Donald Trump has said that he will leave the White House when the electoral college votes for Democratic president-elect Joe Biden in the closest the outgoing president has come to conceding defeat.
Biden won the presidential election with 306 electoral college votes – many more than the 270 required – to Trump’s 232. Biden also leads Trump by more than 6 million in the popular vote tally.
Trump has so far defied tradition by refusing to concede defeat, instead making a series of baseless claims about alleged ballot fraud and launching legal attempts to challenge the outcomes in several states such Pennsylvania and Michigan.
But desperate efforts by Trump and his aides to overturn results in key states, either by lawsuits or by pressuring state legislators, have failed.
Speaking to reporters on the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump said if Biden – who is due to be sworn in on 20 January – was certified the election winner by the electoral college, he would depart the White House.
Trump’s comments, made to reporters at the White House after speaking to troops during the traditional Thanksgiving Day address to US service members, appear to take him one step nearer to admitting defeat.
Asked if he would leave the White House if the college vote went against him, Trump said: “Certainly I will. And you know that,” adding that: “If they do, they’ve made a mistake.”
However, Trump said it would be “a very hard thing to concede” and declined to say whether he would attend Biden’s inauguration, which is due to take place on 20 January.
It was the first time he had taken questions from reporters since election day, and at times he turned combative, calling one reporter a “lightweight” and telling him “don’t talk to me like that”.
Trump’s administration has already given the green light for a formal transition to get underway. But Trump took issue with Biden moving forward.
“I think it’s not right that he’s trying to pick a Cabinet,” Trump said, even though officials from both teams are already working together to get Biden’s team up to speed.
At one point he urged reporters not to allow Biden the credit for pending coronavirus vaccines.
“Don’t let him take credit for the vaccines because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they’ve ever been pushed before,” he said.
As for whether or not he plans to formally declare his candidacy to run again in 2024 – as he has discussed with aides – Trump he didn’t “want to talk about 2024 yet.”
The electoral college is due to meet on 14 December when each state’s nominated electors will cast their votes for the winner of the state’s presidential ballot. The votes are officially counted by Congress on 6 January.
When asked about Trump’s comments, Biden campaign spokesperson, Michael Gwin said: “President-elect Biden won 306 electoral votes. States continue to certify those results, the Electoral College will soon meet to ratify that outcome,” adding: “Biden will be sworn in as President on January 20, 2021.”
Showing that he intends to stay in the political fray until the end of his term, Trump said on Thursday he would travel on 5 December to Georgia, a once solidly Republican state he lost narrowly to Biden, to campaign for two Republican Senate candidates.
The two runoff elections in Georgia on 5 January will determine whether the Republicans keep their majority in the Senate.
Biden and Trump both stayed close to home to celebrate Thanksgiving as the coronavirus pandemic raged across the country.
Biden spent the holiday with his family in Delaware, giving a presidential-style address in a message posted on twitter. He said Americans were making a “shared sacrifice for the whole country” and a “statement of common purpose” by staying at home with their immediate families.
Trump often likes to celebrate holidays at his Mar-a-Largo resort in Florida. But on Thursday he remained in the Washington area, spending part of the morning at his Trump National Golf Club in Virginia where he played a round of golf.
The US is rapidly approaching 13m confirmed Covid-19 infections, and by Thursday more than 263,000 people in the country had lost their lives to coronavirus.