STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
What do we make of the latest statement by the president of the United States? A reporter asked him last night if he will commit to a peaceful transfer of power, something that every president since George Washington has accomplished. Would he commit to a peaceful transfer regardless of the election outcome? And the president did not say yes. He then repeated completely false complaints about mail-in ballots. Here's the president in his own words.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to have to see what happens. You knew that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.
INSKEEP: That was the president's unsubstantiated reference to mail-in ballots, which had been used safely for years. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was listening. Hey there, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Steve.
INSKEEP: And there's a bit of a delay on the line, we'll mention for people. What's going on here?
LIASSON: What's going on is that the president just gave a more extreme version of something he's been saying consistently since 2016, refusing to say that he would accept the result of an election unless he was the winner. He was asked in July by Fox News' Chris Wallace. He said I'm not going to say yes. I'm not going to say no. At rallies, he says I will accept the result if I win. And he continues to say the election would be rigged, mail ballots, as you said, without evidence, are fraudulent. Look; the peaceful transfer of power is the bedrock of a constitutional democracy where we settle our differences at the ballot box and not with bullets and where both sides accept the outcome of the election. And the president is undermining that basic principle and fanning the flames of all of the stresses on democratic institutions that are happening right now.
INSKEEP: OK. We have lined up a recording of some more of the president's words about mail-in ballots, and I'm not going to play it because it's just completely false. We've played it before. We've reported this previously. The president has made a wide range of false complaints about mail-in ballots. But he did claim the ballots were out of control and claimed the Democrats know this. What do you make of the president's comments?
LIASSON: I think what the president seems to be doing is to say, as he has done in the past, especially for elections in Florida in 2018, that the only - the election night tally should be accepted. Any outstanding mail-in ballots that often take days, sometimes weeks, to count shouldn't count. And it's possible that he's laying the groundwork to say the election should be over on election night if he has a lead in the mail-in ballots. Sometimes this is called the red mirage because more Republicans will vote in person; more Democrats will vote by mail. But then over time, as votes are counted, you get something, like, that's called a blue shift. It happened in 2018. And the president sounds like he's getting ready to challenge the results of the election.
INSKEEP: I think we should hear the president about the Supreme Court. What did he say there?
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TRUMP: I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it's very important that we have nine justices.
INSKEEP: What's the importance of saying nine justices, Mara?
LIASSON: Well, he's about - he probably by Election Day will have appointed three of them, one-third of the court. It sounds like he says the Supreme Court will decide the election. And he seems very confident that they'll decide for him.
INSKEEP: Mara, thanks very much for the insights. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.