In the nearly three weeks since the election, Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried to walk a fine line between possibly triggering a president who insists, without evidence, he won the Nov. 3 vote and appearing in denial about the election outcome.
To walk this line, Republicans have taken a variety of approaches, ranging from full-throated declarations that Trump, apparent electoral votes not withstanding, may yet be sworn in, to statements that Biden will likely be the next president but Trump is within his rights to exhaust his legal remedies, to publicly urging Trump to concede and start the transition process.
Retiring lawmakers, who have less to fear from a stray Trump tweet taunting them, have been the most prominent in the “begin the transition” statements, while others who may be up for reelection in 2022 or who harbor hopes to run for the White House in 2024 have been the most likely to take the White House’s defense.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican up for reelection in 2022, had the most curt reply, when asked earlier this month why he had not congratulated Joe Biden.
“Nothing to congratulate him about yet,” Johnson told reporters.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who won his reelection race, said his standard for calling Biden the president-elect has nothing to do with Biden.
“When Trump concedes or the court cases have been dismissed and the states certified,” Graham said Tuesday.
But as the Trump legal team has racked up courtroom losses and the political pressure for Trump to concede and for the presidential transition to begin has increased, some are combining play-out-the-string with let’s-move-on sentiments.
“I don’t think this is an attack on our democracy. We spent four years listening to news shows and liberals trying to discredit the Trump administration,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
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“Everyone just relax and let it play out in a legal way. We’ll be just fine.”
He also said, though, that it was time for the transition to begin, even as Trump has been publicly asking why Biden is naming incoming cabinet secretaries.
“It’s past time to start a transition, to at least cooperate with the transition. I would rather have a president that has more than one day to prepare should Joe Biden end up winning,” Cramer said.
Sen. Josh Hawley, the Missouri Republican who has been cited as a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, told reporters Friday that Trump was within his rights to press his claims.
“By all means, submit it to a court. That’s why we have the process and work through,” he said.
When asked if he thought Trump could win, Hawley replied, “Anything’s possible.”
And some Republicans, often those not facing voters again, have been most direct in saying Trump should concede.
“If there is any chance whatsoever that Joe Biden will be the next president, and it looks like he has a very good chance, the Trump Administration should provide the Biden team with all transition materials, resources, and meetings necessary to ensure a smooth transition so that both sides are ready on day one,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on Friday.
“My hope is that the loser of this presidential election will follow Al Gore’s example, put the country first, congratulate the winner and help him to a good beginning of the new term.”
While Alexander declined to run for reelection this year, two senators facing voters in 2022, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio, have joined his call.
“Each state has worked to ensure a free and fair elections process. President Trump has had the opportunity to litigate his claims and the courts have thus far found them without merit,” Murkowksi said Sunday in a statement. “It is time to begin the full and formal transition process.”
Portman, writing in a Cincinnati paper Monday, called for the vote to be finalized by Dec. 8.
“I voted for President Trump, was a co-chair of his campaign in Ohio, and I believe his policies would be better for Ohio and the country,” he wrote.
“But I also believe that there is no more sacred constitutional process in our great democracy than the orderly transfer of power after a presidential election.”