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Former President Barack Obama, left, applauds as President Donald Trump waves during his inauguration at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP) Former President Barack Obama, left, applauds as President Donald Trump waves during his inauguration at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP)

Former President Barack Obama, left, applauds as President Donald Trump waves during his inauguration at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP)

Hayat Norimine
By Hayat Norimine November 24, 2020

Democrats didn't refuse to acknowledge Trump’s 2016 victory

If Your Time is short

• The 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, conceded within hours of election results that declared Donald Trump the winner. 

• Then-DNC Chair Donna Brazile acknowledged Trump as the president-elect and congratulated him on his win in a statement issued the day after the election.

• Two days after the election, President Barack Obama invited Trump to the White House and said he wants to ensure a smooth transition for Trump’s administration.

As the world waits for President Donald Trump to concede defeat, his supporters are spreading a claim on social media that Democrats rejected Trump as president for four years. 

"We’re hearing a lot from Democrats that all Americans need to ‘unify,’" Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., tweeted on Nov. 12. "If they truly wanted unity, they wouldn’t have spent 4 years refusing to acknowledge Trump’s 2016 victory." 

The claim has since gone viral as a Facebook post that was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

In fact, Democrats began acknowledging Trump’s electoral-vote victory in 2016 within hours after it became clear. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote, called Trump on election night to congratulate him and offered to work with him. She also urged her supporters to accept the results and "look to the future."

"Donald Trump is going to be our president," Clinton said during her concession speech the morning of Nov. 9. "We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead. Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. And we don’t just respect that, we cherish it." 

The Democratic National Committee’s interim chair, Donna Brazile, referred to Trump as the president-elect in a Nov. 9 statement and congratulated him on his win. 

Two days after the election, President Barack Obama invited Trump to the White House, where they posed together and shook hands after a cordial meeting. Trump afterward called Obama "a good man" and said he’d seek his counsel. 

"We are all now rooting for his success," Obama said that day. "The peaceful transfer of power is one of the hallmarks of our democracy. And over the next few months, we are going to show that to the world."

Obama also issued a Nov. 10 statement about a smooth transition of power and what that would look like. The federal government began to engage with Trump’s transition team that same week.

The list of Democratic leaders who promptly acknowledged his victory goes on: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Secretary of State John Kerry, who was the party’s 2004 presidential nominee, all congratulated Trump and referred to him as the president-elect.

There were some dissidents. Some House Democrats tried to challenge Trump’s Electoral College win when Congress validated the results Jan. 6. Their efforts failed because no senator chose to join them. 

Several Democrats boycotted Trump’s inauguration, citing various reasons. One of them, Georgia Democratic Rep. John Lewis, said at the time that he didn’t regard Trump as a legitimate president-elect, citing intelligence reports that Russia played a role in supporting his candidacy and undermining Clinton. The two continued to feud until Lewis’ death in July 2020.

We reached out to Hice’s office to find the out the basis for his claim. His office didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Featured Fact-check

‘Not my president’ 

Despite top Democratic leaders’ calls to accept the results, protests broke out in the days that followed the election and on Inauguration Day. Thousands across the country gathered with chants of "Not my president" and, "We reject the president-elect." Clinton supporters also took to social media with the hashtags #NotMyPresident and #ImStillWithHer. 

The protesters criticized Trump’s rhetoric and policies on immigration, and thousands expressed grief and anger over his win. The message was that Trump didn’t represent their values, not that he hadn’t won the election. 

Others responded to the results with calls for election reform. Some progressive groups brought attention to the Electoral College system for allowing presidential candidates to win without the national popular vote, and blamed his win partly on voter suppression. While Trump won states accounting for 306 electoral votes, well over the 270 he needed to win, about 2.9 million more people voted for Clinton.

Russia

Trump has repeatedly accused Democrats of undercutting his 2016 victory with claims of Russian interference in the election, which he has dismissed as a "hoax." 

