The Note: Trump seeks to undermine election’s legitimacy with voting already underway

On Wednesday, Trump refused to simply commit to a peaceful transition of power.

September 24, 2020, 6:01 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It wasn't a trick question. The answer speaks loudly to anyone thinking about nightmare post-election scenarios -- whatever their motivations might be.

President Donald Trump has crossed a new threshold in undermining the legitimacy of the election. He is invoking the possibility of a contested election as part of his argument to quickly fill the seat of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- and now is refusing to simply commit to a peaceful transition of power.

"We're going to have to see what happens," Trump said Wednesday.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport, Sept. 21, 2020, in Swanton, Ohio.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Eugene F. Kranz Toledo Express Airport, Sept. 21, 2020, in Swanton, Ohio.
Alex Brandon/AP

Is it a showman setting up a suspenseful season finale? A flip answer that marks an occasion where the president, according to defenders, should be taken seriously and not literally?

That's on the president to explain. What is clear is that he is making false declarations, baselessly accusing Democrats of a "scam" and worse, while voting is already underway.

It's Trump spreading falsehoods about mail-in ballots, Trump wrongly declaring that the winner must be settled on Election Day and Trump refusing to commit to abiding by the results of the election. It's the president and his party laying groundwork for legal challenges that could put the election into chaotic overtime.

Doomsday scenarios may be remote possibilities -- but they are bubbling into real conversations. The chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party confirmed in an interview with The Atlantic's Barton Gellman that one option being discussed, if election results appear untrustworthy in the view of state lawmakers, is having the state legislature directly appoint electors.

"It is one of the available legal options set forth in the Constitution," Lawrence Tabas is quoted as saying, in a scary read about what might happen after Election Day.

The changes to how people live and how states run their votes are immense this year. The political world is adjusting to the reality that a tidy end to Election Night is not likely.

Trump is not accepting that reality; that's a conscious decision by the president. Concerns about the election are and should be real enough. The president stoking unfounded fears serves a more immediate -- and potentially dangerous -- purpose.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

The National Bar Association describes itself as the "the nation's oldest and largest national network of predominantly African American attorneys and judges," and said in a statement Wednesday night that justice was "not served" in the case of Breonna Taylor's death.

"It has been over six months since Breonna Taylor's innocent life was senselessly taken at the hands of careless, negligent and indifferent law enforcement officials sworn to protect and serve her," the statement read. "How much clearer do the facts have to be for public officials on the ground to take appropriate and just action without public unrest and protest!"

PHOTO: People gather in Jefferson Square awaiting word on charges against police officers, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky.
People gather in Jefferson Square awaiting word on charges against police officers, Sept. 23, 2020, in Louisville, Ky.
Darron Cummings/AP

Trump, on the other hand, applauded the decision from the Kentucky grand jury to only bring charges against one officer for endangering neighbors during the police shooting that killed Taylor and not charge the other officers involved in her death.

Trump read to reporters parts of the local attorney general's statement on Wednesday.

"Justice is not often easy. It does not fit the mold of public opinion. And it does not conform to shifting standards. It answers only to the facts and to the law. ... If we simply act on emotion or outrage, there is no justice. Mob justice is not justice," said Daniel Cameron, a Republican who was the first African American to be elected to the post in the state, when explaining the charges.

The decision in Kentucky has already led to more grief, trauma and protests among many -- especially those fighting for racial equality, criminal justice and police reform. Democratic nominee Joe Biden said he understood the desire to take to the streets.

"Protesting makes a lot of sense. It is clear people should be able to speak, but no violence," he said.

With Election Day just weeks away and voting already underway, could the case lead to renewed determination among young people to get to the polls or apathy if justice continues to feel unequal or far off?

The TIP with Justin Gomez

Ahead of the president nominating someone to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Vice President Mike Pence is praising Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

PHOTO: ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis speaks with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, Sept. 23, 2020.
ABC News Correspondent Linsey Davis speaks with Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, Sept. 23, 2020.
ABC News

"Judge Barrett is an extraordinary jurist," Pence told ABC News Live Anchor Linsey Davis on Wednesday, adding that she's among a group of women currently under consideration.

Barrett, a former Notre Dame law professor who clerked for the late-Justice Antonin Scalia, is also a devout Catholic. Religious conservatives view her as a potential pick who could overturn Roe v. Wade, but she's never ruled on an abortion-related case.

In his ABC News Live interview, Pence also criticized the "intolerance" he said he saw from Democrats during her 2017 confirmation hearing when it was suggested that her religious beliefs could sway her thinking on the landmark 1973 ruling.

"The intolerance expressed during her last confirmation hearings about her Catholic faith, I really think was a disservice to the process and a disappointment to millions of Americans," he said.


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Thursday morning's episode features ABC News' Alex Perez in Louisville, Kentucky, who tells us how the city is reacting to the grand jury announcement in the Breonna Taylor case. ABC News Senior Washington reporter Devin Dwyer explains how suburban women are reacting to the fight over Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat. And ABC News Senior Congressional correspondent Mary Bruce recaps a Senate hearing Wednesday with top health officials on the government's pandemic response.

ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Democratic whip, on Wednesday pushed back on calls for Democrats to add more justices to the Supreme Court next year, if they retake the Senate and White House, as retribution for Republicans' plans to fill Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat just weeks from the election. "There's no serious conversation among my colleagues about this prospect. It is speculative, it is in the future, if at all," Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, told ABC News Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein.

"Your Voice Your Vote: The Breakdown" ABC News Live will add a new afternoon political program, "Your Voice Your Vote: The Breakdown," to its schedule. Anchored by "ABC News Live Update" Anchor Diane Macedo and ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran, the new 30-minute original program will unpack issues important to voters to help viewers make an educated decision about where they stand on an issue. The show will air weekdays, beginning on Monday, at 3 p.m. ET/noon PT.


  • The late-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in repose under the portico at the top of the front steps of the Supreme Court building to allow for public viewing outdoors from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump pay their respects to Ginsburg at 10 a.m. at the Supreme Court. Trump delivers remarks on health care in Charlotte, North Carolina, at 4:30 p.m. and holds a campaign rally in Jacksonville, Florida, at 7 p.m.
  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing on worldwide threats at 10 a.m. Witnesses include FBI Director Christopher Wray and National Counterterrorism Center Director Christopher Miller.
  • The Senate Banking Committee holds a hearing on the Cares Act at 10 a.m. and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Jerome H. Powell, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, will appear.
  • The House Agriculture Committee holds a hearing on the 2020 wildfire year and the response and recovery efforts at 1 p.m.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., gives an address at 1 p.m. at George Washington University.
  • Vice President Mike Pence travels to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and tours Midwest Manufacturing before delivering remarks at 12:05 p.m. CT. Pence travels to Minnesota and, with Ivanka Trump, hosts a "Cops for Trump" listening session in Minneapolis at 3 p.m.
  • Jill Biden travels to Virginia to participate in a listening session with African American educators at 10:15 a.m., meets with military families at 12:30 p.m., visits an early voting site at 3:30 p.m. and joins a roundtable with working moms at 4:30 p.m.

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