US President Donald Trump on Thursday floated an unprecedented delay to the US presidential election — which polls show him losing — but the suggestion drew cross-party fire and has virtually no chance of being accepted.
Trump, who faces Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3, has no constitutional authority to change the date, which is set by law.
However, his repeated airing of the idea broke with presidential custom, adding to tension in a country ravaged by fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and set on edge by bitterly partisan politics.
Trump’s rationale was his claim, not backed by evidence, that large-scale use of mail-in voting as a way to protect voters during the pandemic would lead to mass fraud.
Mail-in voting would make it “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA,” he wrote in a tweet.
“Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Trump wrote.
Later at a news conference he again sought to cast doubt on the entire election.
“Do I want to see a date change? No. But I don’t want to see a crooked election. This election will be the most rigged election in history if that happens,” he said.
Trump posted his initial tweet minutes after second-quarter data showed a 32.9 percent annualized collapse in the economy compared with the first quarter, and down 9.5 percent compared with the same April-to-June period last year.
Economic pain and mass unemployment, together with what critics call incompetent management of the COVID-19 crisis, is a big reason why Trump finds himself staring down the barrel of defeat in less than 100 days.
“Trump’s threat is nothing more than a desperate attempt to distract,” the Democratic National Committee said in a statement.
“Trump can tweet all he wants, but the reality is that he can’t delay the election, and come November, voters will hold him accountable,” it added.
Presidential elections are scheduled by law to take place on the first Tuesday after Nov. 1.
The US has never allowed a delay, holding elections even during the Civil War, and only the US Congress could change the timing.
With Democrats ruling the US House of Representatives and Trump’s Republicans in the US Senate swiftly voicing opposition, the idea will not get far.
“Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time,” the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told WNKY television.
Asked for a reaction, Senator Marco Rubio, a Trump ally, said: “I wish he hadn’t said that.”
The pandemic is still out of control across swaths of the US, most lately hitting Republican-led states such as Florida and Texas.
Given the COVID-19 threat, there are widespread doubts over how many people would come out to vote and whether sufficient volunteers could be found to staff the polling stations.
During the presidential primary contests earlier this year, several states delayed voting or opened fewer polling sites.
In addition, major sporting events have been canceled or curtailed and there are serious doubts across much of the country over whether schools and universities will reopen for in-person classes in September.
As the general election date approaches, Trump has angrily resisted Democratic-led calls for an increase in mail-in voting as a way to protect people from potential exposure to COVID-19 in polling stations.
There is no evidence of meaningful fraud in US elections, including with use of mail-in ballots, which are already common in some states.
This has led to mounting accusations that Trump, the first president to seek re-election after having been impeached, would not accept a defeat.
He refused in an interview to guarantee that he would honor the results, another first for a president.
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