WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Thursday (Jul 30) raised the possibility of delaying the nation's Nov 3 presidential election, though the Constitution bestows that power on Congress, not the president.
The move drew immediate objections from Democrats and it was not clear whether Trump was serious. Trump also said he would not trust the results of an election that included widespread mail voting - a measure that many election observers see as critical given the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, without evidence, repeated his claims of mail-in voter fraud and raised the question of a delay, tweeting: "delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"
"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's tweet came shortly after the United States reported its worst economic downturn since the Great Depression: a second-quarter crash in gross domestic product due to widespread shutdowns prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump, who is trailing challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden in opinion polls, had previously intended to focus his re-election bid on the nation's economic performance.
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.
Representatives for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump has cast doubt on the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, which have been used in far greater numbers in primary elections amid the pandemic. He has also made unsubstantiated allegations that voting will be rigged and has refused to say he would accept official election results if he lost.
Democrats, including Biden, have already begun preparations to protect voters and the election amid fears that Trump will try to interfere with the November election.
"A sitting president is peddling lies and suggesting delaying the election to keep himself in power," Democratic Representative Dan Kildee wrote on Twitter. "Don't let it happen. Every American - Republican, Independent and Democrat — should be speaking out against this President's lawlessness and complete disregard of the Constitution."
US Senator Tom Udall, also a Democrat, said, "There is no way @POTUS can delay the election. We shouldn't let him distract us from his #COVID19 incompetence."
Nonpartisan US election analyst Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia said the tweet seemed to follow Trump's typical approach of trying to distract voters from bad news.
"Trump suggesting delaying the election (he can't do this w/o congressional approval) seems to be one of his more obvious attempts to change the subject given this morning's wretched GDP numbers," Kondik wrote on Twitter.
A CNN report later on Thursday cited a spokesperson for Trump, who said the US president was "just raising a question" when he tweeted about the possibility of delaying the presidential election.
"The president is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting," Trump campaign spokesperson Hogan Gidley said in a statement, according to the television network.
Attorney General William Barr was asked in congressional testimony earlier this week whether Trump could change the election date: "I've never been asked the question before. I've never looked into it."
Barr also testified that to his knowledge, a sitting president cannot contest the results of an election if the vote tallies are clear.
The coronavirus pandemic remains out of control in swaths of the United States, including most recently in Republican-led states like Florida and Texas. The number of cases in the US topped 4 million on Thursday.
During the presidential primary contests earlier this year, several states delayed voting or opened fewer polling sites.
Trump had earlier scrapped an upcoming Republican Party nominating convention in Florida, saying it was not the right time to do a "big, crowded convention".
Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, have already begun preparations to protect voters and the election amid fears that Trump will try to interfere with the Nov 3 election.
Last Friday, National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) chief William Evanina warned that voters should be on high alert for foreign interference in the Nov 3 US election.
A January 2017 US intelligence community assessment found that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election, and its goals included aiding Trump, who has cast doubt on whether Moscow interfered in that vote.