When asked whether he takes the president’s threat seriously, McConnell simply referred back to his tweet and said “it pretty well sums up how I feel about it.”
GOP members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were notably mum about the president’s threat to remain in office if he loses. The panel recently concluded in a report on election interference that undermining trust in the election result “can have significant national security and electoral consequences,” including aiding foreign intelligence services.
“As we have done for over two centuries we will have a legitimate [and] fair election,” added Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. “It may take longer than usual to know the outcome, but it will be a valid one. And at noon on Jan 20, 2021 we will peacefully swear in the president.”
“I’m not a cable commentator,” Rubio added, declining to weigh in on whether the president’s comments were appropriate.
House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of the few Republicans willing to publicly rebuke the president, said Thursday that transferring power “is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental survival of our Republic” and vowed that American leaders would uphold their oath to the Constitution. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), a former chair of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, echoed her remarks.
Trump’s comments are the latest headache for the Republican party, with the election just 40 days away. And Republicans’ response mirrors how they have often dealt with his most volatile remarks or actions — rebutting Trump or disagreeing with him, but without the harsh condemnation that could invite a Twitter attack from the president.
While Trump’s statement Wednesday is the furthest he’s gone in suggesting how he might respond to the election results, he’s repeatedly cast doubt about the results of the election by attacking the legitimacy of mail-in ballots based on unsubstantiated claims about fraud.
The president, who has previously suggested that the November election should be delayed and that the results “may never be accurately determined,” is trailing behind vice president Joe Biden in most public polling and control of the Senate is a toss-up.
Some Senate Republicans dismissed Trump’s remarks as more of the same.
“He says crazy stuff,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), an Intelligence Committee member. “We’ve always had a peaceful transition of power. It’s not going to change.”
Others, though, deflected when asked about Trump’s remarks by pointing to Hillary Clinton’s recent comments urging Biden not to concede the election if it is close.
“I would have the same concern when Hillary Clinton advised Biden not to concede the election,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “We have a Constitution and the Constitution says when the presidency ends. You ask me just from the standpoint of what the president said: it isn’t very good advice from Hillary Clinton to advise Biden about that.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), an Intelligence Committee member and the chairman of the Inaugural Committee, also referred to Clinton’s comments and said of Trump: “I don’t know what he would mean by that.”
Blunt added: “It may take the court process to run its course. But there will be a peaceful transition of power.”
In addition to refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, Trump also suggested Wednesday that the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg needed to be filled ahead of the November election, in case the election results are disputed. Trump is expected to name his nominee Saturday and Senate Republicans are vowing to move forward swiftly with the confirmation process.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Fox News Thursday that a successful transition of power could depend on whether there are nine Supreme Court Justices.
“I can assure you, it will be peaceful,” Graham said. “Now we may have litigation about who won the election. But the court will decide, and if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result. But we need a full court, and I think that’s possible before the election.”
The strongest GOP reproach to Trump’s reluctance to commit to transferring power peacefully came not surprisingly from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the only Senate Republican who voted to remove the president from office this year during the impeachment trial.
“Fundamental to democracy is the transition of power,” Romney said Wednesday evening. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
Melanie Zanona and Quint Forgey contributed to this report.