NEW DELHI: The big question staring America in the face is what happens if Donald Trump refuses to concede defeat and leave the White House? Does the military have to do the ‘honours’ by physically escorting him out? No way, said Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “It’ll be handled appropriately by courts and Congress. There’s no role for the US military in determining the outcome of a US election. Zero, there is no role here.”
Robert Chesney, a professor of national security law at the University of Texas, says Trump would technically be a “trespasser, and the Secret Service would have to come and escort him out.”
That would demean the office of the U.S. President but Trump’s anger over his defeat means uncharted waters ahead.
Fortunately, there is a laid down procedure in the event of key battleground states coming up with two distinct group of electoral college votes (given some have Democratic governors but Republican legislatures), Vice-President Mike Pence may order these votes to be dumped and settle for a vote by Congress. So the House of Representatives will vote for a president with each state delegation getting one vote. A simple majority of 26 votes will settle the issue. As for the Senate, each senator gets a vote and a simple majority of 51 will decide the winning vice-president.
If the House fails to elect a president, the vice-president who has been elected by the Senate gets to serve as president until the mess is resolved. And if the impasse continues until Inauguration Day (January 20, 2021), Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, will serve as president until things are resolved.
This is an unprecedented situation that Trump could trigger. His petulance has led to large sections of the Republican Party refusing to endorse Biden’s win. Trump’s own son Donald Jr. shot off a tasteless tweet calling for “total war over this election to expose all of the fraud, cheating/dead no longer in state voters.”
Although Twitter hid the message in line with regulations on spreading false messages, the tweet lasted long enough for people to take note.
Ex-president George Bush Jr. congratulated Biden and expressed support but Trump appears determined to make things as difficult as possible. He fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper for publicly warning against the use of military personnel in tackling the #BlackLivesMatter protests.
In addition to launching a flurry of lawsuits over counting of postal ballots post November 3, he’s refusing to cooperate with the Biden campaign. The head of the general services administration, who is his appointee, has not formally acknowledged Biden’s victory, which is a constitutional requirement. This will allow Biden’s transition team to fan out across the federal government, access office space, start tapping into $6 million funding and study detailed briefings. But in that absence, Biden’s transition team is out on a limb, waiting for things to happen.
Biden has refused to publicly get into this mess, preferring to focus on matters more urgent, such as the pandemic. He’s set up a Coronavirus team headed by three respected public health experts including former surgeon general Vivek Murthy. It will work on how to tackle the virus that has claimed more than 200,000 lives and continues to expand.
Biden has acknowledged the sharp partisan divide, although he’s been careful not to comment on Trump’s shenanigans in order to avoid provoking what is already a difficult situation. He’s reached out to Republicans, promising to work with them in Congress, and promising to be a president for all Americans. But Trump has to move out first.