WASHINGTON/REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden, the closest he has come to conceding the Nov. 3 election, even as he repeated unfounded claims of massive voter fraud.
Speaking to reporters on the Thanksgiving holiday, Republican Trump said if Democrat Biden – who is due to be sworn in on Jan. 20 – is formally declared the winner by the Electoral College, he will depart the White House.
Asked if he would leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden, Trump said: “Certainly I will. Certainly I will. And you know that.”
But Trump said it would be hard for him to concede because “we know there was massive fraud.”
“It was a rigged election … at the highest level,” Trump insisted in a sometimes rambling discourse at the White House, while continuing to offer no concrete evidence of widespread voting irregularities.
It was the first time Trump has taken questions from reporters since Election Day, and at times he turned combative.
In the United States, a candidate becomes president by securing the most “electoral” votes rather than by winning a majority of the national popular vote. Electors, allotted to the 50 states and the District of Columbia largely based on their population, are party loyalists who pledge to support the candidate who won the popular vote in their state.
Biden won the election with 306 Electoral College votes – many more than the 270 required – to Trump’s 232, and the electors are scheduled to meet on Dec. 14 to formalize the outcome. Biden also leads Trump by more than 6 million in the popular vote tally.
Trump has so far refused to fully acknowledge his defeat, though earlier this week – with mounting pressure from his own Republican ranks – he agreed to let Biden’s transition process officially proceed.
Frenzied efforts by Trump and his aides to overturn results in key states, either by lawsuits or by pressuring state legislators, have failed, and he is running out of options.
“President-elect Biden won 306 electoral votes. States continue to certify those results, the Electoral College will soon meet to ratify that outcome,” Michael Gwin, a spokesman for the Biden campaign, said when asked about Trump’s comments. “Biden will be sworn in as President on Jan. 20, 2021.”
Showing that he intends to stay in the political fray until the end of his term, Trump said on Thursday he would travel on Dec. 5 to Georgia, a once solidly Republican state he lost narrowly to Biden, to campaign for two Republican U.S. Senate candidates.
The two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5 will determine whether the Republicans keep their majority in the Senate.
“I just want to tell my people: don’t be disappointed yet because this race is far from over,” Trump said.
BIDEN, AND TRUMP STAY CLOSE TO HOME AMID PANDEMIC
Biden and Trump both stayed close to home to celebrate Thanksgiving on Thursday as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country.
Biden spent the holiday in the small seaside town of Rehoboth, Delaware, where he and his wife Jill have a vacation home. The Bidens are hosting daughter Ashley Biden and her husband Dr. Howard Krein for the holiday meal.
The former vice president, appearing with his wife in a video message posted to his Twitter account on Thanksgiving, said his family typically holds a large gathering on the island of Nantucket off Massachusetts, but would remain in Delaware this year “with just a small group around our dinner table” because of the pandemic.
In the presidential-style address to a nation that has lost more than 260,000 lives to the coronavirus, the Democratic president-elect said on Wednesday Americans were making a “shared sacrifice for the whole country” and a “statement of common purpose” by staying at home with their immediate families.
“I know this isn’t the way many of us hoped we’d spend our holiday. We know that a small act of staying home is a gift to our fellow Americans,” said Biden. “I know better days are coming.”
Trump often likes to celebrate holidays at his Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida. But on Thursday he remained in the Washington area, spending part of the morning at his Trump National Golf Club in Virginia where he played a round of golf.
It was a far cry from last year when he made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, where he served turkey to U.S. troops before sitting down to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them.
This time, Trump spoke by video link from the White House to members of the military at home and abroad.
In contrast to Biden, who pleaded with Americans to celebrate the holiday safely by wearing masks and socially distancing, Trump in his Thanksgiving proclamation on Wednesday urged Americans to “gather” for the holiday.
On Thursday, the president tweeted “HAPPY THANKSGIVING!” in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision late on Wednesday to block New York state from imposing attendance limits at religious services. Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the ruling as “irrelevant,” saying it related to specific areas that were no longer considered at high risk.
Reporting by Simon Lewis, Jeff Mason, Tim Reid, Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Michelle Price, Simon Cameron-Moore, Paul Simao, Noeleen Walder and Andrea Ricci