WASHINGTON (CN) — When asked directly if he would commit to a peaceful transition of power should the 2020 election not fall in his favor, President Donald Trump refused to answer before exiting a White House press briefing for an “emergency call.”
“We’ll have to see what happens. You know that. I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster,” Trump said to reporters gathered for the semi-regular press conference held at the White House.
Brian Karem, a senior White House reporter for Playboy framed the question succinctly, asking Trump “win lose or draw” if he would ensure the tradition of a peaceful and democratic transferral of power would occur.
Appearing to reference mail in ballots — which the president has baselessly and ubiquitously alleged are entirely rife with fraud — Trump fumbled over his response to Karem.
“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very trans — you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer frankly. There will be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it and you know who knows it better than anyone else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else,” Trump said.
Without much warning, Trump then exited for an “emergency call.” He did not elaborate. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump has made comments in the same vein before, challenging not only social norms around the American presidency but the constitutional law enshrining it.
In Wisconsin on Aug. 17, Trump told a faithful crowd: “We are going to win four more years and then after that, we’ll go for another four years because they spied on my campaign.”
That allegation was debunked by former Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz.
“We should get a redo of four years,” Trump said.
He made an identical comment during a stump in Arizona a day later.
Weeks before, Trump tested the idea on Twitter stating mail-in voting would trigger the most “inaccurate & fraudulent Election in history.”
“It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote,” Trump tweeted.
The Constitution bars presidents from serving beyond two consecutive terms. Trump has been undeterred.
Historically, the former reality-TV-star has brushed off criticism of his comments, saying he was “joking.”
Last June, on “Meet the Press” Trump told host Chuck Todd he references abolishing term limits for the presidency to drive the media “crazy.”
But a year before that, in private remarks recorded and shared with CNN, he seemed to embrace the idea.
At a Florida fundraiser in the wake of China’s President Xi Jinping’s successful move to abolish presidential term limits in the country, Trump remarked: “He’s president for life now. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that.”
Texas Democrat Al Green, the first lawmaker in the House calling for Trump’s impeachment, said in a phone interview Wednesday that given the number of times Trump has referred to staying in office beyond his term, people are right to have a “good deal of consternation.”
“This is unhealthy for our democratic institutions, democracy, for our republic. It is, at some point, more than what I would call fatuous folly or silliness. At some point you have to start to take the president seriously when he continues to say these things,” Green said.
He considered the administration’s push to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Trump has vowed no American would lose their health care. But in a matter of weeks — right after the U.S. election — the Supreme Court will hear arguments for his administration’s request to overturn the Affordable Care Act altogether.
With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and Republicans in the Senate moving ahead on nominations, Green said if Trump is successful in placing a justice on the high court of his choice, the U.S. could risk seeing the ACA totally eviscerated.
Election Day is 41 days away and in the United States, Green reflected, the people choose the ballot as a means of transferring power, not the bullet.
“The people of this country and the will of the people must be respected,” Green said. “The president would take us back to what I would call the status quo antebellum. This was all resolved long ago with a civil conflict. We’re not going to return to that form of behavior. We cannot allow ourselves to do this. We have to take him seriously and we have to prepare for this eventuality. We have to clearly examine the Constitution and be prepared to take the constitutional measures necessary to deal with his behavior.”
Trump’s divisive comments Wednesday night were not limited to term limits.
With protests already forming in Louisville, Trump praised Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron following a grand jury decision there not to charge officers involved in the shooting of Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman who was killed by police as she lay sleeping in her bed.
“She committed no crime. She had a companion with her. He had a right to have the weapon he had. He had a right to stand his ground. She was a person who fired no shots. Although she was a person who lost her life,” Green said.
These circumstances should force Americans to ask themselves questions “no one wants to ask,” Green added.
“If Breonna Taylor were a 26-year-old white female with all of the facts the same and had three African American officers intrude into her home the way these officers did — a 26-year-old white female — would we get the same results?” That’s the question we have to ask, he said.
Much like he wants to see Trump’s words taken seriously, Green said the same must apply to the national conversation on systemic racism.
Green has called for the creation of a Department of Reconciliation to focus on these issues. It would have a secretary spearheading it, like other federal agencies.
Separately Wednesday night, Trump announced his intent to nominate Allen Souza for inspector general for the intelligence community.
Souza is the former aide to Representative Devin Nunes, a California Republican and Trump stalwart who unsuccessfully sued Twitter for defamation after he was parodied online.
Souza was close with Nunes at the start of Trump’s presidency, working with the lawmaker and other Republicans conducting their investigation into the IC’s assessment of Russian interference in Trump’s campaign.