WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump drew immediate rebukes from Republicans and Democrats alike Thursday after floating the idea of delaying the November election and claiming that widespread mail balloting would be a “catastrophic disaster” leading to fraudulent results.
The president 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.
Thursday’s tweet came on the heels of a report showing the economy shrank nearly 10 percent from April through June, the largest quarterly decline since the government began publishing such data 70 years ago.
Senior Republicans, who often refuse to weigh in on Trump’s controversial tweets, overwhelmingly rejected his idea Thursday that the election should be postponed because of the risk of fraud.
“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,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “We’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3.”
Trump gave no indication that he would push for a date change — or that he thinks he has the power to do so.
“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???”
West Virginia’s two senators agreed the election should not be moved.
“I do not believe we should change the date of the election,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., in a statement Thursday afternoon. “Part of having a fair process is that everyone knows in advance when elections are going to be held and I do not believe we should lose that consistency.”
In a tweet Thursday morning, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said “Free and fair elections are at the heart of our democracy.”
“We should NOT delay the upcoming election — it’s never been done and it should never be done,” Manchin tweeted. “Many Republican senators and congresspeople have been doing mail-in ballots for a long time and feel very secure in doing it.”
The U.S. Constitution gives the power to regulate the “time, place and manner” of general elections to Congress, while 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, whether an election is held or not.
“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.”
Some Republicans — and many Democrats — expressed 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.”
Added Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., in a Fox News interview Thursday morning: “We will not delay the election.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., weighed in similarly.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., simply tweeted the relevant passage from the Constitution granting Congress the power to set election dates.
Democrats suggested that Trump’s tweet reflected a realization that he could lose to presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden, who has been leading in national and many battleground state polls.
“Donald Trump is terrified,” tweeted Sen. Kamala 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 Democrats 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.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., called Trump’s tweet “despicable,” especially because it came on the day of civil rights icon John Lewis’ funeral.
“Americans will rise up & continue John’s fight for unfettered access to the ballot box,” Clyburn tweeted. “Our voices will not be silenced.”
Trump appeared unfazed by the criticism, even “pinning” the message at the top of his Twitter feed to elevate its stature. But several Trump advisers said no internal discussions are underway within the White House about moving the election. “He is just trolling,” said one senior adviser who requested anonymity.
Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said on Fox Business that, “obviously,” the president understands he doesn’t have the authority to move the election. She said Trump is simply objecting to Democrat efforts to “systematically take away safeguards to election integrity” by expanding mail-in balloting.
“We need to get this fixed, and it’s going to cause problems in November if we don’t pay attention now,” she said.
A Department of Justice spokeswoman declined to comment on Trump’s tweet. Earlier this week at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, however, Attorney General Bill Barr told Rep. Cedric 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,” Barr said. “I’ve never looked into it.”
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-in balloting. Many voters are more comfortable, though, 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 feels there is a high risk that mail-in voting would lead to fraud, but he said he does not believe the election would be rigged.
“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 Mike 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.