As President Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge the reality that he lost last week’s presidential election, his Republican allies have mostly, so far, backed his refusal to concede, a stark contrast with their Democratic counterparts in 2016, who quickly acknowledged Hillary Clinton’s loss.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader in the Senate, said on Monday that Trump was “100% within his rights” to consider legal challenges to the election results, and he lambasted Democrats as hypocrites.
“Let’s not have any lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election,” McConnell said.
Trump White House
But the reality is, while Democrats expressed disappointment at the 2016 election results, most of the party’s leadership in Congress, the White House and at the Democratic National Committee congratulated then-President-elect Trump. They also pledged to work with his team to facilitate the transition and to work with his administration where their views aligned, while promising to stand up for their values when he challenged them. Their behavior four years ago mirrors the tradition followed by most administrations before them, and underscores how Trump and his allies have broken with decades of precedent in how transfers of power are conducted.
Emily W. Murphy, Trump’s head of the General Services Administration, has refused to recognize the incoming Biden administration. The GSA’s recognition would kick off the formal transition process, and by refusing to acknowledge Biden’s victory the agency is making clear that it won’t get ahead of the President.
Yet the day after the 2016 election, then-President Barack Obama ordered the White House to ensure a smooth transition, including the GSA.
“The peaceful transfer of power is a bedrock principle of our democracy,” the White House said in a statement at the time. “The President was grateful for the time and care put into the 2008 transition by President Bush’s Administration. That is why he directed his team last year to make a smooth transition between administrations a top priority.”
Clinton delivered a speech the day after her election loss congratulating Trump.
“Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country,” she said. “Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it.”
CNN’s KFile reviewed statements from Democratic leaders and Clinton allies in 2016 acknowledging their loss. Here’s what they said:
Sen. Chuck Schumer
In comparison with McConnell’s refusal to acknowledge Trump’s loss, Chuck Schumer of New York, the then-incoming Democratic minority leader in the Senate, took the opposite approach, and congratulated Trump.
“President-elect Trump called me this morning, and I congratulated him on his victory,” Schumer wrote in a Facebook post the day after the election. “Last night the American people exercised their sacred right to vote and made their voices known, electing Donald Trump to the Presidency, and returning Republican majorities to both Houses of Congress. I congratulate Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan on their victories as well.”
By contrast, the then-outgoing minority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, was less diplomatic. Reid was retiring and didn’t have to work with Republicans or Trump and, though he acknowledged Trump’s victory, he harshly criticized him, saying Trump was “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote and fueled his campaign with bigotry and hate.”
“Winning the electoral college does not absolve Trump of the grave sins he committed against millions of Americans,” Reid said in a statement three days after the election.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California refused to acknowledge Trump’s loss on Thursday and declined to say if Biden should receive classified intelligence briefings.
“He’s not president right now,” McCarthy said. “I don’t know if he’ll be president on January 20th, but whoever is will get the information.”
In 2016, Nancy Pelosi of California was House minority leader for the Democrats and acknowledged the election results the day Trump’s victory was called.
“The peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of our democracy,” Pelosi said. “After an election in which Donald Trump won the electoral college and Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, we have a responsibility to come together and find common ground.”
Pelosi concluded her statement by saying: “I congratulate President-elect Trump and his family, and pray for his success.”
Then-Rep. Joe Crowley
The outgoing vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, hasn’t acknowledged the election results, and on Twitter he has cast doubt on vote counting in Pennsylvania and baselessly said that Democrats welcome election abuse.
In 2016, then Rep. Joe Crowley of New York was vice chairman of the House Democrats, and he congratulated Trump the day after the election.
“In the end, Donald Trump won,” Crowley said. “I congratulate Mr. Trump on a hard-fought victory and after a grueling campaign, it is now time for our country to heal and to work on moving our nation forward.”
Then-Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has refused to acknowledge Biden’s victory or work toward a smooth transition, saying on Tuesday that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” igniting a furor and roiling diplomats.
On November 10, 2016, one day after the race was called, then-Secretary of State John Kerry took the opposite approach: congratulating Trump and pledging a peaceful transfer of power.
“I want to offer my congratulations to President-elect Donald Trump and wish him well,” Kerry said.
“I sent a note to all of our personnel within the State Department this morning reiterating what I have said to them personally before I left the country to come here, and that is that we have a time-honored tradition of a very peaceful and constructive transfer of power within administrations when that occurs in the United States.”
Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
Then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter issued a memo to Defense Department employees in 2016 on the day after the election, praising the employees and pledging a smooth transition.
“Last night our fellow American citizens voted for a new President,” Carter said. “I am very proud of the way each and every one of you conducted yourselves during this campaign, standing apart from politics and instead focusing on our sacred mission of providing security. I am committed to overseeing the orderly transition to the next Commander in Chief.”
Former Secretary of Defense Mike Esper was fired by Trump on Monday and the President named Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, as acting secretary. Neither Esper nor Miller has publicly commented on the election or the transition to the Biden administration.
Interim DNC Chair Donna Brazile
Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has refused to acknowledge Trump’s loss, echoing his claims about voter irregularities.
“The American people deserve to have faith in our elections,” McDaniel tweeted on Tuesday. “That’s why the RNC is going to pursue this process to the very end.”
On November 9, 2016, the day after the election, interim Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Donna Brazile congratulated Trump.
“We want to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump for his apparent Electoral College victory last night,” Brazile said. “After this fierce campaign, now is the time for leaders from both parties to strive in good-faith to bridge our deep political divides, and work together in service to our one United States of America.”
Clinton campaign Press Secretary Brian Fallon
White House press secretary and Trump campaign adviser Kayleigh McEnany is supporting Trump’s refusal to concede, and on Monday she made a baseless allegation that Democrats welcomed voter fraud and illegal voting.
In comparison, the national press secretary for Clinton’s campaign, Brian Fallon, sent out a tweet the day after the election congratulating Trump.
“It’s taken 24 hours to absorb, but congratulations to Donald Trump,” Fallon said, “So proud to have worked for @HillaryClinton as part of this amazing team.”
Sen. Jon Tester, then-head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate, encouraged Trump to challenge the election results last Saturday after national media outlets called the election for Biden.
“The voters get to decide who the President is,” Scott said in a tweet. “This is a close race and @realDonaldTrump will and should use every avenue at his disposal to make sure every legal vote is counted.”
By contrast, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the then-head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, took the opposite approach and said he’d be willing to work with Trump.
“Let’s give him a chance,” Tester said. “Who knows, we might be pleasantly surprised. And if we’re not, we’ll hold him accountable.”