WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday appeared to row back on the idea of delaying the 2020 election, even as he continued to raise doubts about efforts to expand mail-in voting in some states to respond to the coronavirus.
“Do I want to see a date change? No,” Trump said at the White House hours after raising the idea of a delay in a tweet. “But I don’t want to see a crooked election.”
Trump drew bipartisan derision Thursday for questioning whether the presidential election should be delayed over concerns about voting during the pandemic – and his longstanding and unproven assertion that mail-in ballots would lead to election fraud.
Congressional Republicans bluntly rejected the idea and Democrats accused the president of attempting to sow doubt if the election doesn’t go his way.
Despite the blow back, Trump did not foreclose on continuing to push for a delay in voting – an idea that would require approval from Congress. Instead, he indicated he wasn’t advocating for a delay while he simultaneously lamented efforts to expand mail-in voting.
“What will happen in November – it’s a mess,” Trump said. “I want a result much, more more than you…I don’t want to be waiting around around for weeks and months.”
Democrats said Trump’s latest remarks were not overly convincing and likely foreshadowed a continuing effort to cast doubt about the election. Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in battleground states, though analysts from both parties acknowledge there is ample time for the landscape to change.
Political opponents said Trump is clearly threatening to dispute the election, either by a call for a delay or lawsuits over mail-in balloting.
“Cut through his blaze of fraudulent claims about vote by mail, the @POTUS foreshadows months of resistance and legal wrangling if he doesn’t win,” tweeted Democratic strategist David Axelrod.
Conservative commentator Erick Erickson also questioned Trump’s strategy.
“The President is single-handedly undermining his re-election with both nutty conspiracies about voting by mail and insane ramblings about delaying the election,” Erickson tweeted. “A growing portion of his base is frustrated and thinks he’s just trying to lose.”
The president had “pinned” the election tweet to his Twitter feed throughout the day Thursday, assuring that his 84.3 million followers would see it.
By late Thursday, the pin was removed.
Trump also called on lawmakers to approve a short-term extension of unemployment benefits, an idea that has been embraced by Republicans on Capitol Hill but that met with stiff resistance from Democrats. The two parties are struggling to negotiate another round of stimulus to address the economic harm caused by the virus.
“We want a temporary extension of expanded unemployment benefits,” the president told reporters at the White House on Thursday. “This will provide a critical bridge for Americans who lost their jobs to the pandemic through no fault of their own.”
Democrats want a broader agreement that would include other stimulus provisions.
Trump started off his remarks Thursday by offering his sympathy for former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who died after a battle with COVID-19.
“No one is immune,” Trump said.
“We can never ever forget the people who have been lost,” Trump said.
After a weeks-long hiatus, Trump returned July 21 to holding regular COVID-19 briefings that he had started earlier in the pandemic. Unlike in the past, Trump has kept the latest round of briefings relatively short and has not invited members of the White House coronavirus task force to join him at the podium.
Trump last took questions in the briefing room on Tuesday. Since then, the nation surged past 150,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Several large states, including California and Florida, are setting new records for virus deaths.