By Amy Gardner and John Wagner/The Washington Post
Washington, July 30: US President Donald Trump drew immediate rebukes from Republicans and Democrats alike on Thursday after floating the prospect of delaying the November election and claiming without evidence that widespread mail balloting would be a “catastrophic disaster” leading to fraudulent results.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Trump gave no indication that he will push for the date change — or that he thinks he has the power to do so. The U.S. Constitution gives the power to regulate the “time, place and manner” of general elections to the U.S. House and Senate, with Congress also empowered to alter the rules. States control the dates of primary elections. Nowhere is the president granted such power.
In addition, the Constitution spells out a hard end to a president’s and vice president’s terms on Jan. 20 in the year following a presidential election.
“The President has no power to change the date of the election,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine. “This is yet another statement by the President which undermines voter confidence and that seeks without evidence to undermine the legitimacy of voting by mail.”
Trump can’t delay the election, experts say
Democrats and Republicans alike quickly condemned the president’s tweet, many expressing alarm at the president’s apparent disregard for the limits of his power.
“Election Day is and will be Nov 3, 2020,” said Republican Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary to George W. Bush. “Mr. President — please don’t even pretend to mess with this. It’s a harmful idea.”
President Trump stops to talk to reporters as he walks to board Marine One and depart from the South Lawn at the White House on Wednesday.
President Trump stops to talk to reporters as he walks to board Marine One and depart from the South Lawn at the White House on Wednesday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Added Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in a Fox News interview Thursday morning: “We will not delay the election.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to reporters’ questions about the president’s tweet as he headed to the Senate floor Thursday morning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) simply tweeted the relevant passage from the Constitution granting Congress the power to set election dates.
Trump’s tweet came shortly after a report was released showing the U.S. economy shrank 9.5 percent from April through June, the largest quarterly decline since the government began publishing data 70 years ago, and the latest, sobering reflection of the coronavirus pandemic’s economic devastation.
Democrats quickly suggested that Trump’s suggestion reflected a realization that he could lose to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who has been leading in national and many battleground state polls.
“Donald Trump is terrified,” tweeted Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who is among those being considered as a running mate for Biden. “He knows he’s going to lose to @JoeBiden. It will require every single one of us to make that happen. We will see you at the ballot box on November 3rd, @realDonaldTrump.”
Some used the occasion to promote how-to instructions on mail balloting.
“President Trump is talking about delaying the November election because he is afraid of people voting by mail,” Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.) said in a tweet in which she included a link to a Florida government website with instructions on how to do so. “You know what to do,” she added.
U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) called Trump’s tweet “despicable,” especially because it came on the day of civil rights icon John Lewis’s funeral.
“Americans will rise up & continue John’s fight for unfettered access to the ballot box,” Clyburn tweeted. “Our voices will not be silenced.”
As more states have turned to mail-in voting in response the pandemic, Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine the method, often with unsubstantiated claims. He has attacked mail voting nearly 70 times since late March in interviews, remarks and tweets, including at least 17 times this month, according to a tally by The Washington Post.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet. Earlier this week at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, however, Attorney General William P. Barr told Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) he had not studied the question of whether the president could move the election date.
“I’ve never been asked the question before, I’ve never looked into it,” Barr said.
Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said in a statement that the president was merely “raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting.”
In fact, most Democrats are pushing for mail balloting in addition to early in-person and Election Day voting, because many voters are more comfortable casting their ballots in person.
Trump has argued that mail-in voting tends to hurt Republicans at the ballot box.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted this month shows that 51 percent of Democrats prefer voting by mail this fall, compared to 20 percent of Republicans. However, a recent study by Stanford University researchers found no partisan impact of expanding voting by mail.
At the congressional hearing, Barr repeated his concern that he felt there was a “high risk” mail-in voting would lead to fraud, but said he did not believe the election would be rigged — seeming to break with Trump.
“I have no reason to think it will be,” he said.
Even if Congress voted to delay the general election, the electoral college is still required to elect a president under federal law. If for some reason that didn’t happen, Trump and Vice President Pence would still be required to leave office by noon on Jan. 20. With no successor, the speaker of the House of Representatives, currently Pelosi, would be next in line.