But Democrats weren’t the only ones to point to Russian interference in 2016. Intelligence agencies, law enforcement and an independent special counsel all concluded that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to favor Trump. A bipartisan Senate panel in April 2020 backed those findings.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who conducted a two-year probe into Russia’s interference, concluded that the Trump campaign and Russian officials were in contact several times, and that the Trump campaign believed it would benefit from Moscow’s interference. Mueller’s investigation did not establish whether those contacts amounted to a criminal conspiracy or illegal coordination.

It’s unclear how much influence Russia had on the election outcome. 

Impeachment

Trump and his supporters also point to his 2019 impeachment as evidence of a Democratic effort to erase his election victory.

In December 2019, after investigating a whistleblower complaint about a Trump phone call, the Democratic-controlled House impeached Trump on two counts. The first was abuse of power for allegedly strong-arming Ukraine to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden, and undermining national security. The other article accused Trump of blocking cooperation with Congress over its impeachment inquiry. 

The impeachment of Trump, as with President Bill Clinton in 1998, was a constitutional response to alleged misconduct in office, not a refusal to acknowledge his victory. The Senate acquitted Trump.

Our ruling

Hice claimed that Democrats have spent four years refusing to acknowledge Trump’s 2016 victory.

While there were some dissident voices that questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election, top Democrats acknowledged Trump’s win and referred to him as the president-elect less than a day after election results became clear. Those leaders included Clinton, Obama, Democratic leaders in Congress and the DNC. 

Trump and his supporters have claimed that the investigation into Russian involvement in the election and the 2019 impeachment represented Democrats’ refusal to accept the 2016 election result. The conclusion that Russia interfered in the election was supported by law enforcement, intelligence agencies and a bipartisan Senate panel, not just Democrats. And the impeachment was a response to a whistleblower’s complaint about alleged wrongdoing.

Hice goes too far in his claim that Democrats spent four years refusing to acknowledge Trump's victory, and provides no evidence for it.

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 12, 2020

Email, DNC spokesperson, Nov. 18, 2020

CNN, "4 years ago, Obama invited Trump to the White House to discuss transfers of power. Trump hasn't done the same for Biden," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

CNN, "Trump calls Obama ‘a very good man’ after historic White House meeting," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

NPR, "WATCH: Hillary Clinton Concedes Presidential Race to Donald Trump," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

Business Insider, "Timeline of 2016 and 2020 election transitions between Trump and Obama," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

BBC, "US election 2016 result: ‘He’s not my president,’" accessed Nov. 21, 2020

AP, Democratic Rep. Lewis: Trump not a 'legitimate president,' accessed Nov. 2

Intelligence Community Assessment, Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections, Accessed Nov. 24, 2020

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Lewis vs. Trump: Antagonists until the end, accessed Nov. 24, 2020

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The Atlantic, "‘Not My President’: Thousands March in Protest," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

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Tweet, Nov. 9, 2016

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The Washington Post, "The Democratic Party builds a war room to battle Trump," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

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The New York Times, "Scenes From Five Days of Anti-Trump Protests Across a Divided Nation," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

CNN, "Trump told ally he’s trying to get back at Democrats for questioning legitimacy of his own election," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

AP, "Mueller: No Russia exoneration for Trump, despite his claims," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

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Politico, "‘Imminent threat’: Democrats make final case to remove Trump," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

USA Today, "Senate Intel Committee backs finding that Russia helped Trump win," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

PolitiFact, "What’s next after Trump’s impeachment?" accessed Nov. 21, 2020

PolitiFact, "How the impeachment articles against Trump are similar to, and different from, Clinton and Nixon," accessed Nov. 21, 2020

PolitiFact, "The Russia investigation and Donald Trump: a timeline from on-the-record sources," accessed Nov. 22, 2020

PolitiFact, "The Mueller report: What you need to know," accessed Nov. 22, 2020

The New Yorker, "How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump," accessed Nov. 22, 2020

The New York Times, "‘It Is Over’: Democrats’ Efforts to Deny Trump Presidency Fail," accessed Nov. 23, 2020

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Democrats didn't refuse to acknowledge Trump’s 2016 victory

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