WASHINGTON – Some Republican lawmakers on Thursday criticized President Donald Trump’s unsupported claim that Democrats are trying to “steal” the election, saying Trump's comments undermine the U.S. political process and the bedrock notion that all Americans should have their vote counted.
Trump, who has complained for weeks about mail-in ballots, escalated his allegations late Thursday, saying at the White House that the ballot-counting process is unfair and corrupt. Trump did not back up his claims with any details or evidence, and state and federal officials have not reported any instances of widespread voter fraud.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, tweeted that the president's claims of fraud are “getting insane.” If Trump has “legit” concerns about fraud, they need to be based on evidence and taken to court, Kinzinger said, adding, “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation.”
Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful who has often criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”
“No election or person is more important than our Democracy,” Hogan said on Twitter.
Other criticism, though less direct, came from members of Congress. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who spoke at a recent Trump campaign rally, said in a tweet that if any candidate believes “a state is violating election laws they have a right to challenge it in court & produce evidence in support of their claims.''
Rubio said earlier: “Taking days to count legally cast votes is NOT fraud. And court challenges to votes cast after the legal voting deadline is NOT suppression.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., the party's presidential nominee in 2012, sought to provide a reassuring note. Counting votes is often “long” and “frustrating,” Romney said.
If any irregularities are alleged, “they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts,″ Romney tweeted. “Have faith in democracy, our Constitution and the American people.”
The comments by the Republican lawmakers and other GOP leaders were rare, public rebukes of Trump, who has demanded — and generally received — loyalty from fellow Republicans throughout his four-year term. Most in the GOP take pains to avoid directly criticizing Trump, even when they find his conduct unhelpful or offensive to their values and goals.
Trump’s tweets earlier Thursday declaring victory and calling for officials to “STOP THE COUNT” were a test of how strongly he can keep Republicans in line as he tries to challenge the voting process in court.
Before Trump's speech in the White House briefing room, several Republicans challenged his attempts to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally who won reelection Tuesday in Kentucky, told reporters that “claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting.” His office declined to comment after Trump's address Thursday.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, urged “everyone to be patient'' as results come in. "It is critical that we give election officials time to complete their jobs, and that we ensure all lawfully cast ballots are allowed and counted,'' she said in a statement.
Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican who did not seek reelection, called Trump's comments about corruption “dangerous” and “wrong.'' Trump's remarks undermine the U.S. political process and “the very foundation this nation was built upon,'' Hurd said. "Every American should have his or her vote counted.''
While Biden was close Thursday to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, it was unclear when a national winner would be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on Americans and the national economy.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told The Associated Press earlier Thursday he hopes Republicans step up their response to Trump's unsubstantiated claims. While Republicans may want to give Trump time to "make his arguments," when it becomes clear that claims are without basis, “My hope is that Republicans will put public and private pressure on him,” Murphy said.
But one of Trump’s top congressional supporters said he supports efforts to question the vote counting process and is donating money to shore up legal challenges. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Thursday night he would donate $500,000 to the president’s “legal defense fund” and urged people to go to the Trump campaign’s website to pitch in.
Rep. Denver Riggleman, a Virginia Republican who lost a GOP primary this year, addressed Trump directly on Twitter: “Count every vote, yes, but stop the Bravo Sierra, Mr. President, and respect the democratic process that makes America great.” Riggleman, a former Air Force officer, was using a military euphemism for falsehoods.
In remarks Wednesday at the White House, Trump baselessly claimed victory and alleged “major fraud on our nation” as state election officials continued counting ballots amid a huge increase in voter turnout.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally who is an analyst for ABC News, said there was no basis for Trump's argument. Christie called Trump's attack on the integrity of the election “a bad strategic decision” and "a bad political decision, and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make ... who holds the position he holds.”
Trump's family, never shy about expressing their support, took to Twitter to question why GOP lawmakers were not rushing to the president's defense. “Where are Republicans! Have some backbone. Fight against this fraud. Our voters will never forget you if your sheep!” Trump's son Eric tweeted.
Some GOP governors responded. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the president to “Fight on, exhaust all options." South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem tweeted that Trump was fighting “rigged election systems.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said states administer U.S. elections, not the federal government. "We should respect that process and ensure that all ballots cast in accordance with state laws are counted. It’s that simple,” Portman said in a statement.
“It’s best for everyone to step back from the spin and allow the vote counters to do their job,” added Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro in Washington and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.