A couple of days ago, Trump floated the possibility of postponing the general election “due to the pandemic.” He made the suggestion in a tweet–of course–in which he also took another swipe at vote by mail, which he distinguished from absentee voting. Absentee voting, he tweeted, was fine; vote by mail, however, would lead to massive fraud.
The tweet displayed his usual–monumental–ignorance of its subject-matter.
First of all–and somewhat beside the point–vote by mail is pretty much identical to absentee voting–a method of casting one’s ballot that Trump himself has frequently used. His insistence that it leads to fraud is belied by the fact that some 29 states employ vote by mail for some portion of their elections; Oregon, Washington State and Colorado all have gone completely to vote by mail, and the only result that would account for Trump’s opposition is increased turnout.
Just as the GOP used fabricated hysteria over “voter fraud” to justify Voter ID laws–the real purpose of which is to suppress the votes of poor people and minorities–Trump is frantically trying to drum up mistrust of mail-in ballots.
When it comes to the question of postponing the election, Trump once again displays his total ignorance of the U.S. Constitution–a document I doubt he has ever read or had read to him. Article 2, Section I, gives Congress some leeway in counting Electoral votes; nowhere does the document give the President any authority whatsoever over the timing or conduct of elections.
Moreover, the 20th Amendment requires the President and Vice-President to end their terms at noon on January 20th in the year following the general election. It allows for no leeway. As one wag has pointed out, if we haven’t elected a new President at that point, the Speaker of the House would become President.
President Pelosi would be okay with me.
Throughout his term in office, Trump has obviously believed that Presidents are like kings–that he has unchecked autocratic power. Fortunately, he is often wrong, but as Gary Hart wrote in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, there are far too many times when he’s right. And that should scare the living you-know-what out of us.
In 1975, after public revelations of intelligence abuses concealed from all but a handful of members of Congress, the United States Senate created a temporary committee to study the nation’s spy agencies — something no standing committee had ever attempted.
What came to be known as the Church Committee, after its chairman, Senator Frank Church of Idaho, recommended broad reforms, including the creation of a permanent Intelligence Oversight Committee. Former Vice President Walter Mondale and I are the last surviving members of the Church Committee.
We have recently come to learn of at least a hundred documents authorizing extraordinary presidential powers in the case of a national emergency, virtually dictatorial powers without congressional or judicial checks and balances. President Trump alluded to these authorities in March when he said, “I have the right to do a lot of things that people don’t even know about.”
Hart says it’s time for a new select committee “to study these powers and their potential for abuse”, and advise Congress on mechanisms that would provide stringent oversight, if not outright repeal.
What little we know about these secret powers comes from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School, but we believe they may include suspension of habeas corpus, surveillance, home intrusion, arrest without a judicial warrant, collective if not mass arrests and more; some could violate constitutional protections.
A number of us have urged immediate congressional investigations concerning what these powers are and why they have been kept secret. Public hearings should be held before the November elections, especially with rumors rife that the incumbent president might interfere with the election or refuse to accept the result if he felt in jeopardy of losing.
Hart asks some very important questions:
Where did these secret powers come from? Where are they kept? Who has access to them? What qualifies as a national emergency sufficient to suspend virtually all constitutional protection? And critically, why must these powers be secret?
If–as every rational American must hope–Joe Biden becomes President in January 2021, a searching examination of these secret powers and the nature of the events that might trigger them needs to be added to the very long list of tasks made imperative by Trump’s corrupt and disastrous Presidency.