President Donald Trump on Thursday raised the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 U.S. 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, Reuters reported.
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, whose 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.