US President Donald Trump offered his most explicit acknowledgement of defeat in November’s election on Thursday, pledging to work with Joe Biden’s transition team and calling for national unity, a day after crowds violently laid siege to the Capitol Building in his name.
“We have just been through an intense election and emotions are high,” Trump said in a pre-recorded video message. “But now, tempers must be cooled and calm restored.”
For weeks, Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that the presidential election was stolen from him, deepening fractures not only between Democrats and Republicans but also within his own party.
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Trump’s campaign to undo his defeat was dealt its final blow in the early hours of Thursday morning, when the US Congress officially ratified the results of the Electoral College vote, following the previous day’s unprecedented and fatal violence within its halls.
With lawmakers having officially certified the election outcome, Trump said on Thursday that his focus “now turns to ensuring a smooth, orderly and seamless transition of power”, without mentioning president-elect Biden by name.
But in a sign that Trump may be considering another run for president in 2024, he closed the message by telling supporters that he and their “incredible journey is only just beginning”.
Posted to Twitter soon after his account was restored following a temporary suspension, Trump’s address came amid mounting charges from both Democrats and Republicans that his own rhetoric had led supporters to commit Wednesday’s acts of violence.
Congressional Democrats have called on Vice-President Mike Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment – a provision that unseats the president should they be deemed unfit for office – and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has threatened impeachment.
On Thursday, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, which generally leans conservative, called for Trump to resign over his incitement of the crowd and delayed response to the crisis.
Just hours before the attack, Trump had told supporters that if they did not “fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country any more”, and called on them to march to the Capitol. Those remarks followed a call by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for a “trial by combat”.
Wednesday’s clashes between Trump supporters and Capitol police led to five deaths and numerous injuries. A Capitol police officer died from injuries sustained in the assault, the force said late on Thursday.
In Thursday’s address, Trump took no responsibility for the day’s events, calling the attack on the legislature “heinous” and asserting that those who had engaged in acts of violence “do not represent our country”.
That marked a drastic departure from remarks he made a day earlier, calling those besieging the Capitol Building “very special” and saying he loved them.
On Wednesday, he had also vowed that he would “never concede”, contrasting starkly with his unequivocal acknowledgement of defeat on Thursday.
The de facto concession speech came as he haemorrhaged support from within his own inner circle, with a number of White House officials and one cabinet secretary, transportation chief Elaine Chao, resigning following Wednesday’s events.
Among the White House staff who left, multiple US outlets reported, was deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, considered one of the architects of the Trump administration’s hawkish China policy. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also resigned, claiming Trump’s “rhetoric” was an “inflection point”.
Four other senior advisers also resigned: Erin Walsh, senior director for African affairs; Mark Vandroff, senior director for defence policy; Anthony Rugierro, senior director for weapons of mass destruction; and Rob Greenway, senior director for Middle Eastern and North African affairs.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, known as staunch loyalists to Trump, conducted exploratory discussions about invoking the 25th Amendment, CNBC reported Thursday.
In his address, Trump also claimed falsely that he had “immediately” deployed the National Guard to the Capitol, a characterisation of events contradicted by multiple reports that he initially resisted sending troops to secure the building. And contrary to his denunciation of the attacks on Thursday, Trump had watched footage of the unfolding chaos with glee, according to The New York Times.
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