US Election 2020

US election: what happens if Trump won't leave the White House in January?

Joe Biden won the presidency, but in case you hadn't noticed his predecessor isn't taking it very well. What happens if Donald Trump just won't go?

US presidential election: what happens if Trump refuses to leave the White House in January?
MANDEL NGAN AFP

In a normal world, when we get to the point where the outcome of a presidential election clearly indicates a new leader, the attention smoothly shifts to the transition period as power is gradually handed over.

It has been clear for a while now that we are not living in a normal world.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden's victory has not been met by concession on the part of his opponent, gracefully agreeing to handover the presidency of the United States. In fact, far from expecting a concession speech from Trump, most are expecting to never hear one. He does, after all, have quite a few concerns to deal with once his immunity has ended.

Donald Trump is intent on frustrating the democratic process, launching a series of failing lawsuits and by demanding recounts wherever possible, in short - he is clearly not going to leave quietly. In fact, some have begun to speculate that even if a final, certified count shows that he has lost, he may not leave. In this bizarre circumstance, what would happen?

What would happen if Donald Trump refused to leave the White House?

There are several steps that lead up to a president-elect in Biden's position taking full control of the White House on inauguration day, 20 January, 2021. These include the deadline for resolving ballot disputes, of which there are many this year as well as the Electoral College vote which takes place on 14 December. After that, Vice President Pence will announce the election results on 20 January. It's likely that by then pressure on Trump to accept (at least privately) his defeat will have won out.

Failing that, there is really no precedent for a defeated President barricading himself in the Oval Office so no one can say for sure, but once the legal disputes have been settled and if he is shown to have lost then he really has no legal right to remain there.

Talking to the Houston Chronicle, Rice University political science professor Bob Stein said on the eventuality, "if the president refuses to leave the office, the Secret Service and the FBI will be on the ground. The FBI and Secret Service control the White House. At that point, I think you have a national crisis."

It is extremely unlikely that it could ever come to this, but Joe Biden’s campaign spokesman Andrew Bates has jokingly suggested that Trump could be removed from the premises.

“As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election”, said Bates. "And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House”.

Has a president ever refused to leave the White House before?

No. Never in US history has a president ever refused to leave the White House, or peacefully transfer over power. Of the 44 Presidents who served before Trump, 35 willingly ceded power to their successor after either their two-term limit ended, they lost an election, or they chose not to run again. Eight other Presidents died and one quit.

Is Donald Trump prepared for the fact he lost this election?

In a word, no. As well as his public defiance he has also refused to countenance losing during conversations with his inner circle. His sons, Eric and Donald Jr, have both be forceful advocates for him and vice president Mike Pence has been soliciting funds for his upcoming legal battles.

CNN has reported that some in the White House have actually become frustrated with those who pander to the president rather than encouraging him to face the reality. One insider blamed staffers, such as Mark Meadows, who “have not attempted to come to terms with the president about the reality of what is happening” and have instead fed into his claims of fraud.

They revealed that despite having now lost the Electoral College the President has not prepared a concession speech and “in conversations with allies in recent days has said he has no intention of conceding the election.”

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