Joe Biden has poured scorn on Donald Trump’s refusal to say he will leave office peacefully, calling it another “irrational” outburst from a president he has previously suggested may need to be escorted out of the White House.
Mr Biden was accompanied in his criticism by Republican senator Mitt Romney, who was the only GOP senator to vote against Mr Trump in his impeachment trial.
Mr Trump’s extraordinary refusal to commit to a non-violent surrender of the presidency came at a Wednesday evening press conference at the White House. Asked by a reporter whether he would peacefully acquiesce, he said that everything depended on whether the election is affected by the widespread mail-in ballot fraud he has forecasted, without providing evidence.
“Well we’re going to have to see what happens, you know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster –"
“I understand that,” the reporter pressed him, “but people are rioting. Will you commit to making sure there is a peaceful transferral of power?”
“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful – there won’t be a transfer, frankly, there’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control, you know it, and you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else.”
Asked by a press pack in Delaware how he read Mr Trump’s implication that there will only be peace after the election if he can “get rid of the ballots”, and that even then he will remain in power, Mr Biden was circumspect, but caustic.
“What country are we in?” said the former vice president. “I’m being facetious. Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say about it. But it doesn’t surprise me.”
Mr Biden’s campaign put out an official statement on Mr Trump’s remarks. “The American people will decide this election,” it said. “And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House.”
This echoed the candidate’s own words from June, when he said he felt assured that should Mr Trump refuse to leave office, he would be physically removed by the military. “I’m absolutely convinced they will escort him from the White House with great dispatch,” he said.
While most mainstream elected Republicans have yet to say anything about Mr Trump’s remarks, one senator has so far put his head above the parapet.
Mitt Romney, a periodic Trump critic who recently supported the president’s push to confirm a Supreme Court justice as soon as possible, tweeted that the peaceful transfer of power is “fundamental to democracy”.
“Without that,” he wrote, “there is Belarus.”
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.— Mitt Romney (@MittRomney) September 24, 2020
While the legal process of certifying the election results is complex and plays out over several weeks, Mr Trump’s term legally ends on 20 January – inauguration day – regardless of the result. If neither he nor Mr Biden has been certified the election winner by that point, the presidency passes to the the speaker of the House of Representatives, currently Nancy Pelosi.
Ms Pelosi appeared at a news conference on Wednesday to introduce a new bill, the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which is designed to curb presidential powers that the Democrats say Mr Trump has abused in office. Among other things, it would make it harder for the president to declare national emergencies.