President Donald Trump’s stunning refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power was mostly dismissed by Republicans on Capitol Hill, with many downplaying the remarks as merely rhetoric and others deflecting questions about a comment that Democrats fear could threaten a fundamental principle of American democracy.
“The President says crazy stuff. We’ve always had a peaceful transition of power. It’s not going to change,” said Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who has been an occasional critic of the President.
While Republicans insisted there would be a peaceful transition, many did not go so far as to explicitly criticize his remarks after Trump on Wednesday would not commit to providing a peaceful transition of power after Election Day, lending further fuel to concerns he may not relinquish his office should he lose in November.
House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday insisted there will be a peaceful transition, but also suggested he is not concerned by the remarks.
“Let me be very clear to you: It’ll be peaceful,” McCarthy said, adding, “no questions, no qualms, no concerns, it’s going to be peaceful.”
Trump’s comments amounted to a familiar pattern on Capitol Hill: Stoking a controversy, and putting Republicans in a jam. But this time, he stoked fears about a basic tenet of democracy, forcing Republicans to weigh in and insist the election results will be adhered to — even if many didn’t want take him on by name.
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, told CNN that he and other Republicans would stand up to Trump if he tried an extra-constitutional power grab.
“Republicans believe in the rule of law, we believe in the Constitution, and that’s what dictates what happens (in) … our election process and so yes,” Thune said when asked if he is confident that Republicans would not permit a non-peaceful transfer power to occur.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rarely weighs in on controversial Trump comments, but did so on Thursday, although he didn’t single out the President.
“The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792,” McConnell, who is running for reelection this cycle in Kentucky, tweeted Thursday morning.
Mitt Romney of Utah, the lone Senate Republican to break ranks and vote to convict during the President’s impeachment trial, however, went the furthest and was sharply critical of the President’s message, though he did not refer to him by name in his response.
“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,” Romney tweeted Wednesday evening, referencing the disputed presidential elections in Belarus.
Read more Republican reactions here.