WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Republican in the U.S. Congress on Monday said President Donald Trump was well within his rights to look into charges of “irregularities” in last week’s election, which has been called for Democrat Joe Biden, but did not offer any evidence of fraud.
Trump, a Republican, has yet to acknowledge defeat two days after Biden secured enough votes in the state-by-state Electoral College to win. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he backed Trump’s launch of a legal fight into claims of voter fraud.
“President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options,” McConnell said. Before addressing the Senate, McConnell met privately with Attorney General William Barr.
Just a handful of Senate Republicans have congratulated Biden on his victory. One of them, Senator Susan Collins, told reporters Monday evening that she thought the president’s legal challenges are “unlikely to change the outcome” of the election.
But most Republican lawmakers have either said the president’s lawsuits should be allowed to play out, or avoided public comment on the election results.
Trump said for months before the Nov. 3 vote that he could lose only if fraudulent votes were cast. Experts say there is no evidence of significant fraud in U.S. elections.
In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell did not acknowledge Biden as president-elect nor his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, as vice president-elect. The Republican also took a swipe at media outlets that called the election for Biden, saying “the Constitution gives no role in this process to wealthy media corporations.”
“Let’s not have any lectures,” McConnell continued. “No lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept the preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last one.”
Biden cleared the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency on Saturday after four days of ballot counting. Biden leads in two of the four states yet to be called, and is ahead by more than 4.4 million ballots in the popular vote.
Earlier on Monday, Collins and another Republican Senator, Ben Sasse, congratulated Biden, with Collins emphasizing the importance of the transition that ensures that the new administration is ready to govern on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.
“He loves this country, and I wish him every success,” Collins said of Biden in a statement. Collins, who last week won re-election, also said Trump should have the opportunity to challenge the election results, however.
Sasse, from Nebraska, made a statement of congratulations that was published in the Omaha World-Herald.
“Today in our house we pray for both President Trump and President-elect Biden, that both would be wise in the execution of their respective duties during this important time in our nation,” said Sasse, who has been a Trump critic.
Over the weekend, two other Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, a former presidential candidate, congratulated Biden.
Some Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, have urged Trump to continue fighting. Graham told reporters Monday that if Trump loses his legal challenges, “I would encourage him to at least think about running again” in 2024.
But Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters that while he didn’t begrudge the president availing himself of the legal process, “In the end, they’re going to have to come up with some facts and evidence.” Cornyn won re-election in Texas last week.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he was heartened to see a few Republicans congratulate the winning ticket.
“But too many, including the Republican leader, have been silent or sympathetic to the president’s fantasies,” he said on the Senate floor.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Scott Malone, Chris Reese, Sonya Hepinstall and Cynthia Osterman)