WASHINGTON — With President Donald Trump continuing Thursday to call into question the integrity of the upcoming election, many Texas Republicans in Congress insisted that there would be a peaceful transition of power if Trump loses this November.
But most delivered their statements without mentioning or engaging with the president's comments.
Trump shocked many in the nation's capital on Wednesday when he declined to commit to a peaceful transition in the event his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, defeats him in November. He said he was worried about mail-in voting, repeating his oft-stated concern that it could lead to fraud. Multiple states have used mail-in voting for years without any sign of widespread fraud.
"We’re going to have to see what happens," Trump said at a Wednesday press briefing. "You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots. And the ballots are a disaster."
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"We want to have … get rid of the ballots and we’ll have a very peaceful … there won’t be a transfer frankly, there’ll be a continuation," he said to a reporter's follow up question. "The ballots are out of control. You know it, and you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else."
On Thursday, Trump repeated his concerns about mail-in ballots.
"We want to make sure the election is honest and I'm not sure that it can be," he said. "I don't know that it can be, with this whole situation, unsolicited ballots."
While Texas' Republican leadership has resisted the idea of expanding mail-in voting this year, many states across the country have done so during the coronavirus pandemic. Supporters of the expansion call it a safe way to allow people to vote in a time of social distancing. But Trump has argued that it promotes fraud and has repeatedly called into question the integrity of the voting process. Cases of voter fraud are exceedingly rare, and multiple states have offered the method of voting for years without major problems.
Trump’s latest focus is on unsolicited ballots. Only a handful of states mail ballots to qualified voters without needing them request it. In June, The Washington Post analyzed data collected over five elections in three states, including Colorado, that proactively sent ballots to voters in 2016 and 2018. Just 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of dead people were identified, the Post reported. That amounted to 0.0025% of votes cast.
The Texas Tribune asked every member of Congress from Texas for a response to the matter. As expected, Democrats responded with blanket fury at Trump. Eleven out of the state's 24 Republicans in Congress responded. All called for a peaceful transition, though some were less animated and cast blame elsewhere.
Appearing on CNN on Thursday, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, answered with a simple "no" when asked whether Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power was appropriate. On what the GOP would do if Trump will not leave office, Cornyn said: “I’m not going to answer a hypothetical.”
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also committed to a peaceful transition, while blaming Democrats for the controversy.
"It has become a popular Democratic talking point, it has become a popular media talking point, that it has become Trump who is going to dispute the election. Let me say clearly, unequivocally: There'll be a peaceful transition of power," he said at a Senate Judiciary hearing on Thursday. "I believe there will be a peaceful transition of power if Joe Biden wins the election, Joe Biden'll be sworn in as president. But what I fear is the reaction of the extreme left if Joe Biden loses the election."
The current session of Congress will end on Jan. 3, 2021, which will encompass much of the transition period, if there is a change of power.
Here is how the Texans responded:
- U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican: “Of course Senator Cornyn supports a peaceful transfer of power,” said spokesman Drew Brandewie. The senator appeared on CNN Thursday. When asked whether Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power was appropriate, Cornyn replied with “no.” On what the GOP would do if Trump will not leave office, Cornyn said: “I’m not going to answer a hypothetical.”
- U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican: "It has become a popular Democratic talking point, it has become a popular media talking point, that it has become Trump who is going to dispute the election. Let me say clearly, unequivocally: There'll be a peaceful transition of power," Cruz said at a Senate Judiciary hearing on Thursday. "I believe there will be a peaceful transition of power if Joe Biden wins the election, Joe Biden'll be sworn in as president. But what I fear is the reaction of the extreme left if Joe Biden loses the election."
- U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston: "There will be a peaceful transition of, or continuation of, power. There must be. I think those inflaming worries that there won’t be are being disingenuous, and I think the President should not further amplify those concerns with unclear statements," Crenshaw wrote on Twitter
- U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano: "The peaceful transition of power is the very cornerstone of our representative democracy. As a Marine, I risked my life to defend our Constitution and my very first act as a Congressman was to swear an oath to defend our Constitution. We will secure the integrity of every vote cast and the winner of the Presidential Election will be peacefully sworn in on January 20, 2021."
- U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston: “The fact that our current President has mentioned staying in office beyond his term on multiple occasions rightfully causes a great deal of consternation. The people of America and the will of the people must be respected. The President’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power would take us back to what I would call the status quo antebellum that relies on the bullet instead of the ballot. This is unhealthy for our democratic institutions, democracy, and for our republic. This isn’t a joke or fatuous folly. At some point, you have to start to take this President seriously when he continues to say these things.”
- U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin: “Our country’s democracy sets the example for freedom-loving people around the world. For more than two centuries our past presidents have peacefully transitioned in and out of office. This next year will be no different. Whoever the people elect this November will be peacefully inaugurated on January 20, 2021.”
- U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen: “A peaceful transition of power is a cornerstone of American democracy. President Trump’s comments last night are disturbing and par for the course for his presidency. Can you imagine what the United States would say if another nation’s leader made comments like these? The president must clarify his position immediately and promise to uphold a peaceful transition of power should Joe Biden win the election.”
