While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised “an orderly transition” of power after the presidential election in November if Democrat Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump, other Republican lawmakers defended the president’s controversial comments from Wednesday declining to say whether that would happen.
At a White House press conference on Wednesday, Mr Trump repeatedly declined to say whether he would peacefully hand over power to Mr Biden if voters choose the Democratic ticket.
Instead, he said he’ll “have to see what happens,” re-upped his attacks on the integrity of mail-in ballots, and confirmed he plans to challenge the results of an election night loss all the way up to the Supreme Court over claims of voter fraud.
Millions of Americans have voted by mail in past elections with no more than a handful of cases of election fraud.
In a tweet on Thursday, Mr McConnell pushed back on Mr Trump’s equivocations about a peaceful transfer of power.
“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,” the majority leader wrote.
Earlier in the day, House Republican Conference chairwoman Liz Cheney also minced no words about the post-election process.
“The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic. America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath,” the Wyoming congresswoman, who is the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, tweeted early in the morning on Thursday.
But Mr McConnell and Ms Cheney don’t represent a monolith of thought on the matter among GOP lawmakers, some of whom defended the president’s statements.
“I didn't find what he said last night to be overly extreme,” North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer told reporters on Thursday.
“I just thought that he's making the point that we'll see what happens after the election, and what he doesn't want to do that I think they'd like to bait him into doing is conceding the election now.”
Other Republicans pointed to comments earlier this year from 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton urging Mr Biden not to concede to Mr Trump on Election Day “under any circumstances.”
Ms Clinton said she is confident the Biden campaign team is putting together “a massive legal operation” to ensure Republicans don’t mess with legal mail-in ballots to fudge the election results.
Mr Trump has said multiple times this week that he plans to challenge the results of the election in court if he loses, on the basis of mail-in voter fraud.
Study after study has shown virtually no large-scale voter fraud in the US in recent elections.
“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,” Mr Trump said at his press conference on Wednesday, which he later abruptly exited to take an “emergency” phone call.
When the reporter who asked the initial question about a peaceful transfer of power persisted in trying to get an answer out of Mr Trump, the president doubled down on his unsubstantiated claims about rampant election fraud, a crime he has urged his own supporters to commit.
In an interview with Fox News Radio on Thursday, however, the president admitted he would accept the Supreme Court’s ruling on the election results.
“Oh, that I would agree with. But I think we have a long way before we get there. These ballots are a horror show,” he said, again casting doubt on the perfectly legal process of voting by mail.