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Trump transition order follows chorus of GOP criticism

President TrumpDonald TrumpNYT: Rep. Perry played role in alleged Trump plan to oust acting AG Arizona GOP censures top state Republicans McCain, Flake and Ducey Biden and UK prime minister discuss NATO, multilateralism during call MORE's decision to tell his administration to start the transition came as GOP criticism of his efforts to overturn the results of President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenDC residents jumped at opportunity to pay for meals for National Guardsmen Joe Biden might bring 'unity' – to the Middle East Biden shouldn't let defeating cancer take a backseat to COVID MORE's win reached a crescendo on Monday.

In the hours leading up to Trump’s announcement, more Republicans came out with statements saying the election was over, Biden was likely the next president and it was important to begin the transfer of power.

Among those GOP voices were Sens. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (W.Va.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds Bipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' MORE (Ohio), two advisers to the Senate Republican leadership. Criticism also came from prominent conservatives like talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who said Trump’s legal team needed to back up its claims of widespread voter fraud with hard evidence.

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“While some irregularities and fraud have been found and should be punished, there is no indication that these are widespread enough to call into question the outcome of the election,” Capito said in a statement, while acknowledging Biden is likely to be the next president.

Portman, who co-chaired Trump’s campaign in Ohio and is up for reelection in 2022, said the campaign has yet to provide compelling evidence that voting irregularities and fraud denied Trump a second term. 

“Based on all the information currently available, neither the final lawful vote counts nor the recounts have led to a different outcome in any state. In other words, the initial determination showing Joe Biden with enough electoral votes to win has not changed,” he wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Capito and Portman said Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden must wait weekend for State Department pick Senators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal An ally in the White House is good for abortion access, but not enough MORE should begin receiving briefings on national security and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The General Services Administration (GSA) on Monday night issued a letter of ascertainment to officially start the presidential transition, with Trump saying he ordered the agency to take that step while he continues his legal fights.

But fading Republican support for those legal challenges contributed in large part to Trump’s GSA move, with the president’s lawyers coming under increasing scrutiny for making explosive claims without providing much in the way of hard evidence.

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Former New Jersey Gov. Chris ChristieChris ChristieSenator releases photos of man wanted in connection with Capitol riot Press: Only one week left, why impeach him twice? The Hill's Morning Report - House to impeach Trump this week MORE (R), a close Trump ally, on Sunday called the conduct of Trump’s legal team, led by former New York City Mayor Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiLawyers group calls for Giuliani's suspension from law practice, ethics probe Would Trump have gotten away with a self-pardon? History will never know Trump grants clemency to more than 100 people, including Bannon MORE, “a national embarrassment.”

A day later, Limbaugh used his radio show to draw attention to the fallout from last week’s widely criticized press conference with Giuliani.

"I talked to so many people who were blown away by it, by the very nature of the press conference," Limbaugh said. "They promised blockbuster stuff, and then nothing happened. And that’s just not good."

National security officials and business leaders often allied with Republicans also put pressure on Trump before he announced the transition.

More than 100 Republican foreign affairs and national security experts on Monday issued a statement warning that Trump’s refusal to begin the transfer of power to Biden “poses significant risks to our national security” at a time the nation faces “a global pandemic” and “serious threats from global adversaries.”

The signatories included former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.

Separately, more than 160 CEOs and leaders of major New York-based companies such as Goldman Sachs, Visa, Mastercard, BlackRock and Deloitte published a letter on Monday calling on Trump to agree to an orderly transition.

“Every day that an orderly presidential transition process is delayed, our democracy grows weaker in the eyes of our own citizens and the nation’s stature on the global stage is diminished,” they wrote.

Republican strategists say statements like the ones from Capito and Portman are a sign that support for Trump’s legal challenges are rapidly eroding and that GOP lawmakers want to start preparing to work with what they recognize will be a new administration.

“It shows that members understand the reality is that Trump isn’t going to win these cases. The members want to work with a potential Biden administration. They want to get ahead of the curve and not start off on the wrong foot,” said Brian Darling, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide.  

Up until this past weekend, only four Republican senators had congratulated Biden on winning the presidential election: Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump For Biden, a Senate trial could aid bipartisanship around COVID relief MORE (Maine), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump impeachment trial to begin week of Feb. 8 Murkowski didn't vote for Trump, won't join Democrats Trump impeachment article being sent to Senate Monday MORE (Alaska), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySunday shows preview: All eyes on Biden administration to tackle coronavirus The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's crisis agenda hits headwinds GOP senators say only a few Republicans will vote to convict Trump MORE (Utah) and Ben SasseBen SasseFormer official acknowledges final days in office a 'black eye' for Trump Republican senators and courage The next pandemic may be cyber — How Biden administration can stop it MORE (Neb.). The four are considered Trump’s most outspoken GOP critics in the Senate.

Now, more mainstream GOP lawmakers, who are generally less likely to criticize the president, are speaking out.

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On Saturday evening, Sen. Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeyGovernment used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 Appeals court rules NSA's bulk phone data collection illegal Dunford withdraws from consideration to chair coronavirus oversight panel MORE (R-Pa.) issued a strong statement declaring that Trump had “exhausted all plausible legal options” and called on the president to concede.

“I congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on their victory,” Toomey said.

James Wallner, a former Senate Republican aide, said other GOP senators are likely to make similar statements in the coming days.

“You’re going to see more and more senators and congressmen and other elected officials and party officials come out and basically echo what Portman and Toomey have said, which is, ‘OK, now it’s done,’ ” he said.

Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said Biden won Pennsylvania because he won big in the suburbs and that voting anomalies were minor. 

“We’re not naïve, we know that there was probably some fraud. But widespread? No,” he said. “We’re probably the most litigated state in the country largely because of the importance of our 20 electoral votes.”

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Gerald Seib, executive Washington editor of The Wall Street Journal, wrote on Monday that Trump’s repeated attacks on the integrity of the election results may have the unintended effect of casting doubt on the legitimacy of Republican officeholders. 

“For other Republicans, one of the costs associated with the president’s continued attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election is that he is attacking the legitimacy of the very electoral system that brought all of them into office in the first place — and a system that actually has been quite good to Republicans at every level of government,” Seib wrote.

Republicans outperformed expectations in Senate and House races this year — limiting Senate Democrats to a net pickup of only one seat on Election Day and picking up at least eight House seats, with several races yet to be called.

Some Republicans, however, argue there are voting irregularities that still need to be investigated.

“I don’t think we have to rush to this. I think there are a lot of voters out there that are saying, ‘OK, let’s take a look at this. Let’s see what happened,’ ” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican pollster. 

McLaughlin noted the Electoral College will meet on Dec. 14, giving Trump’s legal team more time to make its arguments.

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But as Trump’s legal challenges fail to gain traction in court or significantly change states’ vote totals, Republican lawmakers are getting ready to close the book on the 2020 presidential election. 

Asked about the growing impatience of senators like Capito, Portman and Toomey, McLaughlin insisted the delay in conceding this year’s election won’t have any long-term political impact on Trump.

“I think more may come out and say Donald Trump should concede, but I honestly believe some things don’t look right in this election and the president feels he owes it to his voters to take a look at it. We’ll see what they come up with,” he said.

Alex Gangitano contributed.