Republicans on Capitol Hill were bombarded with questions on Thursday over whether they agreed with President Donald Trump's assertion that he would not necessarily accept a peaceful transition of power after the November election if he lost.
Senate Republicans tried to strike a balance between supporting a peaceful transfer and avoiding a full rebuke of what Trump said.
On Capitol Hill Thursday, top Republicans tried to thread the needle between reassuring the American public that a peaceful transition of power would happen, while avoiding any appearance of undermining President Donald Trump, who refused to commit to such a power transfer on Wednesday.
GOP lawmakers deployed a variety of rhetorical techniques when approached by reporters, but the common theme was that they tried to avoid rebuking Trump too strongly, while insisting one of the key tenets of democracy wouldn't be thrown out if the president refused to concede the race after November 3.
But Trump appeared to double down on his comments later on Thursday.
"We want to make sure the election is honest, and I'm not sure that it can be," the president said. "I don't know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots. They're unsolicited — millions being sent to everybody. And we'll see."
Insider has a breakdown of why Trump's claims of rampant fraud and the potential for election interference in mail-in voting are largely baseless.
Here's what the GOP brass had to say:
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas
"I think there will be a peaceful transfer of power, and I think the real concern in terms of the election is that Joe Biden has been explicit that if he doesn't win on Election Day, he intends to challenge the legitimacy of the election," Cruz told reporters.
He added: "Hillary Clinton told him under no circumstances said should Joe Biden concede. And I think that threat to challenge the election is one of the real reasons why it is so important that we confirm the Supreme Court nominee so that there's a full Supreme Court on the bench to resolve any election challenge."
Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina
When Graham was asked by a reporter if Trump should "tone down his language," he demurred.
"Well I think I don't know what it — I don't know what the question was, but we will have a peaceful transfer of power," Graham said.
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah
Romney was asked what would happen if Trump didn't step aside if he lost.
"I don't think there's any scenario of that nature that's realistic," Romney said. "And I am absolutely confident that there will be a peaceful transition if there's a new president, or if not, why, we'll have a continuation."
When he was asked if fellow Republicans should step up if Trump still insisted he wouldn't concede the office to Biden, Romney replied, "There's no question but that all the people who had sworn to support the Constitution would assure that there would be a peaceful transition of power, including the president."
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida
"I have no concern," Scott said of whether there would be a peaceful transfer of power.
"Why not?" a reporter followed up.
"There will be a peaceful transfer — transition of power," Scott replied. "It's happened forever. It's going to happen in November, or January."
"But if it's happened forever, why couldn't the president just come out and say that?" a reporter asked.
"You should ask him," Scott said. "I'm very, I'm very comfortable there will be a peaceful transition of power. There'll be no way in the world that's not going to happen."
Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado
"That's something I've talked about in speeches from my very first days when Nancy Pelosi peacefully handed the gavel over to John Boehner," Gardner said. "It's a hallmark of our democracy. And I've spoken at length about it in the past about the continued need to use that as a symbol of democracy."
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
"I would have the same concern when Hillary Clinton advised Biden not to concede the election," Grassley told reporters.
"We have a Constitution and the Constitution says when the presidency ends," he added. "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. Susan Collins of Maine
"The peaceful transfer of power is a fundamental tenet of our democracy," Collins said. "And I am confident that we will see it occur once again.
"I don't know what his thinking was, but we have always had a controlled transition between administrations. And I'm certain that if there's a change in administrations, that we have the calmness as well. It's fundamental to our democracy."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky
"Did you see my tweet?" McConnell asked reporters. "That pretty well sums it up."
—Leader McConnell (@senatemajldr) September 24, 2020
Update: This story had an incorrect transcript of Sen. Susan Collins' quote. It has been updated.
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