that the statisticians have come to a conclusion at this stage, I think we get behind the new president,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who opposed Trump’s reelection and was the only Republican who voted to convict him in the Senate’s impeachment trial, said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Biden on Saturday declared victory, urging the nation in a primetime address to “put the anger and harsh rhetoric behind us.” His campaign also is beginning the presidential transition process, and Biden is expected to name a group of advisers on Monday that will guide his decision-making on the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, several foreign leaders have already congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on winning the election, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Early Sunday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined in — a notable statement given his support for the president and his policies toward Israel.
Former President George W. Bush, a longtime member of the GOP establishment, also said on Sunday that he had spoken with both Biden and Harris to congratulate them on their victory.
But it’s McConnell who remains perhaps the most important figure in terms of an ability to influence the process of Trump’s concession or departure.
The Kentucky Republican tweeted Friday that “every legal vote should be counted,” but refused to go beyond his statement at a news conference that day. Asked if he had spoken to the president recently, he noted only that they talk frequently. His office declined to comment on Sunday.
The two men have become allies over a chaotic four years despite their sharply different personalities, and McConnell has largely avoided crossing the president publicly. But McConnell may not want a national crisis on his hands, and he is far better positioned to hold on to power after Senate Republicans won key Senate races even as Trump went down.
Still, McConnell, like most Republicans, is unlikely to want to draw the ire of the president, who is set to maintain a firm grip on the GOP in the years to come — and could even mount a presidential bid in 2024.
That’s particularly true of many of the GOP’s rising stars and potential 2024 presidential contenders, like South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who said it was “premature” to declare Biden the winner.
“We should give President Trump his day in court,” Noem said on ABC’s This Week. “If Joe Biden really wants to unify this country, he would wait and make sure that we can prove we had a fair election.”
Romney noted Trump has every right to pursue legal challenges, especially given how close the race was in several of the battleground states. But he expressed concern that the president has gone further, falsely declaring himself the winner of the election on Twitter and characterizing the contest as “rigged” and “stolen.”
“I think one has to be careful in the choice of words. I think when you say that the election was corrupt or stolen or rigged, that that’s unfortunately rhetoric that gets picked up by authoritarians around the world,” Romney added on NBC’s Meet the Press. “And I think it also discourages confidence in our democratic process here at home.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, said the Trump campaign’s allegations should be “adjudicated” but declined to adopt the more aggressive posture of the president’s allies.
And ultimately, few Republicans expressed concern that Trump would refuse to leave the White House after Inauguration Day. Romney said he expects that the president will eventually concede. And Blunt, who suggested the result was inevitable, said: “I look forward to the president dealing with this however he needs to deal with it.”
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