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Trump's election-rejection threat draws bipartisan slapdown

Residents outside the St. Louis County Board of

Residents outside the St. Louis County Board of Elections on Tuesday, the first day of in-person voting in Missouri. Credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP / Robert Cohen

'The president says crazy stuff'

When President Donald Trump says wild and objectionable things, most Republicans on Capitol Hill usually curl up in a didn't-read-it, didn't-hear-it, don't know-about-it crouch.

The larger numbers who spoke up Thursday about Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election to Joe Biden is a measure of how far over the line the president has gone. There was swift blowback from both parties in Congress, with Republican leaders putting it on the record. "The winner of the November 3 election will be inaugurated on January 20th," tweeted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792."

The Senate by unanimous consent passed a resolution affirming its commitment "to the orderly and peaceful transfer of power," warning that disrupting the process "could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States."

Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) added that his party would not stand idly by if Trump tried to stay in office after losing: "Republicans believe in the rule of law, and we believe in the Constitution. And that's what dictates our election process." Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) told reporters: "The president says crazy stuff. We've always had a peaceful transition of power. It's not going to change."

The Democratic reaction was predictably harsher. "He’s trying to have the Constitution of the United States swallow Clorox," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. "You are not in North Korea, you are not in Turkey. … You are in the United States of America," she said in a message to Trump. "It is a democracy."

Two House Democrats, Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan — both members of the Armed Services Committee — are formally asking members of Trump’s Cabinet to go on record and commit to upholding the Constitution and peaceful transition.

Trump on Thursday didn't take it back. "We want to make sure that the election is honest, and I’m not sure that it can be," he told reporters before leaving the White House for North Carolina, repeating his claims that mail-in ballots result in massive fraud. He said on Fox News Radio that if the Supreme Court said Biden was the winner, "that I would agree with, but I think we have a long way before we get there. These ballots are a horror show." He's openly calculating that getting his court nominee confirmed will help assure a ruling favorable to him.

Janison: Trump in denial

By refusing to admit what he already seems to know — that he could lose this election legitimately — Trump is up to his old tricks, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. In March 2016, he warned of mob violence on his behalf if he failed to secure the nomination at the GOP convention. "I think you’d have riots," Trump said. " … I’m representing a tremendous many, many millions of people."

Refusing to concede defeat may mean clinging to the White House as if it is one of his real estate properties. Could it come down to force and incitement of his most strident supporters? At no time has he encouraged the American people to simply trust the legal process.

Maybe Trump, who once belonged to the church of the late Rev. Norman Vincent Peale, is channeling Peale's "power of positive thinking" to cancel and deny the reality that he could lose a fair election. Or maybe it's the residue of his late lawyer-mentor Roy Cohn's reliance on evoking sinister plots.

Based on polls and Trump's past habits, it is plausible to consider this scenario: Early election results indicate he's lost, but he refuses to concede and runs to court as counts of mail-in ballots continue, stalling the inevitable. Ultimately, he faces the outcome under popular duress. But in this administration, darker alternatives always merit discussion.

FBI dubious about fraud

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate panel Thursday that he has "not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it's by mail or otherwise."

Despite claims by Trump and Attorney General William Barr to the contrary, Wray said it would be a "major challenge" for a foreign country to attempt such a thing, and he's seen no sign that any are trying. "Americans must have confidence in our voting system and our election infrastructure," Wray said.

Hours after Wray’s testimony, federal prosecutors in Pennsylvania issued a statement that they had found nine discarded military mail-in ballots for Trump. Then they issued a revised statement — seven were for Trump and two others were put back in envelopes without looking who got the vote. The circumstances under which they were discarded and recovered weren't clear, but Trump seized on the case to complain about "unsolicited" ballots, though absentee balloting from the military is the norm.

A Thursday evening letter from U.S. Attorney David Freed in Pennsylvania to the Luzerne County Board of Elections reported that some election staffers said they had opened ballots by mistake because the envelopes look similar to those used for absentee ballot requests.

