A handful of Republicans are beginning to speak out about President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of fraud in the presidential election, with GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Pat Toomey the latest to bat away Trump’s rhetoric as the presidency slips away from him.
Though generally mild in their criticisms, many top elected officials are refusing to echo Trump’s attacks on the electoral system and mail-in ballots. Trump complained he "won" several swing states in which Biden is leading him on Friday morning, claiming he will take it to the Supreme Court and that "there’s going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence, so much proof."
"Voter fraud is poison to self-government, so these are major allegations," said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). "If the president’s legal team has real evidence, they need to present it immediately to both the public and the courts. In the meantime, all legal votes need to be counted."
But most of the Republican pushback has come from predictable corners: lawmakers who are retiring, already out of office or have already earned reputations for being Trump critics. And some top Republicans such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have raced to defend Trump, illustrating his tight grip on the party and suggesting a GOP-led intervention isn’t coming anytime soon.
Fresh off reelection to a fifth six-year term in Maine, Collins said that “states have the authority to determine the specific rules of elections. Every valid vote under a state’s law should be counted. Allegations of irregularities can be adjudicated by the courts. We must all respect the outcome of elections.”
Collins has been one of the few Republicans willing to regularly — and publicly — criticize Trump.
And Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who didn’t back Trump’s reelection bid and voted to remove him from office during the Senate’s impeachment trial, said in a statement that the president "is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt or stolen — doing so damages the cause of freedom here and around the world, weakens the institutions that lie at the foundation of the Republic, and recklessly inflames destruction and dangerous passions.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is in GOP leadership and oversees inaugurations as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, urged patience from voters and the media, saying that "the president should turn this discussion over to his lawyers. And if they have a case to make, there’s a process where they make that." He also said that it’s reasonable to expect Trump would want to see more official results, but also for Biden to accept the mantle of presumptive president in the interim if news organizations begin calling the election for him.
"I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the president to wait for that number to be apparent. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable for Vice President Biden to accept the unofficial result and do whatever he thinks he should do. Part of the obligation of leadership is you should always have in your mind: ‘How do I leave?’" Blunt told reporters at the Capitol.
Blunt’s remarks exemplified the careful way most in the party are approaching the issue. Trump is likely to hang around Republican politics for years, still holding power over GOP primaries and potentially the 2024 Senate race. So while Republicans said they would generally accept the election result, few directly took on Trump in their responses to his over-the-top statements.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) put out a tweet on Friday morning saying: "Here’s how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted." And no matter how many times he was pressed by reporters in Kentucky about the presidential election, he demurred.
"I know it’s reasonable for you to ask, but I get to decide what I say," McConnell said. "It won’t make a difference how many times you ask."
Still, some Republicans seemed unburdened enough to more explicitly rap Trump.
Toomey (R-Pa.), who is retiring in two years, said Trump’s remarks were "very hard to watch" and that his allegations "are just not substantiated." Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) said on Twitter said all allegations of fraud must be taken to court: "STOP Spreading debunked misinformation… This is getting insane."
A trio of retiring Republicans — Reps. Denver Riggleman, Paul Mitchell and Will Hurd — also rebuked Trump over his misleading claims.
Still, some in the GOP joined Trump’s criticisms of states’ voting systems after Donald Trump Jr. bashed top Republicans for not more closely defending the president. McCarthy has claimed, for example, that Trump won the election, though he trails Biden in the Electoral College tally by a significant margin.
"President Trump won this election,” McCarthy falsely said on Fox News. “So everyone who is listening, do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes.”
Other top Republicans have tip-toed around criticizing Trump, not mentioning him by name and instead calling for all legal votes to be counted, even though no one is suggesting otherwise.
House GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 House Republican who has been a vocal Trump critic especially on national security and foreign policy issues, so far has only retweeted McConnell’s statement about counting votes.
But plenty in the GOP were eager to back up Trump. “Hoax after hoax. Fake impeachments, scandals, and controversies. And yet, this has been in the works for some time and it’s as real as it gets,” tweeted Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.). “Count every legal vote, period."
And Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), the head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said “the election isn’t over until every legal vote is counted," adding: “I’m standing with President @realDonaldTrump to ensure that this happens.”
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