WASHINGTON — A key Republican senator said Friday he saw no evidence to support President Donald Trump’s baseless claim that Democrats are trying to “steal” the election, even as GOP leaders struck a more neutral tone — and others urged the White House to fight.
Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, whose state is a key battleground in the presidential election, called the president’s claim of fraud “very disturbing.”
"There’s simply no evidence anyone has shown me of any widespread corruption or fraud," Toomey told "CBS This Morning."
“The president’s speech last night was very disturbing to me because he made very, very serious allegations without any evidence to support it," said Toomey.
He added: “I voted for President Trump. I endorsed President Trump. I want the next president to be the person who legitimately wins the Electoral College and I will accept whoever that is.”
Trump, who has complained for weeks about mail-in ballots, escalated his allegations late Thursday, saying at the White House that the ballot-counting process is unfair and corrupt. Trump did not back up his claims with any details or evidence, and state and federal officials have not reported any instances of widespread voter fraud.
Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a more neutral tone, and other top Republicans more defiantly urged Trump to fight to defeat Democrat Joe Biden.
“Every legal vote should be counted,” McConnell tweeted early Friday. “All sides must get to observe the process.”
McConnell grew testy during a press conference later in Kentucky when was repeatedly asked to say more. “Beyond that, I don't have anything to say,” McConnell said. "It won’t make any difference how many times you ask I’ve already given my answer.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took a more confrontational tone, insisting inaccurately that Trump “won” the election — even though officials in several states are still counting Americans' ballots.
“So everyone who’s listening, do not be quiet, do not be silent about this. We cannot allow this to happen before our very eyes,” McCarthy said Thursday on Fox News. “Join together and let’s stop this.”
The split showed the grip Trump still has on his party, particularly after Republicans in Congress won seats in the House and Senate running for reelection alongside the president.
One top Trump ally Sen. Lindsey Graham said on a call with reporters Friday that he supports Trump’s efforts to challenge ballot counts in several states yet to be called in the presidential race.
Graham said he’s “not conceding” that Biden is going to win the presidency but will try to work with a Democratic administration if one is installed. He said on Fox News Thursday night he would donate $500,000 to the president’s “legal defense fund” and urged people to pitch in.
Other GOP senators, governors and other elected officials swiftly pushed back against Trump, a rare break with the president who keeps a firm grip on his party.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, tweeted Thursday that the president's claims of fraud are “getting insane.” If Trump has “legit” concerns about fraud, they need to be based on evidence and taken to court, Kinzinger said, adding, “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation.”
Maryland GOP Gov. Larry Hogan, a potential 2024 presidential hopeful who has often criticized Trump, said unequivocally: “There is no defense for the President’s comments tonight undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”
“No election or person is more important than our Democracy,” Hogan said on Twitter.
Other criticism, though less direct, came from members of Congress. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who spoke at a recent Trump campaign rally, said in a tweet that if any candidate believes “a state is violating election laws they have a right to challenge it in court & produce evidence in support of their claims.''
Rubio said earlier: “Taking days to count legally cast votes is NOT fraud. And court challenges to votes cast after the legal voting deadline is NOT suppression.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah., the party's presidential nominee in 2012, sought to provide a reassuring note. Counting votes is often “long” and “frustrating,” Romney said.
If any irregularities are alleged, “they will be investigated and ultimately resolved in the courts,″ Romney tweeted. “Have faith in democracy, our Constitution and the American people.”
Trump’s tweets earlier Thursday declaring victory and calling for officials to “STOP THE COUNT” were a test of how strongly he can keep Republicans in line as he tries to challenge the voting process in court.
Before Trump's speech in the White House briefing room, several Republicans challenged his attempts to halt vote-counting in Pennsylvania and other battleground states.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, urged “everyone to be patient'' as results come in. "It is critical that we give election officials time to complete their jobs, and that we ensure all lawfully cast ballots are allowed and counted,'' she said in a statement.
Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican who did not seek reelection, called Trump's comments about corruption “dangerous” and “wrong.'' Trump's remarks undermine the U.S. political process and “the very foundation this nation was built upon,'' Hurd said.
While Biden was close Friday to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, it was unclear when a national winner would be determined after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on Americans and the national economy.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut told The Associated Press Thursday he hopes Republicans step up their response to Trump's unsubstantiated claims. While Republicans may want to give Trump time to "make his arguments," when it becomes clear that claims are without basis, “My hope is that Republicans will put public and private pressure on him,” Murphy said.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Trump ally who is an analyst for ABC News, said there was no basis for Trump's argument. Christie called Trump's attack on the integrity of the election “a bad strategic decision” and "a bad political decision, and it’s not the kind of decision you would expect someone to make ... who holds the position he holds.”