A local Republican prosecutor said she was confident the incident wouldn't affect "the integrity of the election process," and Pennsylvania's Democratic attorney general said the case showed "all of us in law enforcement are doing our job." But Justice's disclosure on the Trump votes prompted suspicions the department was trying to bolster his arguments. Trump and other White House aides used the information even before it was made public, CNN reported.

Preexisting apparition

Trump on Thursday tried to shore up one of his biggest weaknesses with a symbolic pledge to protect people with preexisting conditions even if the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, as his administration is seeking.

He signed an executive order that declares it's national policy to protect coverage of people with preexisting conditions, without offering specifics. It would not have the practical strength of the existing law.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said the president’s order is not the equivalent of the health care law. "Should the administration succeed in its case to throw out the law, the executive order will offer no guaranteed patient protections in its place," said Lisa Lacasse, the group’s president.

In a bid for seniors' votes, Trump also vowed to send $200 discount cards for prescription drugs to 33 million older Americans. It was not clear where the $6.6 billion would come from or whether the White House could legally issue them.

In a rambling speech in North Carolina, he promised quality health care at affordable prices, lower prescription drug costs, more consumer choice and greater transparency. His executive order also would to try to end surprise medical bills.

This day in polling

Is Biden holding his leads, or is Trump gaining ground? There was a case to be made for both possibilities from the batch of polls released Thursday.

According to a Yahoo News/YouGov nationwide survey, Biden’s margin over Trump has shrunk from 10 points two weeks ago to 5 points now.

A Fox News poll of three crucial swing states showed Biden holding advantages of 11 points in Nevada, 7 points in Pennsylvania and 5 points in Ohio. The latter two states went for Trump in 2016. But a Quinnipiac University poll found Biden up by only 1 point in Ohio, while Trump had a 5-point lead in Texas.

Another poll with potential election implications showed declining public support for protests against racial injustice after months of periodic unrest. An Associated Press-NORC poll found 44% of Americans disapprove of demonstrations in response to police violence against Black Americans, while 39% approve. In June, 54% approved.

Cuomo: Don't trust Trump on vaccine

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said New York State health officials will review any federally approved coronavirus vaccines because he contends the Trump administration's development process has become too politicized to take its integrity for granted.

"Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion, and I wouldn't recommend to New Yorkers based on the federal government's opinion," Cuomo said Thursday, adding, "New York State will have its own review when the federal government has finished with their review and says its safe."

On Wednesday, the president said that if the Food and Drug Administration issues stricter guidelines for a COVID-19 vaccine, the White House might reject the policy. Trump suggested the FDA could be stalling for political reasons to thwart his aim of an approved vaccine by Election Day. Trump told a Jacksonville, Florida, rally Thursday night: "We will have a vaccine so soon, you won't even believe it."

See Newsday's roundup on Cuomo's announcement and the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Robert Brodsky.

More coronavirus news

For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • As Trump and first lady Melania Trump paid their respects outside the Supreme Court by the coffin of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, part of a crowd a block away chanted, "Vote him out!" and "Honor her wish!" Ginsburg's dying wish was that the winner of the election should choose the nominee to replace her.
  • Trump on Thursday offered sympathy to the family of Breonna Taylor, a day after the Kentucky attorney general announced that no police officer would directly face criminal charges over the Black woman's death in Louisville. "I think it's a sad thing, and I give my regards to the family of Breonna," he said.
  • Trump's boast of setting records in filling federal judgeships doesn't hold true, reports Newsday's Yancey Roy. Over the past 60 years, Jimmy Carter did the most in a four-year term. Trump ranks smack in the middle of the last nine presidential administrations.
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is forging ahead with a series of events that have political overtones ahead of the election, casting aside a long tradition of the nation’s top diplomat shunning partisan campaign-time activity, The Associated Press reported.
  • Biden received the endorsement of 489 former national security leaders from both parties, including Paul Selva, a retired four-star Air Force general and a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Trump.
  • Trump's niece, Mary L. Trump, filed a lawsuit Thursday claiming that she was squeezed out of the family business and that the president and his siblings cheated her out of tens of millions of dollars through fraudulent accounting. The defendants are Donald Trump, his sister Maryanne Trump Barry and the estate of his late brother Robert.

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