GOP leaders press Trump team to detail fraud charges as they cautiously navigate the President
Posted November 6, 2020 3:45 p.m. EST
CNN — GOP leaders are nervously watching President Donald Trump's erratic handling of an election that's slipping away from him, delicately urging him and his team to clearly make a specific case about voting impropriety or accept the will of the American public.
As they watch Trump make one unfounded claim after another, Republicans are worried about the lasting ramifications from the President's meritless barrage of attacks against a cornerstone of US democracy -- especially as they gear up for two months of intense battling over possibly two hugely consequential races in Georgia that will determine the next Senate majority.
But top Republicans are also treading cautiously around a mercurial president who holds enormous sway with their party's base, with many unwilling to directly challenge his dubious claims and instead urging him to make his case in greater detail.
GOP sources said Friday that the idea is to give Trump and his team a chance to make their case and allow the disputes to work themselves out in the courts, arguing that if the lawsuits fall flat, then Trump will have little choice but to concede the election without their having to confront him.
"It is incumbent upon the Trump administration to make specific cases of voter irregularity," said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Senate Judiciary chairman who also defended Trump's meritless claims of potential fraud. "They're looking through the voter files now," predicting more details in the next 48 hours.
Republican leaders are approaching him gingerly. Some like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy are publicly defending his claims, while others like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are trying to tow a middle ground. McConnell, a cautious but deliberate leader, carefully crafted a public message about Trump's allegations that respects the concerns of the President and his ardent supporters but doesn't back their nebulous charges of election fraud. On Friday, McConnell refused to say anything else besides his delicately worded statement.
Republicans argue that it's now up to the President to provide the public with details about claims of widespread voting fraud in several crucial states that have put former Vice President Joe Biden on the cusp of the Presidency.
"I think the President should turn this discussion over to his lawyers," said Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri, whose committee oversees elections. "And if they have a case to make, there's a process where they make that and that processes is timely."
Blunt, a member of Senate GOP leadership, added: "Part of the obligation of leadership is you should always have in your mind how do I leave? ... And we will have a transition. And I think this will all be settled within the next 10 days or so."
The comments are a departure from Trump's stunning remarks at the White House briefing room Thursday night, where he made one false claim after another, while denying election results that show him on track to becoming the first one-term President since George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992.
"This is a case where they're trying to steal an election, they're trying to rig an election, and we can't let that happen," Trump said, providing no evidence and leaving without taking any questions.
The comments prompted concerns from a number of Republicans who are not a part of their party's leadership.
"He is wrong to say that the election was rigged, corrupt and stolen," said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 presidential nominee. "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 destructive and dangerous passions."
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who appears on track to prevail in a bruising reelection campaign, seemed to take issue with Trump's comments.
"States have the authority to determine the specific rules of elections," Collins said Friday. "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."
The President's team has filed lawsuits in several states raising a variety of concerns although most have failed to get traction with the state and federal judges who have reviewed them. Several suits have dealt with concerns that canvass watchers have not been able to stand close enough to the people counting the ballots to be able to reasonably observe the process. Others have dealt with the handling of provisional and absentee ballots and other issues.
On Friday, lawyers for the Pennsylvania Republicans asked the US Supreme Court to order the state not to "log, to segregate, and otherwise not to take any action" on ballots received after the election," something that has been a repeated issue raised by the President.
McConnell is hearing the concerns voiced from different corners of his conference -- and is keenly aware of the thorny situation his party confronts. If the matter spirals further out of control, some Republicans worry it could put as many as two Georgia Senate seats in danger if voters revolt and help Democrats pick up votes in the January 5 runoff, something that would hand Democrats control of the chamber under a Biden presidency (CNN has so far only called one of Georgia's Senate races as going to a runoff as Republican Sen. David Perdue hovers just below the 50% threshold as of Friday afternoon).
In a Friday morning tweet, McConnell reiterated a point he made all week, that any legitimate disputes over the vote count should be resolved in the courts, a place where election outcomes can be decided without the fingerprints of politicians like him.
"Here's how this must work in our great country: Every legal vote should be counted. Any illegally-submitted ballots must not. All sides must get to observe the process. And the courts are here to apply the laws & resolve disputes. That's how Americans' votes decide the result," McConnell said on Twitter.
At a news conference in Frankfort, Kentucky later in the morning, he refused repeated attempts by reporters to push him off that script, or discuss his conversations with the Trump.
"I've covered the subject this morning," he said referring back to his tweet about the courts. "It will be settled, as I pointed out in the tweet, in exactly the way these matters are always settled."
Worn by years of carefully avoiding questions from the press that might trigger angry reactions from Trump, McConnell, who was reelected to a seventh term Tuesday, had a knowing laugh when a reporter argued that it was "reasonable" to ask the Senate majority leader to weigh in on such an important matter.
"I know it's reasonable for you to ask, but I get to decide what I say," McConnell responded.