Republican senators say they're startled over "irresponsible" comments by President Biden Wednesday refusing to affirm that the 2022 midterm elections will be legitimate if Democrats can't pass their major election bills.

"It's unfortunate," Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, told Fox News. Portman is a moderate who was critical of former President Trump's false claims that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate. 

"As you know, the Democrats have been highly critical of those Republicans who refused to accept the results of the last election and use the word ‘rigged’ to say that elections weren't fair. They're using the exact same language and casting doubt on elections," Portman said. "It's irresponsible."

A reporter asked Biden Wednesday if he believed the upcoming election "will be fairly conducted and its results will be legitimate." The president responded that "it all depends on whether or not we're able to make the case to the American people that some of this is being set up to try to alter the outcome of the election." 

President Biden gestures as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


Another reporter followed up on the topic later and the president doubled down, saying, "I'm not saying it's going to be legit. The increase and the prospect of it being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed."

The comments were similar answers Trump gave to similar questions ahead of the 2020 presidential election. 

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. – who is more aligned with Trump than Republicans like Portman, but notably voted against overturning the 2020 Electoral College results – said he was jarred by Biden's comments. 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, addresses the media at Wyoming High School in Wyoming, Ohio, June 22, 2017. Portman said comments casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2022 midterms by President Biden were "irresponsible." (REUTERS/John Sommers)

"I think it was shocking, to be honest with you. Just shocking. To have the president of the United States trying to undermine the results of an election before there's actually an election is a stunning manifestation," Scott said. 

At least one Democrat distanced himself from the president. 


"We might have a difference of opinion," Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told Fox News. "I believe in the Department of Justice doing its job."

But others were less definitive. 

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., questions Chris Magnus as he appears before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on his nomination to be the next U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Oct. 19, 2021. Rod Lamkey/Pool via REUTERS

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 19, 2021. Scott said comments by President Biden Wednesday on the legitimacy of the 2022 elections were "shocking." (Rod Lamkey/Pool via REUTERS)

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., didn't directly answer a question from Fox News about Biden's comment. He said the election bill the Senate voted on Wednesday was "very important" and "it certainly deals with the integrity of the election process and the confidence of the people of this country in our free election." 

Asked whether he would still have confidence in the 2022 midterms if the Senate is unable to advance Democrats' election legislation, Cardin simply said, "the way I word it is the way I word it." 

Cardin separately told CNN Wednesday, "I don't know if I'd use those terms," when asked about Biden's comment.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chairs a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Manchin distanced himself from comments President Biden made Wednesday about the legitimacy of the upcoming midterms. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Vice President Harris on NBC's "Today" Thursday also declined to directly say whether the 2022 elections will be legitimate.

"The president has been consistent on this issue and the issue at hand, the issue I was there last night in the chamber of the Senate and the issue is there are two bills… that have been the solution that has been offered to address the fact that around our country states have put in place laws that are purposely making it more difficult for the American people to vote," Harris said on "Today." 

When anchor Savannah Guthrie tried to pin Harris down on the question again, the vice president continued to dodge and rail against election laws in GOP states. 

Vice President Kamala Harris on NBC Thursday refused to say definitively that the 2022 elections will be legitimate, following similar comments from President Biden Wednesday. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) (@TODAYshow Screenshot)

After Harris' comment and simmering overnight criticism of Biden, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday morning that the president "was not casting doubt on the legitimacy of the 2022 election."

"He was making the opposite point: In 2020, a record number of voters turned out in the face of a pandemic, and election officials made sure they could vote and have those votes counted," Psaki continued. "He was explaining that the results would be illegitimate if states do what the former president asked them to do after the 2020 election: toss out ballots and overturn results after the fact."

At least one Senate Republican wasn't satisfied with the clean-up efforts from Psaki and Harris. 


"Instead of hemming and hawing, President Biden could have simply said that America’s elections have been and will continue to be legitimate. But he didn’t say that and now his team is lying," Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said. "The Vice President is doubling down while the Press Secretary is trying to spin it. This isn’t rocket science: public officials – Republicans and Democrats – should defend public trust in self-government."

Portman told Fox News that after Democrats' election bills failed Wednesday, he hoped for "changes like the Electoral Count Act, where there seems to be bipartisan support… and [to] get away from the hyperbole."