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What Happens if Trump Refuses to Leave?

Trump could be dragged out of the White House if he refuses to give up power on January 20th

Kris LaGrange's picture
Nov 09, 2020

On Saturday, Joe Biden declared victory and started the clock on the transition of power between Trump and Biden. Over the United State’s history, there has always been a peaceful transfer of power. A President has never fought the result on Inauguration Day and refused to leave the office. Yet, Trump’s behavior is leading some to wonder what would happen if Trump simply refused to leave the White House on January 20th?

Like everything else, there is a plan in the event of a President refusing to leave the White House. "As we said on July 19th, the American people will decide this election," Biden's team said in a statement Friday. "And the United States government is perfectly capable of escorting trespassers out of the White House." While the comment was meant to elicit a laugh, Newsweek is reporting that the Secret Service would in fact remove Trump from the White House on January 20th. "The Secret Service would escort him off, they would treat him like any old man who'd wandered on the property," one former official involved in the transition process between former President Barack Obama and Trump told Newsweek.

Trump’s refusal to cede power would be a historic move. "No sitting president has ever refused to leave office or vacate the White House in the course of American history," the White House Historical Association told Newsweek. In fact, George Washington established the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power when he decided that he would not run for a third term and ceded power in 1797 after the election of 1796.

According to the 20th Amendment at Noon on January 20th, a President loses their mandate to be President. "As of noon of January 2021 the Beast doesn't belong to him, AF1 doesn't belong to him, and the White House doesn't belong to him," former U.S. Navy intelligence and counter-terrorism specialist Malcolm Nance told Newsweek.

Traditionally, an outgoing President would attend the inauguration and once the new President is sworn in, they would leave and take one last flight out of the White House to Andrew’s Air Force base to fly to wherever their new home will be. In a break with tradition, it seems that Trump will refuse to attend the inauguration and has instructed staffers to not aid in the transition, with GSA Administrator Emily Murphy going so far as to refuse to sign a letter that would declare Biden the winner and allow government funds to begin being used to finance the transition. Some costs include covering travel for prospective nominees and beginning background checks for the thousands of hires that Biden will need to make in the coming weeks. All of the major networks have called the race for President-elect Joe Biden.

While some people are concerned that Trump could use the military to prevent the Secret Service from removing him, the Pentagon says that won’t happen. "A POTUS becomes the commander-in-chief upon taking the presidential oath of office," a Pentagon spokesperson told Newsweek. "A former POTUS does not retain any authorities as they relate to the U.S. Armed Forces."

Even if Trump tried a legal challenge to stop the Electoral College from voting, he would still be kicked out of office on January 20th. "There is no constitutional provision to extend the term of office," the White House Historical Association said. "If no president has been chosen by January 20, 2021, then the statutory line of succession begins, which means the Speaker of the House ascends to the presidency. The Vice President's term similarly ends at noon on January 20."

Of the 43 men who preceded Trump, 35 willingly ceded power due to retiring, being term-limited, or losing re-election. One resigned and the other eight died in office. None have ever been forcibly removed by the Secret Service.

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