By EVAN MCMURRY, JORDYN PHELPS and LAUREN LANTRY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump declined to commit to a peaceful transfer of power following November’s election during a press conference on Wednesday.
Asked if he will leave the White House peacefully, if he loses the election, Trump responded, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens. You know that.”
JUST IN: Asked if he’d “commit to making sure that there is a peaceful transferral of power after the election,” Pres. Trump says, “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.” https://t.co/JsAo4rBy2e pic.twitter.com/8haEyDVsdx
— ABC News (@ABC) September 23, 2020
The president then shifted to a subject he has frequently brought up: ballots. For months, Trump has sought to undermine confidence in mail-in voting as the country grapples with how to safely cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster,” the president said.
When pressed for a second time if he would “commit to making sure that there’s a peaceful transferral of power,” Trump again turned to ballots.
“We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly,” Trump said. “There’ll be a continuation.”
He then pivoted back to the ballots, saying, “the ballots are out of control. You know it. You know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know better than anybody else.”
Trump’s lack of commitment to a peaceful transfer of power is unprecedented. A peaceful transition is a key aspect of American democracy. Even President Richard Nixon, during his first Inaugural Address in 1969, commented on the peaceful transfer of power, saying, “In the orderly transfer of power, we celebrate the unity that keeps us free.”
In response to Trump’s comments on committing to a peaceful transition of power, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign is referring reporters back to a statement issued on July 19, when Trump gave a similar answer about accepting the results of the election to Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
“The American people will decide this election,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said in the statement. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
On Wednesday night, Biden gave a brief response on the tarmac in Delaware, to Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power regardless of the result of the election.
“What country are we in? I’m being facetious. I said, what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I… I don’t know what to say about it, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Biden said.
Utah Sen. Mitt Romney also commented on the president’s words, writing on Twitter Wednesday evening, “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”
This is not the first time Trump has stoked baseless fears of widespread voter fraud with mail-in ballots. He has frequently brought it up during rallies and on Twitter, which the social media platform has flagged marking the tweets as a violation of its “Civic Integrity Policy.”
During an interview with Fox News earlier this year, Trump didn’t commit to accepting the election results either, saying “I have to see.”
The president’s comments on Wednesday came just hours after protests began in Louisville, Kentucky and across the country, when a grand jury indicted only one officer for allegedly endangering the neighbors of Breonna Taylor during the police shooting that killed her.
The summer was also filled with tension and unrest following the death of George Floyd, and outrage peaked as Trump deployed federal law enforcement to quiet protests in cities throughout the nation.
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