Senator Bernie Sanders argued in an impassioned speech Thursday that President Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power is a threat to American democracy.
"What I am going to talk about is something that, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would be discussing," Sanders said. "And that is the need to make certain that the president of the United States, if he loses this election, will abide by the will of the voters and leave office peacefully."
"This is not just an election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This is an election between Donald Trump and democracy – and democracy must win," Sanders said in an address at George Washington University. He referred to Mr. Trump as a "pathological liar" with "strong authoritarian tendencies," and accused him of being "prepared to undermine American democracy in order to stay in power."
On Wednesday evening, Mr. Trumpto a peaceful transition of power if Biden wins the election in November. Sanders also quoted Mr. Trump's remarks at the Republican National Convention last month, in which he declared that "the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election."
"I think it is terribly important that we actually listen to, and take seriously, what Donald Trump is saying," Sanders said. "There is nothing in our Constitution or in our laws that give Donald Trump the privilege of deciding whether or not he will step aside if he loses. In the United States, the president does not determine who can or cannot vote and what ballots will be counted."
He went on to criticize Mr. Trump for continuing "to be obsessed with the belief that there is massive voter fraud in this country," even though instances of voter fraud are. The president has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that mail-in voting leads to widespread voter fraud, even as he urges supporters to vote by mail in critical swing states like Florida.
"Trump's strategy to delegitimize this election and to stay in office if he loses is not complicated. Finding himself behind in many polls, he is attempting massive voter suppression," Sanders said. "He and his Republican colleagues are doing everything they can to make it harder and harder for people to vote. In addition, he is sowing the seeds of chaos, confusion and conspiracy theories by casting doubt on the integrity of this election and, if he loses, justifying why he should remain in office."
Sanders noted that this election will see an influx of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, and brought up a scenario under which Mr. Trump could claim victory on election night before all the mail-in ballots are counted.
He also worries that states controlled by Republican legislatures will ignore election results "because of false accusations of voter fraud," and predicted that if this happened, "the legislature itself will use its power to appoint electors pledged to vote for Trump, overriding the will of the people."
"And, in the midst of all of this, with the death of Justice Ginsburg, Trump is attempting to push through a Supreme Court Justice who may very well cast a vote in a case that will determine the outcome of this election," Sanders continued. There are enough Republican senators who have said they would vote to confirm Mr. Trump's nominee to the court before the election, despite Democrats' argument that the vacancy has opened so close to November 3 that it should be the winner of the election who selects the next justice.
Sanders suggested some measures to ensure the fairness of the election, endorsing a proposal by former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to create a nonpartisan commission to oversee the election. He also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold more hearings on election security, and urged his Republican colleagues in the Senate to "stop the hypocrisy."
He also said that "it is absolutely imperative that we have, by far, the largest voter turnout in American history and that people vote as early as possible."
"As someone who is strongly supporting Joe Biden, let's be clear: A landslide victory for Biden will make it virtually impossible for Trump to deny the results and is our best means for defending democracy," Sanders said. He also called on states to begin counting mail-in votes ahead of Election Day, and for Congress and state legislatures to hold hearings "to explain to the public how the Election Day process and the days that follow will be handled."
"The American people, no matter what their political persuasion, must make it clear that American democracy will not be destroyed,' Sanders said. "Regardless of what Donald Trump wants, the American people will preserve democracy in our country."
In an exclusive interview with CBS News' Cara Korte after the speech, Sanders said that he worries "very much" about violence and chaos in this country after the election.
"Sorry, too many people fought and died to defend democracy to allow him to destroy it," Sanders said about the president potentially not accepting the results of the election. "If he wins, he wins. But if he loses, he is going to leave office because we are going to defend American democracy."
When asked if he was in consultation with Biden campaign on the issue of a power transition, Sanders said simply that he has "spoken" to the Biden camp about it.