No evidence mail votes will lead to fraud
Top US Republicans have immediately shot down President Donald Trump's suggestion to delay the November 3 presidential election.
Mr Trump claimed, without evidence, that widespread mail balloting would be a "catastrophic disaster" leading to fraudulent results.
The suggestion represented Mr Trump's latest, and most dramatic, attempt to undermine public faith in US elections, which have grown more regular as polls have shown his political fortunes declining. The president has attacked mail voting nearly 70 times since late March in interviews, remarks and tweets, including at least 17 times this month.
Yesterday's tweet came on the heels of a devastating report showing that the US economy shrank nearly 10pc from April through June, the largest quarterly decline since the government began publishing such data 70 years ago.
The White House referred questions about the tweet to Trump's re-election campaign.
"The President is just raising a question about the chaos Democrats have created with their insistence on all mail-in voting," said Hogan Gidley, the campaign's press secretary. "Universal mail-in voting invites chaos and severe delays in results."
Ari Fleischer, who was White House press secretary under Republican President George W. Bush, said Trump should delete the tweet.
"This is not an idea anyone, especially POTUS, should float. Our democracy is based on elections in which everyone knows the rules and they apply to all," Fleischer said. "Mr. President - please don't even pretend to mess with this. It's a harmful idea."
Senior Republicans, who often refuse to weigh in on Mr Trump's controversial tweets, overwhelmingly rejected his idea that the November 3 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.
Mr Trump tweeted: "We'll find a way to do that again. 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???"
The US constitution does not give the power to a president to decide on election timing. That is assigned instead to the US Congress.
In addition, the constitution spells out a hard end to a president's and vice-president's terms on January 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.
Republican Senator John Barrasso insisted: "We will not delay the election."
Other Republicans saying the same were Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Lindsey Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, simply tweeted the relevant passage from the constitution granting Congress the power to set election dates.
Democrats said Mr Trump's suggestion reflected a realisation that he could lose to presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, who has been leading in national and many battleground state polls. "Donald Trump is terrified," tweeted Senator Kamala Harris, who is among those being considered as a running mate for Mr 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 3."
Mr Trump appeared unfazed by the criticism, even "pinning" the message at the top of his Twitter feed to elevate its stature.