The White House has no plans to try to delay the Nov. 3 election, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday, even as he defended a tweet from President Donald Trump that raised the possibility.
"We're going to hold an election on Nov. 3rd, and the president is going to win," Meadows said on CBS News's "Face the Nation."
Trump's tweet on Thursday, which set off alarm bells throughout Washington, was merely meant to raise questions about whether a major expansion of mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic could produce fraud or lead to untenable delays in counting votes, Meadows insisted.
That tweet warned without evidence that "2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history" and ended by asking "Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"
"There was a question mark," Meadows said of the tweet.
He also argued that vastly expanded mail voting could delay election results by a month or more.
"What we will do is if we try to transform this and start mailing in ballots all across the country, all 50 states, what we will see is a delay because they're just not equipped to handle it," he said.
Meadows's defense comes after Republican lawmakers roundly rejected Trump's suggestion to delay the election, including several of the president's most stalwart allies such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The president does not have the authority to change the date of the general election, which is set by Congress.
"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," McConnell said in a television interview with WNKY of Bowling Green, Ky. "We'll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3rd."
Trump's suggestion was also rejected by Republican governors, many of whom are trying to increase mail voting in their states.
"It's not helpful for the president to think out loud in a public fashion," Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said on CNN's "State of the Union." Arkansas is among the states that have expanded mail voting access to all voters during the pandemic.
Actual instance of fraud in mail voting are exceptionally rare, and most Republican election officials are trying to expand mail voting despite the president's assaults on it.
State election officials do warn that a surge in mail voting during the pandemic could produce delays in vote tallying. They have sought funding from Washington to help the process run more smoothly but have met with limited success. Congress appropriated $400 million for elections during the early weeks of the pandemic, but Democratic efforts to deliver up to $3.6 billion in additional money have been stymied by Republicans.
Democrats on Sunday attacked Trump's tweet, calling it evidence that he wants to undermine confidence in the election and may refuse to leave office if defeated.
"This guy never had an idea about wanting a peaceful transfer of power," Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., a member of the House leadership team, said on "State of the Union." "I don't think he plans to leave the White House. He doesn't plan to have fair and unfettered elections. I believe that he plans to install himself in some kind of emergency way to continue to hold on to office."
Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, a contender to be Joe Biden's vice presidential pick, said Trump "is doing his best to undermine our confidence in the process."
Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and another vice presidential contender, called the tweet an effort to distract from rising coronavirus infections and a cratering economy.
"I think that he is a master at diversion, and I think that's the main reason he did that," Bass said on "Fox News Sunday," referring to Trump. "He knows he can't delay the election."
The dispute reflects a broader battle over election security between Democrats and Trump nearly four years after the 2016 contest was upended by a Russian influence operation that the Mueller investigation said was aimed at aiding Trump and damaging Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the Mueller report and its conclusions about Russian interference in 2016, which included hacking and leaking information from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
He has also refused to commit to not accepting dirt on his political opponents from foreign nations. Trump campaign senior adviser Jason Miller declined to make such a commitment again on "Fox News Sunday" but said that "there is no foreign assistance that's happening in this campaign."
Biden made that pledge last year, as had his former Democratic rivals.