WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the idea of delaying the US election on November 3, an idea immediately rejected by both Democrats and fellow Republicans in Congress, the only branch of government with the authority to make such a change.
Critics and even Trump’s allies dismissed the notion as a non-serious attempt to distract the devastating economic news, but some legal experts warned that his repeated attacks could undermine the faith of his supporters in the electoral process.
Trump’s statement on Twitter comes as the United States is experiencing a multiple crisis, unique in a generation: a coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 150,000 lives, a crippling recession brought on by the outbreak, and national protests against police violence. and racism. On Thursday morning, the government reported the worst economic contraction in the United States since the Great Depression: 32.9% in the second quarter.
Trump, whose opinion polls show Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, said he would not trust the results of an election that included widespread voting by mail, a move that many observers consider critical given the coronavirus pandemic. Without evidence, he claimed that the increase in postal voting would be fraught with fraud, but praised absentee voting, which is also conducted by mail.
With universal postal voting (not absentee voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACTIVE and FRAUDULENT election in history. It will be a great shame for the United States, ”Trump wrote on Twitter. “Delaying elections until people can vote properly and safely?”
At a White House press conference later in the day, Trump did not repeat his call for a delay in the election, but said he was concerned about fraud and a long wait for the results of counting ballots by mail.
“Do I want to see a date change? No. But I don’t want to see a corrupt election, “he told reporters.
The United States has held elections for more than 200 years, including during the Civil War, the Great Depression, and two world wars. Article II of the United States Constitution gives Congress the power to set the timing of elections, and the twentieth amendment ends the term of a president and vice president on January 20 after a general election.
Multiple Republicans in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy, rejected the idea.
“We have never had a choice in the history of federal elections and we must move forward with our choice,” McCarthy said.
US Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House committee that oversees electoral security, also rejected any delay.
“Under no circumstances will we consider doing so to accommodate the president’s inept and casual response to the coronavirus pandemic, or crediting the lies and misinformation he is disseminating,” Lofgren said in an email to Reuters.
Trump wrote on Twitter later Thursday that Americans needed to know the election results on the night of the vote, not days or months later. Mail ballots can sometimes take longer to count.
“I’m glad I was able to get the very dishonest LameStream media outlets to finally start talking about the RISKS to our Democracy from dangerous universal mail in the vote,” he said in the tweet.
Trump’s tweets will deepen Democrats’ fears that he will try to interfere with the election or refuse to accept his outcome if he loses. Biden has called it his greatest fear and has gone so far as to suggest sending the military to force Trump to leave if he refuses to leave.
Democrats are gearing up for absentee ballot fights, possible vote counts, and the possibility that Republican Trump supporters will seek to intimidate voters at the polls.
The really dangerous part of Trump’s tweet on Thursday was not his suggestion to delay the election, which is a “fantasy,” but his latest claim that voting by mail is fraught with fraud, according to Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University. Marymount and an expert in constitutional law.
“This is yet another example of the president seeking to delegitimize the electoral process before it occurs,” Levitt said. “That is deeply destabilizing.”
A Republican close to the White House was stunned by the tweet, noting that it followed a period of stability in which Trump stuck to the message in response to advice from new campaign manager Bill Stepien and senior campaign manager Jason Miller. .
“Obviously you can’t help it. This is starting to look like a real campaign, and then it does, “said the Republican source. “It’s terrible. It’s starting to look like it doesn’t even want to win.”
The White House referred questions about the tweet to Trump’s re-election campaign.
“The president only raises a question about the chaos Democrats have created through his insistence on all mail ballots,” said Hogan Gidley, the campaign’s press secretary. “Universal postal voting invites chaos and severe delays in results.”
Ari Fleischer, who was a White House press secretary under Republican President George W. Bush, said Trump should remove the tweet.
“This is not an idea that anyone, especially POTUS, should float. Our democracy is based on elections in which everyone knows the rules and applies to everyone, “said Fleischer.” Sir. President, please don’t even try to mess with this. It is a harmful idea. ”
Polls have shown that registered voters in the United States object to an electoral delay. When Reuters / Ipsos asked voters in April if they believed the election should be rescheduled due to the coronavirus, 59% opposed the idea, including a majority in each party.
A Biden campaign official called Trump’s tweet an obvious ploy to distract himself from the dire GDP numbers.
“We are going to keep an eye on the ball,” said the Biden campaign official.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights project, said Trump did not have the authority to reschedule an election.
“This is America,” said Ho. “We are a democracy, not a dictatorship. The Constitution sets the date for the election in November. Nothing President Trump says, does, or tweets can change that fact. ”
Report from Steve Holland; additional reports by Rick Cowan, David Morgan, Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey, Michael Martina and Joseph Ax, written by Scott Malone; Jonathan Oatis and Rosalba O’Brien edition