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22 Oct 2020 17:11
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  •   Home > News > International

    Republicans and Democrats have committed to a peaceful transfer of power. What if Donald Trump refuses to leave?

    Twice in 24 hours, Donald Trump has sparked controversy by refusing to commit to the peaceful transfer of power. Here's what's been said, and what we know about what happens if he refuses to leave in January.

    Twice in 24 hours, US President Donald Trump has refused to commit to the peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election on November 3.

    Election results have been contested in the past. Bitterly. But never has a president tried to remain in the White House once a result has been settled in favour of their opponent.

    Obviously, Donald Trump could still win the election on November 3.

    But if he doesn't, here's what we know about what might happen if he refuses to leave the Oval Office in January 2021.

    What did Trump actually say?

    Trump was asked by a reporter if he would commit to a "peaceful transfer of power" if he loses the election. Trump said in response:

    "We're going to have to see what happens. You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the [mail] ballots are a disaster. We want to get rid of the ballots and we'll have a very peaceful — there won't be a transfer frankly, there'll be a continuation," Mr Trump said.

    "The ballots are out of control and you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else."

    As he left the White House later, Mr Trump was again given a chance to answer the question. He said:

    "We want to make sure the election is honest and I'm not sure that it can be. I don't know that it can be with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots."

    Has he said things like this in the past?


    At the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump was asked to commit to accepting the result of the election. He said: "I will look at it at the time."

    In a June interview, Fox News's Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the results of the 2020 election.

    "I have to see. Look, you — I have to see. No, I'm not going to just say yes. I'm not going to say no, and I didn't last time either," Trump said.

    What's the reaction been from influential people?

    The day after the comments, Republicans and Democrats alike lined up to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and condemn the President for suggesting otherwise.

    Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shied away from directly criticising Trump, but said the winner of the November 3 election would be inaugurated on January 20.

    "There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792," he said.

    Democratic House Speaker Nancy Peolsi was blunt, telling Trump to "calm down".

    "You are not in North Korea, you are not in Turkey, you are not in Russia, Mr President. And by the way, you are not in Saudi Arabia. You are in the United States of America, it is a democracy. So why don't you just try for a moment to honour your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States," she said.

    White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought to clarify Trump's words, saying he "will accept the results of a free and fair election", but added that Trump wants to "get rid of mass, mail-out voting".

    Key Trump ally senator Lindsey Graham told Fox News that he would accept a Joe Biden election win.

    "If Republicans lose we will accept the result. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Joe Biden, I will accept that result," he said.

    Senator Elizabeth Warren called the comments a "threat to our democracy".

    The US Senate also passed a resolution by unanimous consent (meaning no senator opposed it) committing to a peaceful transfer of power.

    Whose job would it be to walk into the White House and remove him?

    The result of November's election could well be contested, but how it plays out is less of an easy scenario to predict.

    The margin of the election, the reaction from federal politicians, the actions of state governments, the reaction of Donald Trump's supporters all factor in what exactly happens next.

    But let's say it's simple: Imagine there is no doubt that Donald Trump loses the election. It's accepted by everyone but the President. What then?

    As prescribed by the 20th amendment of the US Constitution, the official start date for a new President's term is January 20th, 2021.

    All of Trump's authority ends on that date. So if he's still occupying the White House, the new president — the new commander-in-chief — could order federal agents like the Secret Service to remove him.

    At this point a private citizen, Trump would have no authority to order US agents to defend him. He'd have a Secret Service detail of his own, but one that still ultimately answers to the new occupant of the White House.

    And no longer with the immunity granted to him as president, Trump could then be criminally charged for, say, trespassing on government property.

    What if it's not a simple scenario?

    It's likely it won't be. And it's a question that doesn't have an easy answer.

    If Trump does not accept the election result, there's a good chance some of his supporters or allies in right-wing media outlets won't either.

    The US House of Representatives and the Senate could use their power to try to declare a result. A case could begin its route to the Supreme Court. It's possible some federal politicians would join in. And maybe that'd tip some state governments over the edge too.

    The only thing we know for sure that it could be a highly fluid situation, the likes of which we've yet to see and that legal experts in the US are suddenly debating with just 40 days to go until Americans go to the polls.

    © 2020 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved

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