President Donald Trump gets out of a golf cart at Trump National Golf Club on Thursday in Sterling, Va. Photo: AP
By Simon Lewis and Jeff Mason
REHOBOTH BEACH, Del/WASHINGTON
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 reiterated his 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 certified the election winner by the Electoral College, he will depart the White House.
But Trump said it would be hard for him to concede under the current circumstances and declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration. The electors are scheduled to meet on Dec 14.
“This election was a fraud,” Trump insisted, while offering no concrete evidence of such voting irregularities.
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 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.”
Republican President 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.
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.
“I encourage all Americans to gather, in homes and places of worship, to offer a prayer of thanks to God for our many blessings,” the president, who recovered from his own case of COVID-19 last month, said in a statement.
Trump has frequently ignored public health warnings and hosted large groups at the White House, with many of his guests refusing to wear masks. In addition to Trump, several other prominent Americans including first lady Melania Trump and members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 following such events.
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.
While fewer Americans than normal are expected to travel this year for Thanksgiving, millions still made their way to family gatherings in defiance of pleas from state and local officials and health experts to stay home because of the spiraling infection rate.
U.S. daily deaths from COVID-19 surpassed 2,000 on Wednesday and hospitalizations reached a record of more than 89,000.
Biden, who defeated Trump in the Nov 3 election, has been pushing ahead with the transition to his new administration, and has pledged to prioritize getting a grip on the virus. Earlier this week he announced key members of his foreign policy and national security teams and has promised to announce more appointments, including his economic team, in coming days.
But he has drawn fire from members of his own party, including Black lawmaker James Clyburn, the U.S. House of Representatives majority whip, who expressed disappointment on Wednesday that African Americans – a constituency critical to Biden’s victory – have so far not been given more prominent positions in the incoming administration, The Hill reported.