Hello. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I am Lisa Lerer, your host.
At 8:30 am this morning, the Department of Commerce announced a record economic slowdown in the second quarter of this year – a decline that was breathtaking in its severity and breath.
Sixteen minutes later, President Trump tweeted. No, not about the historic decline in gross domestic product or the 1.4 million Americans applying for unemployment.
What the president wanted to talk about was the choice. In particular, he wanted to get the idea that it could be delayed, an action that would be an extraordinary violation of democratic norms.
Before we get upset about this brand tweet, let's talk a minute about what we know to be true.
The president cannot delay the election. Article II of the Constitution empowers Congress to determine the timing of general elections, and federal law requires that elections be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
The explosive statement came during a really, really bad news day for Mr. Trump. (Check out this amazing chart.) Stock indices – a key measure that Mr. Trump uses to judge his presidency – declined after economic data was released. In the meantime, his three immediate predecessors honored Representative John Lewis and delivered soaring eulogies at a nationwide televised event that Mr. Trump did not attend. Trying to change the news cycle if it doesn't suit is a hallmark of the president's policies.
As a campaign message, this tweet makes no sense. Mr. Trump has spent weeks essentially arguing that everything will be fine – workers should return to work, states should reopen their economies, and children should go to school. Now he says the pandemic has caused so much chaos that the election has to be postponed.
I don't want to minimize the actual risks from Mr. Trump's remark. That choice was already messy. Many voters were concerned about personal voting and were unsure how to mail their ballot papers. There is ample evidence that state and local election officials are not prepared for a possible flood of early and absentee votes this fall.
Mr Trump has tried to exacerbate the confusion, expressed doubts that the elections will be conducted fairly, and worked to undermine the postal ballot that many Republicans believe will affect their chances of voting. (There is no evidence to support the right-wing argument that all-mail elections benefit Democrats.)
Mr. Trump withdraws from the polls, so doubts about the vote may be a way for him to lay the groundwork to question the legitimacy of the election if he should lose. At a White House briefing later in the day, Mr. Trump defended his proposal to postpone the election and incorrectly warned that "hundreds of millions of postal ballot papers" were being issued and said he did not want to wait for the election results.
But even Mr. Trump's Republican allies on Capitol Hill didn't seem to be sure what to think of Mr. Trump's proposal – that is, those who hadn't completely avoided answering questions about it. No one supported the idea of postponing the election.
"I think it's a joke, I think," said Senator John Cornyn of Texas. "I don't know how else to interpret it."
"If you pull the bait, he'll be the happiest guy in town," said North Dakota Senator Kevin Cramer, a staunch Trump ally, who suggested that the comment was a political maneuver to strengthen Mr. Trump's base . "I thought my goodness it was going to consume a lot of people except real people. And it was smart. "
If Mr. Trump's comment is a joke, he's not particularly funny. And if it's a distraction, it's not particularly well calculated. Whatever the reasons for the tweet, the reality is that Mr. Trump does not have the authority to enforce his threat. And the leaders of Congress have made it pretty clear that they don't even entertain the idea.
"Never in the country's history, through wars, depression and civil war, have we ever had a government-planned election in good time, and we'll find a way to do it again this November 3rd," Mitch McConnell said. The Senate majority leader told WNKY-TV in Bowling Green, Ky.
My advice: If you are concerned about the integrity of the elections, you should spend some time figuring out how to vote safely in November. And then make sure your neighbors can do the same.
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Trump's hands-free conversation on tape
President Trump called Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on Wednesday evening to hold a conversation that Mr. Inhofe was using the speakerphone to hear better when he was sitting in a Washington restaurant.
The conversation, which was overheard and recorded by someone in the room, ranged from a discussion about Anthony Tata, the retired Army Brigadier General, whose nomination for a top Pentagon position has become complicated, to Mr. Trump's wish, the name Preserve Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general, on a military base. (Here is the audio.)
"We'll keep Robert E. Lee's name?" Mr. Trump asked Mr. Inhofe, 85, who was sitting in Trattoria Alberto, an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill that is a popular hangout for Republicans in Washington, when he answered the call. Mr. Inhofe put the phone to his ear, but put Mr. Trump on the speakerphone, and the president's voice was audible to people at other tables.
Mr. Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, replied, "Just trust me, I'll make it."
Mr. Trump continued: “I had about 95,000 positive retweets on it. That's a lot. "This seemed to be a reference to a Twitter post last Friday, in which he said Mr. Inhofe had assured him that he would not change the names of" military bases and fortresses "and that the Senator" would not believe in "cancel" culture. & # 39; "
During the phone call on Wednesday evening, you heard Mr. Trump criticizing "abort culture" and then told Mr. Inhofe that people "wanted to come back to life". Then he seemed to reject the focus on the cultural change taking place across the country with an explosion.
At the beginning of the conversation, Mr. Trump and Mr. Inhofe discussed the possibility of someone "resigning" and moving that person to another appointment. It appeared to be Mr. Tata, whose nomination for the Pentagon job has come under criticism for his inflammatory Twitter posts about Muslims, his description of Mr. Obama as a "terrorist leader" and his acceptance of conspiracy theories.
Mr. Inhofe was also heard speaking about "divorces" and personal issues that could become the focus of coverage. That again seemed to be an indication of Mr. Tata.
Mr. Inhofe announced Thursday morning that a hearing scheduled later in the day to advance Mr. Tata's nomination would be delayed.
An adjutant to Mr. Inhofe declined to comment on the conversation. Trump's helpers did not immediately respond to requests for comments.
Representative John Lewis left this earth when he lived with respect, dignity, and some powerful words.
Thank you for reading. On Politics is your guide to the political news cycle, delivering clarity from chaos.
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