Top U.S. Republican lawmakers on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s suggestion to delay the Nov. 3 presidential election, saying the contest should be held as planned even as they mostly backed his concerns about mail-in voting.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told television journalists from his home state of Kentucky that the election would go ahead as scheduled, and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy rejected the suggested delay out of hand.
“Never in the history of the federal elections have we ever not held an election, and we should go forward with our election,” McCarthy, a Trump ally, declared at a news conference.
McConnell, in an interview with WNKY-TV that was excerpted on Twitter, noted the United States had always held its elections on time, through wars and economic downturns. “We’ll cope with whatever the situation is, and have the election on Nov. 3 as already scheduled,” McConnell said.
Trump earlier on Thursday raised the idea of delaying the Nov. 3 U.S. elections, which the Constitution does not give him the power to do. Congress has the power to set the timing of elections.
Democrats condemned his words immediately and said they were an attempt to distract from devastating economic news and other crises.
Many fellow Republicans made clear they did not agree with the president, either. “I think his concerns about mail-in voting are valid, but delaying the election is not the right answer,” Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told reporters.
“I think we can be able to safely vote in person in November,” said Graham, who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “I think delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Another conservative Republican senator, Ted Cruz, told reporters: “I think election fraud is a serious problem, and it’s vital to stop it. But no, we should not delay the election.”
Senator Marco Rubio, also a conservative Republican, said the election date would not change.
McCarthy said he understood Trump’s concern about the integrity of mail-in voting, distinguishing it from absentee voting that he said can be easily traced and confirmed.
“If you just mass-mail ballots out, people have moved, voter rolls are not updated, and that’s where you have real problems in elections,” McCarthy said. “That’s what the president’s talking about, he’s not talking about absentee voting.”
Voting by mail is not new in the United States - nearly one in four voters cast 2016 presidential ballots that way. The decentralized nature of U.S. elections make it very hard to interfere with mailed ballots, experts say.
Republican Senator Mitt Romney also rejected the delay and noted that about 90% of voters in his home state of Utah submit ballots by mail.
“It works extremely well,” Romney said. “You can’t tamper with paper.”
Trump’s statement on Twitter comes as the United States is enduring a coronavirus pandemic, nationwide protests against police violence and racism, and the worst U.S. economic contraction since the Great Depression.
Opinion polls show Trump losing ground to and trailing Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden.