Trump Raises Possibility of Delaying Election — but That Power Rests in Congress
President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 US elections, which the Constitution does not give him the power to do, words Democrats and some of his fellow Republicans immediately condemned and called an attempt to distract from devastating economic news.
Trump’s statement on Twitter comes as the United States is living through the greatest crises of a generation — with more than 150,000 dead in the coronavirus pandemic, nationwide protests against police violence and racism, and on the morning the country reported its worst economic contraction since the Great Depression.
Trump, who polls show losing ground to and trailing Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden, also said he would not trust the results of an election that included widespread mail voting — a measure that many observers see as critical given the coronavirus pandemic. Without evidence, he claimed that mail voting would be rife with fraud.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
The US economy contracted by 32.9% in the second quarter, as the fast-spreading coronavirus sparked widespread lockdowns.
The United States has held elections for more than 230 years, including during the Civil War, the Great Depression and two world wars. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution gives Congress the power to set the timing of elections, and the 20th Amendment ends a president and vice president’s term in office on the Jan. 20 following a general election.
Democratic US Representative Zoe Lofgren, who chairs the House committee overseeing election security, rejected the idea of a delay.
“Only Congress can change the date of our elections,” Lofgren said in an email to Reuters. “Under no circumstances will we consider doing so to accommodate the President’s inept and haphazard response to the coronavirus pandemic, or give credence to the lies and misinformation he spreads regarding the manner in which Americans can safely and securely cast their ballots.”
Trump’s tweet came without warning and surprised some White House staffers. The White House referred questions about the Tweet to Trump’s re-election campaign, which in a statement said the president was simply raising a question.
“The President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting,” said Hogan Gidley, the campaign’s press secretary. “Universal mail-in voting invites chaos and severe delays in results.”
Former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett said he did not believe the message was serious: “I think he’s just trying to create news, something else for people to talk about.”
Trump had previously suggested he would not trust election results — complaints similar to those he raised going into the runup to the 2016 election — but had not so directly suggested changing the Nov. 3 date.
Trump without evidence has cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, which have been used in far greater numbers in primary elections amid the pandemic. He has also made unsubstantiated allegations that voting will be rigged and has refused to say he would accept official election results if he lost.
Many states earlier this year rescheduled primaries due to the fast-spreading coronavirus.
Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary under Republican President George W. Bush, said Trump should delete the tweet.
“This is not an idea anyone, especially POTUS, should float. Our democracy is based on elections in which everyone knows the rules and they apply to all,” Fleischer said. “Mr. President — please don’t even pretend to mess with this. It’s a harmful idea.”
‘Don’t let it happen’
Democrats, including Biden, have already begun preparations to protect voters and the election amid fears that Trump will try to interfere with the November election.
Polls have shown that US registered voters oppose the idea of election delay. When Reuters/Ipsos in April asked voters if they thought the election should be rescheduled due to the coronavirus, 59% opposed the idea, including a majority of voters in each party.
“A sitting president is peddling lies and suggesting delaying the election to keep himself in power,” Democratic Representative Dan Kildee wrote on Twitter. “Don’t let it happen. Every American ‐‐ Republican, Independent and Democrat ‐‐ should be speaking out against this President’s lawlessness and complete disregard of the Constitution.”
The Democratic National Committee dismissed the message as an empty threat.
“Trump’s threat is nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract from today’s devastating economic numbers that make it clear his failed response to the coronavirus has tanked the US economy and caused tens of millions of Americans to lose their jobs,” DNC spokeswoman Lily Adams said in a statement. “Trump can tweet all he wants, but the reality is that he can’t delay the election.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ignored reporters’ questions about Trump’s tweet as he walked into the chamber on Thursday. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sidestepped the issue when asked about the tweet at a Senate hearing, saying, “I’m not going to enter a legal judgment on that on the fly.”
Nonpartisan US election analyst Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia said the tweet seemed to follow Trump’s typical approach of trying to distract voters from bad news.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights project, likewise said Trump lacked the authority to reschedule an election.
“This is America,” Ho said. “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.”