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If Donald Trump Refuses to Leave the White House, Secret Service Will Escort Him Out

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In a year of tragic firsts for the country, the unthinkable is always a possibility.

As an early lead began to slip on election night, President Donald Trump prematurely declared victory, even as former Vice President Joe Biden appeared set to win thanks to an influx of mail-in ballots, received early but counted last in key states.

Trump has since claimed the race was rigged and shows no sign of conceding, leading the Biden campaign to consider outcomes previously thought to be only the most radical.

“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.”

And the Secret Service would be the ones to do it, one former U.S. official and two experts told Newsweek.

The scenarios Newsweek discussed with its sources are hypothetical. No network has called the race and the votes are still being counted. Trump has a narrow path to victory in the electoral college. He has never said or implied that he would continue to occupy the White House after exhausting any legal challenges to the vote.

Still, this is what happens when a sitting president doesn’t stand up to pass the baton to his or her successor. It’s never been seen before in the United States and there is no imminent threat that it will happen in January, but there is a plan in place to prevent a transition in power crisis.

The 20th Amendment has it that Trump, or any other lame-duck leader, loses his presidential mandate January 20 at noon, and, if he tries to stick around after that, the very guard once tasked with protecting the nation’s top officeholder now has to evict him.

“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.

secret, service, donald, trump, escort
U.S. President Donald Trump is removed by a member of the Secret Service from the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC after the Secret Service shot an apparently armed man outside nearby, August 10.Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

And whether or not Trump actually attends the Inauguration Day ceremony is irrelevant to the actual transfer of authority—in which Trump would also lose privileged modes of transportation such as the presidential Air Force One and his iconic, fortified limousine, the Beast.

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“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.

The system is intentionally built to work independently of the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House at the time.

“The transition process is automated. There is no ‘do-it yourself’ move,” Nance said. “So if he doesn’t have a designated place, they’ll decide for him. Basically, the systematic things will happen whether he’s a willing participant or not.”

Trump also loses his commander-in-chief status, meaning the Pentagon cannot and will not come to his aid should Biden be sworn in.

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“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.”

It’s not the military’s place to intervene, however. Like the former official Newsweekspoke to, Nance also indicated it would be the Secret Service to remove the president, physically if need be.

“If he says he will not physically leave the White House, they will physically remove him,” he added. “They may have to put hands on him to remove him. They may tell him if he doesn’t make his flight, he may have to contract his own flight.”

Such a scenario would be unprecedented. Of the 44 men who preceded Trump in the presidency, 35 have willingly ceded power either because their two-term limit expired, they lost an election or chose not to run again. Eight died and one quit.

Trump managed to unwillingly make history last year by being only the third president to be impeached, but—like Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton before him—the Senate saved Trump from being ousted.

Overstaying his Oval Office welcome after an election, however, would truly be unparalleled.

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“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.

donald, trump, barack, obama, joe, biden
U.S. President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with former U.S. President Barack Obama (C) and former Vice President Joe Biden after being sworn in as president on January 20, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Obama and Biden lost their presidential and vice presidential authorities, respectively, on noon that day.MARK RALSTON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Even if Trump managed to somehow vacate the vote itself, the outcome would likely be unfavorable for him. No avenue exists for him to prolong his administration nor appoint his deputy, Vice President Mike Pence.


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