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Total bipartisan rejection of Trump’s idea the election be postponed

President Trump took his crusade against voting by mail to a whole new level Thursday, suggesting for the first time that "delay" of the election is the best way to prevent his re-election from being stolen from him.

The idea was either castigated, dismissed as impossible or disregarded as a silly trial balloon diversion by senior members of Congress from both parties as well as legal scholars.

But it nonetheless intensified the president's efforts to sow doubt about the reliability of the November result — which, if he ends up contesting and refusing to concede defeat, could produce a constitutional crisis posing an unprecedented challenge to democracy.

Even the suggestion of delay, from a sitting and politically embattled head of government, conjured up fresh anxiety about how easy it could be for a committed autocrat to upend the United States' global standing as a virtuous beacon for its unbroken two-century record of peaceful transfers of power.

Trump floated an election postponement beyond Nov. 3 in a tweet that started out as a riff on the unsubstantiated claim he's made dozens of times since March: That mail-in voting available to everyone because of the coronavirus — which he wrongly differentiated from no-excuse absentee balloting, "which is good" — will result in "the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history."

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Tacked onto the end was the newsworthy part: "Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"

The president has no legal authority to delay the vote on his own. The Constitution says it's up to Congress to regulate the "time, place and manner" of federal elections, and federal law has fixed Election Day as the Tuesday after the first Monday in every even-numbered November since 1846.

And so it could only be lawfully switched through legislation cleared by Congress — where essentially no one in authority is contemplating such a move, in either the Democratic House or the Republican Senate.

The date has never been pushed back — not during the Civil War, the flu pandemic a century ago or World War II. And doing so even by a few days would create enormous complications for the timely certifying of results and the work of the Electoral College. And the deadline at the end is immovable. The Constitution says the presidential term ends at noon Jan. 20.

"Only Congress can change the date of our elections, and under no circumstances will we consider doing so to accommodate the president's inept and haphazard response to the coronavirus pandemic," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, the Democrat who chairs the committee with jurisdiction over election law.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to comment to reporters at the Capitol but told a Kentucky TV station the election timetable is "set in stone." House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said "we should go forward with our election."

And several of Trump's most prominent allies in the Senate GOP — including Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — dismissed the notion of any delay.

"We're going to have an election, it's going to be legitimate, it's going to be credible, it's going to be the same as it's always been," Rubio told reporters at the Capitol.

"It's unthinkable that that would not be the case," added Mitt Romney of Utah, one of the president's few vocal GOP critics on the Hill.

Other Republicans laughed off the proposal as a clever way to distract from the alarming news announced just before Trump took to Twitter: The economy shrank at a head-spinning 32.9 percent annual rate in April, May and June even as many states were pushing to reopen during a slight break in the Covid-19 outbreak.

Good-governance advocates and civil rights groups reacted emphatically to Trump's suggestion. Some warned it was a foretaste of more dangerous behavior to come before the election, while others used the moment to urge Congress to deliver a generous amount of fresh help for smoothing their mail voting systems in the economic rescue package now stuck in negotiations.

"Trump poses an existential threat to our democracy," said Sean Eldridge of the progressive voting right group Stand Up America, which is already organizing a grassroots campaign to organize nationwide protests if Trump is defeated but clings to power. "Americans need to be ready to mobilize."

Beyond condemning Trump's "extraordinary statement," Trevor Potter of the Campaign Legal Center said, the best way for Congress to respond is to reach a quick bipartisan deal on money "to make sure that the election takes place safely and smoothly," because "time is running out to give the states the funding they need to get this right."

There is no evidence of widespread election fraud using mailed-in ballots, which will be available to all voters without any excuse requirements in at least three-dozen states this fall. A quarter of all votes were cast this way in the past two elections, but that number is expected to double at least because of voters' fears of contagion at polling places.

Five states will rely almost exclusively on mailed ballots, and their safeguards are widely hailed as preventing foreign hacking and the domestic envelope theft or tampering.

Trump's claims that fraud is assured are therefore baseless. So is his claim that expanded remote voting is the "biggest risk" to his reelection. Studies have shown no partisan tilt in overall absentee vote, and the GOP for years made the mail part of its strategy for getting out its vote, especially among the elderly.

The president and many in his administration have often asked for and used absentee ballots, which Trump says is somehow more appropriate than states proactively delivering either ballots or absentee request forms.

In April, when the pandemic was at its initial peak, Trump told reporters he would not consider postponing the election. "I never even thought of changing the date," he said. "Why would I do that? Nov. 3, it's a good number. No, I look forward to that election."

But two weeks ago, he refused during a Fox News interview to commit to accept the results. "I have to see," he said then."I'm not going to just say 'yes.' I'm not going to say 'no.' "

Attorney General William Barr, in his combative House testimony Tuesday, said he had no "reason to think" the election would be rigged but "if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud."

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