Speaking from the White House, Trump baselessly accused Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his party of trying to steal the election, casting doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots that appear to have been overwhelmingly cast for the former vice-president.
“This is a case where they’re trying to steal an election, they’re trying to rig an election, and we can’t let that happen,” Trump said, providing no evidence of the party’s alleged corruption.
The president complained that states where he was leading on election night are now showing a far smaller gap between himself and Biden, including Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” he said as legal votes were being counted across the country. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
Trump’s comments ignored that for months, he urged his supporters to vote in person, rather than by mail — leaving Democrats to represent that vast majority of mailed-in ballots.
Over 100 million Americans voted prior to election day, including over 63 million by mail, due to extra precautions recommended by health officials during the coronavirus pandemic.
That has left battleground states like Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and others with a deluge of ballots that has taken extra time to count. Some of those states say they still have hundreds of thousands of ballots to go through — all of which were cast before the polls closed Tuesday night.
Trump also promised “a lot of litigation” over the results, suggesting again he will go to the Supreme Court, a threat he made on the night of the election. It’s unclear what argument Trump would bring to the high court, which does not hear direct challenges.
There have also not been any reported instances of widespread voter fraud in any states, despite Trump’s claims to the contrary.
Biden is currently leading Trump in electoral college votes by 264 to 214, according to a tally by the Associated Press. The former vice-president is currently leading in Nevada, whose six electoral votes would secure him the presidency.
Biden, who has appealed for calm as the count continues, said in a tweet after Trump’s speech that “no one is going to take our democracy away from us. Not now, not ever.”
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The president complained about the electoral process even while noting Republican achievements further down the ballot. No Republicans lost seats in the House of Representatives, while the party is expected to retain its slim majority in the Senate despite a Democratic push.
Vice President Mike Pence took to Twitter in a show of support of Trump’s statements, saying he “stands with” the president and called for “every LEGAL vote” to be counted, despite Trump complaining about the legal vote count itself.
Yet Trump’s comments were also rebuked by some select Republicans in both chambers of Congress, as well as at least one close advisor to the president.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally who is an analyst for ABC News, said there was no basis for Trump’s argument. Christie called Trump’s attack on the integrity of the election “a bad strategic decision” and “a bad political decision, and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make … who holds the position he holds.”
“We heard nothing today about any evidence,” he said. “This kind of thing, all it does is inflame without informing. And we cannot permit inflammation without information.”
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, the only senator in his party to vote for Trump’s removal from office after his impeachment, didn’t call out Trump directly but urged Americans to “have faith in democracy.”
“Counting every vote is at the heart of democracy,” Romney said. “That process is often long and, for those running, frustrating. The votes will be counted.”
There were harsher words from both state Republicans and past members of Congress, including former senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who said Trump’s statements were “unacceptable. Period.” He also called on other Republicans to speak out.
William Cogswell, who on Tuesday was elected to South Carolina’s state legislature, said he was “embarrassed” by what Trump said.
Top Republicans like recently re-elected Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have not yet spoken publicly on Trump’s statements.
Before the press conference Thursday, McConnell told reporters that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting.” His office declined to comment Thursday evening.
On Wednesday, McCarthy reacted to questions about Trump’s past false statements about the vote count by saying the reporter’s questions “never change” and accusing reporters of wanting Trump to lose the election.
“What (the president) wants to make sure is that every legal vote is counted,” he said.