By LIBBY CATHEY, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Two days after Election Day, President Donald Trump on Thursday called for vote counting to be stopped in key states that could soon determine the election’s outcome — contradicting his campaign’s argument that vote counting in battleground Arizona — where he was leading — should continue because winning that state would give him a viable path to keep the White House.
“STOP THE COUNT!” Trump tweeted bluntly, in all capital letters.
Shortly after, in a message since flagged by Twitter as potentially misleading, he added, “ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED!”
Highlighting the polarized views of the candidates, former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted later, “Be patient, folks. Votes are being counted, and we feel good about where we are.”
Coming off Biden’s projected wins Wednesday in “blue wall” states Michigan and Wisconsin critical to his path to victory, attention shifted Thursday to a handful of battleground states with slim margins, including Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia where new vote counts could reveal a lot about where the race stands.
Sources close to President Trump told ABC News the path ahead is “narrow” and it is increasingly looking “tough.”
He is working the phones and asking a lot of questions about the path forward, the sources said, specifically about the legal options available in some cases, laser focused on Pennsylvania and Arizona, ABC News’ John Santucci reported.
The Biden team projected a sense of calmness, cautioning while it may appear Trump was gaining ground in Arizona and Nevada, especially as rural votes are tallied, they expect it won’t last long as more Democrat-leaning areas and early votes get tallied, ABC News’ Mary Bruce reported.
“Let me be very clear our data shows that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, and that the counting is happening now in these states, and they are moving to us as we see the counting throughout this morning, yesterday and enter today that that counting is going to continue to show our path to victory,” said Biden Campaign Manager Jennifer O’Malley Dillon.
The Trump campaign has turned to the courts, filing a barrage of lawsuits challenging the validity of counts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, and says it intends to request a recount in Wisconsin.
“Donald Trump continues to push a flailing strategy designed to prevent people’s votes from being counted. What we’re seeing on these legal suits are that they are meritless and nothing more than an attempt to distract and delay what is now inevitable: Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States,” O’Malley Dillon said.
Trump hasn’t been seen publicly since the early hours of Wednesday morning when he falsely declared “we did win this election,” despite denying earlier he would declare victory prematurely, insisting he wouldn’t “play games.”
“This is a major fraud on our nation,” Trump said in the White House East Room, without citing any evidence. “We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So, we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
While the sitting president spreads misinformation about the integrity of the ongoing vote, his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden has called for patience and reminded delays were expected due to the unprecedented early vote and mail-in ballots that some states weren’t able to start tabulating until the morning of the election.
Biden has appeared before cameras to deliver remarks for the past two days and is expected to make another appearance Thursday in which he may respond to Trump’s calls to stop counting votes as Biden nears the necessary 270 Electoral College votes to win.
But the Biden team, too, says it’s prepared for legal battles and isn’t surprised they’re being waged as Trump repeatedly sowed doubt on election results leading up to Election Day, railing against the credibility of mail-in voting (though he has voted in the past by absentee ballot) and explicitly stating he needed to fill the ninth seat on the Supreme Court before the election, suggesting a justice he appointed could rule on election-related cases in his favor.
Trump told reporters at the White House in September it’s better to have a justice before the election “because I think this scam that the Democrats are pulling — it’s a scam — the scam will be before the United States Supreme Court.”
“I think having a 4-4 situation is not a good situation, if you get that. I don’t know that you’d get that. I think it should be 8-0 or 9-0, but just in case it would be more political than it should be, I think it’s very important to have a ninth justice,” Trump said at the time.
The lead lawyer for the Biden campaign Wednesday laughed off the idea that Trump would be able to get the Supreme Court to stop the counting of ballots.
“If at some point he arrives before the Supreme Court with a novel proposition that ballots that were lawfully cast by eligible voters but not get counted by the time Donald Trump wanted them counted, that somehow they don’t count anymore, he will be in for one of the most embarrassing defeats a president ever suffered before the highest court of the land,” Bob Bauer said.
“They made no secret of it, so we’ve had ample evidence, ample notice if you will, that this is a tactic they will try,” Bauer said. “We’re well prepared for it, and wherever they go and however they go about it, we have lawyers up ready to go, papers ready to go within an hour of hearing of any step that they take.”
Attention also turns Thursday to Republicans allies to Trump on Capitol Hill and their reaction to the president’s calls to stop the counting.
The Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said he believes there is a difference between claiming to have won an election and “finishing the counting” speaking at a press appearance in Kentucky Wednesday morning when asked about Trump’s premature declaration of victory.
“It’s not unusual for people to claim they’ve won the election, I can think of that happening on numerous occasions, but claiming you’ve won the election is different from finishing the counting,” McConnell said.
Now that Trump has done both — declared victory and called for counting to stop — it’s unclear how McConnell who decisively won his election Tuesday will respond.
With key states expected to provide consequential updates Thursday as a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the country, it is clear that whomever wins the race for president has a tough road ahead for healing divisions in the nation and debunking doubts cast on the Democratic process.
If Biden does inch closer and even surpass 270 votes, it’s unclear how Trump will react if he losses. For four years he maintained the election he won against Hillary Clinton was “rigged” — claiming, without evidence, that millions of ballots cast for him were not added to the popular vote, which showed Clinton got nearly three million more votes.
“Winning is easy,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News the morning of Election Day. “Losing is never easy. Not for me, it’s not.”
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