The top Republican in the US Congress has vowed an “orderly transition” of power after November’s presidential election, a day after President Donald Trump declined to explicitly commit to a peaceful handover.
“We’re gonna have to see what happens,” the President said at a White House press briefing on Wednesday.
The Republican President, who is trailing in the polls, has also increasingly indicated he will fight the election results in the courts, while accusing the rival Democrats of carrying out a “scam” and possible fraud.
Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, tweeted that the handover of power would be “orderly”:
“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th,” the Republican tweeted.
“There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”
Like other Republicans, McConnell did not directly criticise Mr Trump.
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.
— Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) September 24, 2020
With no sign of the controversy abating, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told a news briefing: “The President will accept the results of a free and fair election.”
But for months, Mr Trump has cast the November election as being rigged. He has repeatedly attacked Democrats for promoting the widespread use of mail-in ballots for voters who do not want to risk contracting COVID-19 by casting their ballots at potentially crowded polling centres.
Democrats accused Mr Trump of threatening American democracy and further politicising his looming choice to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg by suggesting the yet-to-be named nominee would intervene in the election’s outcome.
Some of Senator McConnell’s fellow Republicans joined the effort to quell election fears, including Senators Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who said: “It will be a smooth transition regardless of the outcome”.
Mr Trump, who trails Mr Biden in national opinion polls, has long sought to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election, asserting without evidence that mail-in voting would be rife with fraud.
“President Trump, you are not a dictator and America will not permit you to be one,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who took to the Senate floor to call the President “the gravest threat” to US democracy.
Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who aligns with Democrats and who lost to Mr Biden in the presidential nominating race, called for an independent commission to oversee the election.
Democratic House of Representative Speaker Nancy Pelosi cautioned against panicking about the remarks of a president who she said admires autocratic leaders.
She urged Americans to cast their ballots and admonished Mr Trump: “You are not in North Korea, you are not in Turkey, you are not in Russia.”
If November’s election is close, Mr Trump could contest the results in federal courts in hopes of being awarded enough Electoral College votes to retain the White House, according to political analysts.
Only one US presidential election, the 2000 contest between Republican George W Bush and Democrat Al Gore, has had its outcome determined by the Supreme Court.