- U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso: “Peaceful transfer of power is a bedrock of our democracy and Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accept the results of the upcoming election is appalling but not surprising. The American people and Congress will not tolerate his attempts to further violate our institutions and sow distrust in our electoral process.”
- U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston: "Nothing in the Constitution condoned what the president said yesterday...I guess the president was now moving this nation to anarchy, that is a stateless government. I don't know if he realized what he actually said," she said on CNN. "What he actually said is that he's willing to provoke violence, he's willing not to speak against violence...I am personally offended, but very much of great concern." She then called on the House Judiciary Committee to address the matter in hearings.
- U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio: "The stakes of this election are clear: out democracy itself is on the line. Americans need to vote early, in-person, if possible and in record numbers to send an overwhelming message for change. From threatening to throw out ballots to rigging the Supreme Court, Trump is using the tactics of authoritarians he admires like Vladimir Putin."
- U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin: “There will be a peaceful transition of power but the media will still only ask questions of the GOP. The media will not demand or ask questions of Democrats as to if they stand with Speaker Pelosi’s refusal to defend cops or calling Republicans ‘enemies of the state."
- U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land: “There will definitely be a peaceful transfer of power regardless of what some may claim.”
- U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin: “There will be a peaceful transfer of power."
- U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Victoria: "What voters across America are concerned about is the left's demonstrated willingness to embrace violence in order to advance their political agenda, and if the extreme left will make good on its threats to reject the election results and "burn down the system" when their efforts to manipulate November fail and President Trump is re-elected."
- U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo: "The peaceful transition of power from one Administration to the next is a core principle of our democracy. All of our nation’s leaders have to swear an oath to defend the Constitution," Cuellar tweeted Thursday. We must—and will—protect that oath."
- U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston: “The peaceful transfer of power after any election is a cornerstone of American democracy. It ensures the continuity of our great American experiment, and anyone who would try to subvert this practice is a clear and present danger to our Constitutional democracy. That is why the President’s comments on the matter are disturbing and we must all be vigilant going into Election Day and beyond.”
- U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas: “I cannot comment on what was on the President’s mind when he didn’t answer the question, but I can say it is difficult for me to believe that any President would ignore the vote of the people,” said Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson. “The President didn’t overrule the people’s vote to get there, so he shouldn’t be able to overrule their vote to leave.”
- U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock: "The peaceful transition of power is a hallmark of our democracy. For centuries, political opponents have put aside animosity for the greater good of the country and this election will be no different. The winner on November 3rd will be inaugurated on January 20th, following the precedent and ideals since America’s beginning.”
- U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas: “The peaceful transition of power is a foundational piece of our American democracy, and under no circumstances should that be questioned. It is extremely alarming that the President would not commit to this basic tenet, and it is sadly a continuation of a long pattern of statements and actions that undermine our elections. I swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution, an oath every elected leader, including the President, must uphold.”
- U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth: "The peaceful transfer of power is not a partisan issue. This is unacceptable and my colleagues across the aisle must speak out," he wrote on Twitter.
- U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville: "Trump's recent statement threatening not to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he were to lose the election is just another egregious example of his disrespect for our country and the Democratic process. Any suggestion that a president might not abide by the Constitutional guarantee of a peaceful transition of power is both unthinkable and unacceptable. His lack of emotional maturity is a disgrace to our Democracy, and he continues to prove himself unworthy of the office and the power of the President.
- U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin: "By refusing to assure a peaceful transition of power after he is rejected by a majority of American voters, Trump makes clear that this election is a choice between democracy and tyranny. His plan would wrongly delegitimize millions of Americans’ ballots, seize power through anti-democratic means, and land death blows against our democracy...Every elected Republican who does not immediately denounce his threat to our sacred democracy is no longer fit to serve."
- U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville: “I believe a peaceful transfer of power, if necessary, will take place as it has throughout our history. However, the President has every reason to mistrust universal mail-in ballots, especially after what occurred in Scranton, PA, where nine mail-in ballots were found in the trash – seven of which were cast for Donald Trump. Also, Texas AG, Ken Paxton, has announced felony charges against a group of individuals in Gregg County Texas, including a county commissioner who despite being 19 points behind after early voting was able to win the 2018 Democratic primary through an illegal mail-in ballot scheme. Numerous examples clearly prove that mail-in ballots are unverifiable, prone to fraud, and threaten the safety and security of America’s elections.”
As of late Thursday afternoon, several members had not responded to the Tribune's query.
They were: Republican U.S. Reps. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Ron Wright of Arlington, Kevin Brady of the Woodlands, Mike Conaway of Midland, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Mac Thornberry of Clarendon, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Michael Burgess of Lewisville; and Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston.
The story will be updated as more members weigh in.
Correction: This story misquoted U.S. Rep. Michael Cloud. He said that the "extreme left" wants to "burn down the system," not "burn down the house."