GOP sees Trump's election challenges as likely to fail and urges White House to take steps towards transition
Posted November 12, 2020 6:00 p.m. EST
CNN — Cracks are growing in the GOP defense of President Donald Trump's long-shot effort to overturn the 2020 election outcome, with many top Republicans contending that Joe Biden should immediately get national security briefings, some calling for the official transition process to begin and others are acknowledging that Trump stands little chance at reversing results clearly showing he lost.
Republicans say they are willing to give Trump a chance to make his case in court. But they fully recognize that Trump is losing by margins in key battleground states that make his chances of success in his legal cases extremely grim at best. Many have grown unnerved at his purge of top national security officials. And others are making clear that Trump should concede the race once it's evident that he's lost his court challenges.
Some are even willing to now consider Biden "president-elect," a title few Republicans have been willing to say publicly as Trump baselessly claims the election has been rigged.
"Sure," Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, said when asked if she considers Biden "president-elect."
While Capito says there's a "process" for legal challenges, she added that she hoped the process would resolve itself quickly -- "inside a week or so."
"It looks like a difficult mountain for the President," she said of his legal case.
Capito is not alone. Many Republicans privately recognize that Biden will soon be President, and they are hoping that Trump will concede the race once it's clear his legal challenges are collapsing -- and once key states have certified the results.
A top Republican source, who has been in touch with Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, said Republicans are eying the certification dates of Arizona on November 30 and Georgia on November 20 -- two states with Republican governors where Biden is now leading in the vote tallies -- as key moments. If the states certify the results as Biden victories, then Trump will have little recourse but to concede, they believe, though no one knows what the President will do for sure.
"I think it's a very narrow road," Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said when asked about Trump's chances at reversing the election's outcome.
Indeed, with Trump losing by tens of thousands of votes in key states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Nevada -- and nearly 150,000 votes in Michigan -- even Trump's staunchest supporters believe that the President should concede the race if he can't prove widespread voter fraud in court. What's less clear is what would happen if Trump refuses to step aside if courts reject his claim.
"My guess is it's a heavy lift, but I don't know," said Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican and top Trump defender, when asked about the President's efforts to overturn the results by alleging mass voter fraud and impropriety at the polls.
Asked if Trump should concede if he loses in court, Johnson said: "Yeah. The court should have the final say in these things."
The pressure is also growing on Trump to ease the course of the transition to Biden, even as he pursues his court challenges. So, far the General Services Administration has not signed off on the official paperwork to release funds for Biden's transition.
But Sen. Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota who is a close ally of Trump's, said: "I would" when asked if the GSA should sign the necessary transition paperwork.
"I just think we ought to be cooperating," Cramer told CNN. "I think you can cooperate with a transition -- a peaceful transition -- while also contesting in appropriate legal ways."
Cramer added of Trump's court cases: "I think it's likely that we're going to find a whole bunch of fraud, and it wouldn't be enough to overturn the election."
In particular, Republicans are growing most unnerved by the White House's refusal so far to allow Biden to receive access to presidential daily briefings to provide the President-elect with the latest information about national security threats that he will have to confront once assuming the White House. The bipartisan 9/11 Commission reported that the contested 2000 election and the shortened transition ahead of George W. Bush's inauguration contributed to the lack of preparedness by the United States ahead of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
"You don't lose any of your rights in court by making available to a potential successor the information they would need if in fact it goes in that direction," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Thursday. "In all those domestic issues, you might have a few weeks or months. But on national security, our adversaries don't wait for presidents to catch up."
A number of other top Republicans -- Senate Majority Whip John Thune, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and Sen. Chuck Grassley, the president pro tempore -- all made clear that Biden should begin getting classified briefings, as did other Trump allies, such as Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, and periodic Trump critics like Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
"Well, I think that it probably makes sense to prepare for all contingencies," Thune said when asked if Biden should get briefings. "And as these election challenges play out in court, I don't have a problem with, and I think it's important from a national security standpoint, continuity. And you've seen other members suggesting that. I think that makes sense."
As many expect his court cases to fall short, Republicans are watching with alarm as the lame-duck President purges top national security officials at the Pentagon, including the ousted Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
"I don't like last-minute changes," said Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe said when asked about his concerns about the firing.
"I don't think it helps him. And I don't think it helps the country," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate GOP leadership, said of the Esper firing, referring to Trump.
GOP looks to key deadlines as they expect Trump concession
The pressure for Trump to concede will likely grow as key battleground states face deadlines to certify their vote results. For instance, Michigan and Pennsylvania share a certification deadline of November 23, while Wisconsin has to do it by December 1.
"States are going to have to at some point basically say the election's over," Thune said. "It's different in various states, but we'll have a much better sense I think in the next few weeks of where things stand."
While Trump can try to block the certification by convincing judges there's evidence of wrongdoing, there is another deadline looming that will further drive the process: December 8, the deadline for states to resolve any disputes over the counting of their votes, something that comes six days before the members of the Electoral College formally cast their ballots.
Then on December 14, electors meet in their state capitals to cast their ballots. These results must then be delivered by December 23 to Vice President Mike Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, and other officials.
"I think the President is entitled to pursue a recount and pursue all the legal avenues," Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP's presidential nominee who didn't vote for Trump in the election, said Thursday. "But in the final analysis, Joe Biden will be the President barring some surprise."
On January 6, a joint session of Congress meets to formally count the ballots and be prepared to resolve any final challenges to the results. Pence would preside over that session and announce the names of the winners.
Those winners would then be sworn-in on January 20.
Asked what would happen if Trump still doesn't concede the race if his lawsuits fail and once the states begin certifying the results, Capito said: "That's a different scenario. We'll have to wait and see if that's what actually occurs."