Donald Trump's proposal to delay US election slammed by Republican Senate leader

Mitch McConnell pours water on US president's suggestion, saying election date is 'set in stone'

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about sending federal law enforcement agents to several U.S. cities to assist local police in combating what the Justice Department has described as a "surge" of violent crime, in the East Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
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US President Donald Trump's proposal for delaying the election has been rebuffed by the highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.

Later in the day, Mr Trump said he did not want to delay the vote but "didn't want to see a crooked election".

The election date is "set in stone", majority leader Mitch McConnell told NBC.

Mr Trump on Thursday suggested delaying the US election set for November 3, claiming there would be fraud in mail voting and “embarrassment” to the country.

His suggestion to delay, posted on Twitter, came moments after the Commerce Department released figures showing the US economy recorded its biggest decline in gross domestic product for seven decades.

“With universal mail-in voting [not absentee voting, which is good], 2020 will be the most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history," Mr Trump tweeted.

"It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the election until people can properly, securely and safely vote?”

Mr Trump has frequently criticised mail voting, which many states have adopted to reduce the risk to voters from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 154,000 of the almost 4.6 million people infected in the US so far.

But this was the first time the president suggested delaying the vote.

"I want an election and a result, much, much more than you," Mr Trump said in his later comments.

"I don't want to delay. I want to have the election. But I also don't want to have to wait three months and then find out that the ballots are all missing and the election doesn't mean anything."

The president quoted recent media reports about problems with mail-in ballots arriving late, and said it could take weeks, months or even years to sort it out.

"Do I want to see a date change? No, but I don't want to see a crooked election," Mr Trump said.

The delay proposal is neither feasible nor realistic. Election laws have long set the voting date on “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November”.

Any change to those laws will require a vote by the House of Representatives, which is controlled by the Democrats.

Even if Mr Trump or the states choose to block the vote because of the pandemic, a move that could lead to social unrest, his term will automatically end on January 20.

That is in accordance with the 20th Amendment, which would make Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi the acting President.

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said such a move would “violate American law”.

“Never in American history – not even during the Civil War and World War II – has there been a successful move to delay the election for president,” he tweeted.

Mr Trump could be setting the stage for a legal challenge to mail-in ballots after the election, even though there has been no evidence to suggest it would lead to fraud and he and senior members of his administration have voted by mail in the past.

His poll numbers are worsening against his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.

The race is narrowing even in states such as Texas, which the Democrats have not won since 1976.

Mr Trump has been widely criticised for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has exacted a heavier toll in the US than any other country and dealt a severe blow to the economy.

On Thursday, his surrogate and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain died from the virus in a hospital in Atlanta.

Surrogates are people of influence or celebrity who campaign on a candidate’s behalf.

Mr Cain had attended Mr Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20 and was admitted to hospital on July 2.

Weak economic indicators added to the president's woes on Thursday.

The US economy shrank at a record rate of almost 33 per cent in the past quarter, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

This is the largest decline in 70 years and led to the Dow Jones Index dropping 300 points at the start of trading on Thursday.

The latest Labour Department figures show the number of people collecting jobless benefits rose to 17 million, up from 16.2 million a week earlier.