Updated at 7:20 p.m. ET
President Trump on Thursday mused about delaying this year's election based on unsupported conspiracy theorizing about the integrity of voting during the coronavirus disaster.
Trump used a Twitter post to repeat what has become a pet theme about what he calls the prospect of inaccuracies or fraud with mail-in voting.
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. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
Trump then said at a press conference at the White House in the afternoon that he actually does not want a "date change," as he called it, but he also offered several minutes' worth of comments about how he argues this year's practices aren't reliable.
"They'll be fraudulent. They'll be fixed. They'll be rigged," the president said of the procedures for the election in which he's seeking a second term.
Many of Trump's claims about voting by mail are not accurate. Trump also does not have the power himself to move the date of the election, which was set by an 1845 federal law placing it the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
The date could move theoretically with action by Congress — but that would require agreement both by the Democrats who control the House and the Republicans who control the Senate.
Neither side supports the idea, which became clear over the day between Trump's post on Twitter and his later comments at the press conference.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reportedly agreed in an interview that the current date is "set in stone" on Thursday and top Democrats also rejected the idea of rescheduling.
"It's virtually inconceivable that the presidential election would be delayed," said Richard Pildes, a constitutional law professor at New York University.
Hogan Gidley, national press secretary for Trump's campaign, said in a statement on Thursday morning after the Twitter post but before the press conference that "the president is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created" with elections practices that Trump opposes.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., a frequent critic of the president, sought to reinforce that Trump does not have the ability to act on his own.
"Let's be clear: Trump does not have the ability to delay the election," he wrote on Twitter.
Let’s be clear: Trump does not have the ability to delay the election. Our elections are enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution also says that if the date of the election is to be changed, it must be changed by Congress. https://t.co/WzVgBQqdSo— Rep. Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) July 30, 2020
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Administration Committee — which has jurisdiction over elections — called the proposal a nonstarter and observed that Americans have voted through many other times of crisis.
"Americans have voted during the Civil War, in the midst of the Great Depression, in the shadow of World Wars, and in the wake of terrorist attacks," she said in a statement. "Americans will stand united to vote this November."
Process uncertain for picking new date
Even if an election delay were agreeable to Congress, it's not clear when it would have to be rescheduled in order for Americans to "safely vote," as Trump says.
Delaying voting past December also would require a constitutional amendment adjusting the timelines for members of Congress and the new presidential administration to be sworn in.
"That's an enormously high bar and a lengthy process," Pildes said. "It certainly is unimaginable under the current circumstances."
Additionally, there is no nationwide turn to universal mail-in voting, and as much as half of the electorate is still expected to cast ballots in person. And while Trump draws a distinction between mail-in and absentee voting, there is essentially no difference.
Suggestion follows bad economic news
Trump's tweet came about 15 minutes after news of the worst-ever-recorded quarterly performance of the American economy.
Trump has trailed his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in recent polls and is seen as needing to make up ground against him in states considered key to this year's race, including Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Biden had speculated that Trump might raise the prospect of changing the date.
In late April, Biden told donors in a fundraiser: "Mark my words, I think [Trump] is going to try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can't be held."
At the time, Trump rejected that out of hand, saying a few days later: "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."
With reporting by NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, congressional correspondent Susan Davis and voting reporter Miles Parks.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The president seized attention today by floating the idea of delaying November's presidential election. He did this in a tweet. We are obliged to note - not being critical here, just stating a fact - that this is the kind of claim the president often makes, which helps him dominate the news and then nothing ever comes of it. Still, we are obliged also to note it's unusual that a sitting president repeated false claims about the security of mail-in balloting and then wrote, quote, "delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???" - three of them.
NPR's Miles Parks covers election security and will help answer the questions. Hi there, Miles.
MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: Can the election be legally delayed?
PARKS: It can't - I mean, not in the way that the president seems to be suggesting here. There's no sort of executive authority that the president has over federal elections, which a lot of people say is a really good thing about our election infrastructure.
I just got off the phone with a law professor at NYU who called the tweet virtually impossible because, basically, what you would need to actually delay the election would be legislation that would pass Congress, which is almost impossible in our current political structure. You think about the Democratic-controlled House. Would all of those lawmakers be able to get on board with the delay of an election? Then it would have to go through the Senate, pass the filibuster. You'd need to get 60 votes in the Senate and then also have that presidential support. It's just highly unlikely, considering how much, you know, obviously Democrats want this election to happen.
INSKEEP: Yeah, presidential elections have been at the start of November since the 1840s. Now, I want to note the president in this tweet objected to universal mail-in balloting. He then gave an exception. He said absentee balloting is fine, which I guess he has to say because people know now that he himself has voted by mail absentee. But then he said this widespread mail-in balloting that people are talking about is insecure. What makes election officials confident that it is secure?
PARKS: Well, there's all sorts of safeguards that election officials point to that both the president and Attorney General William Barr, you know, kind of conveniently leave out when they question the security of mail voting. You've got barcodes on most mail ballots that make sure that the people sending it in are actually the people who requested them. There's also the fact that there's signature verification, which is really a highly successful way to kind of weed out bad ballots or fake ballots. Not to mention the fact that you would need - to fraudulently get a ballot actually cast and counted, it would have to match the exact paperweight. You'd have to make sure the ballot style was correct for the specific county. The scanners that the election officials have to read ballots will not read any ballot that doesn't match all of those highly specific and very unique aspects of the ballot. It just sounds - when you talk to election administrators about this sort of plot, this idea that counterfeit mail ballots could happen, most of them just almost laugh it off.
INSKEEP: Sure. Not that it's impossible - I mean, people counterfeit money, too - but their argument is that there are security measures against it. We are, though, in this unusual situation where states are looking to lean a lot more on mail-in ballots than they have in the past. What effects might the president's warning have on the election itself, even if it doesn't get delayed as he suggested?
PARKS: Well, yeah, there's a lot of worries that these constant questions about the election's integrity could ruin people's confidence in it. And we know that over the last 20 years, Americans' confidence in federal elections, that their votes are counted accurately has been kind of slowly on the decline.
The other potential issue here is that could President Trump's questions here potentially fire up Democrats? Democrats have been using the concept of voter suppression in their fundraising emails for the past four years. And so there's the question of, do these questions potentially hurt President Trump politically?
INSKEEP: OK, NPR's Miles Parks, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.