United States President Donald Trump has made it clear that he has no plans to concede to Democratic president-elect Joe Biden anytime soon, having already launched lawsuits against several states citing unproven allegations of voter fraud.
Shortly after the Associated Press and various other organization declared Biden the projected winner on Saturday, Trump began floating baseless allegations of voter fraud on Twitter, adding that ballot observers in Pennsylvania, a key battleground state, were not allowed to watch the counting process.
“The American People are entitled to an honest election: that means counting all legal ballots, and not counting any illegal ballots,” Trump said in an online statement.
Trump has already pursued legal action against Pennsylvania and other key states already to determine if all legal votes were counted, despite Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Nevada maintaining a fair election process.
If he loses, Trump will be forced to come to terms with a Biden presidency. But what if he refuses to concede?
While the Republican president has no authority to stop his replacement once all the ballots are counted and submitted to the Senate, he can certainly make the transition of power a tiresome process until he’s booted out of office.
In the U.S., a president who lost an election still holds all of the powers of a sitting president until a new leader is sworn in — in this case, Jan. 20, a full 72 days away.
“He has the same powers today that he had last week, last month, last year” to make legislative decisions and continue to govern, said Graham Dodds, a Concordia University professor who specializes in U.S. politics.
If Trump “really wanted to get nasty,” though, Dodds said he could make the transition of power incredibly difficult for Biden by blocking transition funding, issue pardons for anybody on his team, try to pardon himself, encourage violent protesters or, in a highly unlikely event, ask state legislatures to “throw out the decision of their citizens in the election and then instead appoint electors to the Electoral College who would vote for him.”
However, assuming that doesn’t happen, come Jan. 20 he will lose all powers afforded to an active president and will have to leave the White House — whether he wants to or not.
“It’s not his decision whether or not to leave office. The office leaves him,” said Richard Johnston, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of British Columbia.
“He’ll be a private citizen with no right to be there in the future (and) if he’s obstructive, he’ll have to be escorted from the room.”
In the past, Shira Lurie, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Toronto’s Department of History, noted the U.S. has seen several close calls she dubs a “history of near-misses, including the 2000 U.S. election, and the election of 1800.
“Politicians and individuals, both in office and around them, have decided that the system working properly is more important than their individual hold on power,” she said.
Concession is not required by law or mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but it marks a tradition of sportsmanship among presidential competitors that helps maintain the balance of political discourse.
“It signals to supporters of the losing candidate that we fought, we tried, but the government needs to go on,” said Renan Levine, a political science professor with the University of Toronto.
“That Donald Trump doesn’t want to play by those rules, doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of following these norms for society to work well or prioritizing his ego over these norms… it’s just really unfortunate.”
In order for power to successfully transition from one leader to the next, all of the votes must be counted by each state and presented to both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Once Biden takes his oath of office, his appointees will need confirmation from the Senate.
Typically, Levine said at least one high-ranking official in each department remains with the new administration to ensure a smooth transition.
“That process needs to happen or there is going to be an uncertain period which could have security implications, which could have climate implications or could just have problems with, say, people not receiving their paycheques because no one is there to sign the authorization form,” he said.