Senate's McConnell says Trump has right to probe election 'irregularities'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top Republican in the U.S. Congress on Monday said President Donald Trump was well within his rights to look into charges of “irregularities” in last week’s election, which has been called for Democrat Joe Biden, but did not offer any evidence of fraud.

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Trump, a Republican, has yet to acknowledge defeat two days after Biden secured enough votes in the state-by-state Electoral College to win. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he backed Trump’s launch of a legal fight into claims of voter fraud.

“President Trump is 100% within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options,” McConnell said.

McConnell spoke after four Senate Republicans, including a prominent Trump critic, acknowledged Biden’s victory. Before addressing the Senate, he met privately with Attorney General William Barr.

Trump has been saying for months before the Nov. 3 vote that he could lose only if fraudulent votes were cast. Experts say there is no evidence of significant fraud in U.S. elections.

In a speech on the Senate floor, McConnell did not acknowledge Biden as president-elect or his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, as vice president-elect.

“Let’s not have any lectures,” McConnell continued. “No lectures about how the president should immediately, cheerfully accept the preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last one.”

Biden cleared the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency on Saturday after four days of ballot counting. Biden leads in two of the four states yet to be called, and is ahead by more than 4.4 million ballots in the popular vote.

Earlier on Monday, two other Republican senators, Susan Collins and Ben Sasse, congratulated Biden, with Collins emphasizing the importance of the transition that ensures that the new administration is ready to govern on Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

“He loves this country, and I wish him every success,” Collins said of Biden in a statement. Collins, who last week won re-election, also said Trump should have the opportunity to challenge the election results, however.

Sasse, from Nebraska, made a statement of congratulations that was published in the Omaha News-Herald.

“Today in our house we pray for both President Trump and President-Elect Biden, that both would be wise in the execution of their respective duties during this important time in our nation,” said Sasse, who has been a Trump critic.

Collins and Sasse were the third and fourth Republican senators so far to congratulate Biden, along with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah, a former presidential candidate.

Most Republican senators have avoided public comment on the outcome. Some, such as Senator Lindsey Graham, have urged him to continue fighting. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told Fox News on Sunday that “every legal challenge should be heard” before Americans can decide “who won the race.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he was heartened to see a few Republicans congratulate the winning ticket.

“But too many, including the Republican leader, have been silent or sympathetic to the President’s fantasies,” he said on the Senate floor.

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