Trump floats delaying the election, but he can't do that

While states have the authority to delay their primary elections, only Congress can change the date of the presidential election.
President Trump toured the Double Eagle Energy Oil Rig in Midland, Texas, on Thursday.Carlos Barria / Reuters
By Rebecca Shabad

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday suggested that the 2020 presidential election should be postponed, claiming it could be ripe for fraud.

“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???”

The president cannot unilaterally change the date of the presidential election, which is on Nov. 3 this year.

NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted that there has never been a successful effort to delay it.

Earlier in the morning, Trump tweeted that mail-in voting is “already proving to be a catastrophic disaster.”

“Even testing areas are way off. The Dems talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race. Even beyond that, there’s no accurate count!” he tweeted.

Critics have voiced concern that Trump will press for the 2020 election to be delayed amid the coronavirus pandemic. At a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, Attorney General Bill Barr was asked if a sitting president can change the date of the election.

“I haven’t looked into that question, under the Constitution,” Barr said.

While states have the authority to delay their primary elections, only Congress can change the date for the general election for president, because the Constitution gives Congress the authority to set the general election date.

Since 1845, Congress has required the appointment of presidential electors (now by election in every state) to take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which this year is Nov. 3.

In addition, the date for the expiration of the president's term is set by the Constitution, and is Jan. 20.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, warned in April that Trump would try to postpone the election by coming up "with some rationale why it can't be held" on the scheduled day.

When asked about Biden's comment a few days later, Trump dismissed the idea, saying: "I never even thought of changing the date of the election. Why would I do that? November 3rd. It’s a good number. No, I look forward to that election.”

Trump has since railed against mail-in voting, while Democrats have said they want to expand it because of the coronavirus pandemic, which could prevent many voters from physically going to the polls to cast their ballots. In June, the president said that the "biggest risk" to his re-election prospects is increased mail-in voting and whether he can win lawsuits to stop its expansion.

Several Democrats on Thursday immediately slammed Trump for floating the idea of delaying the election, arguing that he's trying to divert attention away from his handling of the coronavirus.

"Folks, don’t take the bait here. Trump has zero authority to delay the election," tweeted Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut. "But he wants to talk about it. This is his time-tested way to get you to not focus on 150,000 dead Americans and an economy in free fall. Largely because of his ineptitude."

Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington state tweeted: "Prez has no authority to delay elections. One more try at throwing a shiny ball out there to divert attention from: inept handling of the pandemic; ignoring intel on Russian bounties; devastating economic numbers; lack of action or plan on next COVID-19 relief package."

"It is no coincidence his tweet came out on a day where the terrible economic numbers came out and where we crossed 150,000 dead Americans," said Rep. Jim Hines, D-Conn."But there is not an American I think that needs to worry the president has the authority or the ability to postpone the election."

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, said, "The election is coming whether the president likes it or not."

Some Republican lawmakers also rejected Trump's suggestion.

"No, we are not going to delay the election," No. 3 Republican Sen. John Barrasso, Wyo., said on Fox Business Network. "We're going to have the election completed and voting completed by Election Day."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a frequent Trump golfing partner, also gave the suggestion a thumbs-down. "I don’t think that’s a particularly good idea," he said.

Graham added that he believed Trump's "concerns about mail-in voting are valid, but delaying the election is not the right answer."

Trump took a different approach on Twitter later in the day when he focused on the delays caused by voting by mail.

"Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!" he wrote, before following up with a more optimistic message for his supporters. "We are going to WIN the 2020 Election, BIG!" he wrote.

He also said he was glad that he was able to get the “very dishonest LameStream media to finally start talking about the RISKS to our Democracy” that mail-in voting presents.

At a news conference Thursday evening, Trump again walked back his earlier position telling reporters "I don't want to delay, I want to have the election."

Trump instead focused his attention on the legitimacy of the Nov. 3rd election results, making dangerous and baseless claims that the election would be "fraudulent," "fixed" and "rigged."

"I don't want to have to wait for three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing and the election doesn't mean anything. That's what's going to happen," Trump said.

"This election will be the most rigged election in history."

Rebecca Shabad
Lauren Egan and Haley Talbot contributed.