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Trump floats unheard-of vote delay as economy craters, virus toll mounts

Miami-Dade County, Fla., election officials Eleane Sosa-Bruzon, left,

Miami-Dade County, Fla., election officials Eleane Sosa-Bruzon, left, and Victoria Ferrer work Thursday to verify signatures on mail-in ballots submitted for the Aug. 18 local primaries. Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

Preelection deflection

In addition to killing more than 150,000 Americans and counting, the coronavirus pandemic has blasted an enormous crater in the U.S. economy, which collapsed at a stunning 32.9% annual rate from April through June. This record quarterly decline in the gross domestic product was reported Thursday.

As this news broke, President Donald Trump turned attention to his political chances by floating a coy, dead-on-arrival suggestion that perhaps the November election should be delayed. Repeating his unsupported claim that mail-in voting is inherently fraudulent, Trump tweeted that the 2020 contest "will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"

The tweet itself proved to be an instant embarrassment for elected Republicans who then had to shoot it down. It even clashed with a recent Trump camp stance. When Joe Biden warned back in April that the president could try to "kick back" the election, Republican National Committee spokesman Steve Guest called it "an irresponsible allegation" and described the presumptive Democratic nominee as "off his rocker." Guest stated that Trump "has made it clear that the general election will happen on November 3rd."

Trump has no legal authority to postpone the vote. Congress is not about to do so. But for those bent on taking the president's claims seriously, he could subvert confidence in the U.S. electoral system and perhaps convince some loyalists not to accept the result if he loses. Later in the day, Trump seemed to indicate during a rambling briefing that he does not support a delay.

During the 2016 primary and general elections, Trump contended the vote was "rigged" against him. Even after winning the Electoral College, he alleged massive fraud denied him a majority of the popular vote. Nothing ever turned up to support that notion.

That said, Biden and other Democrats have raised concerns and suspicions of their own about the potential for dirty manipulations of votes by Trump's side.

Recalling Russian digital meddling four years ago, as documented in official investigations, Biden warned last week: "If any foreign power recklessly chooses to interfere in our democracy, I will not hesitate to respond as president to impose substantial and lasting costs." There are even concerns about how new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump donor, is looking to reduce operations in the postal system as mail balloting gains importance amid the national health emergency.

Obama, Lewis and a political moment

Given the occasion, the timing and the personalities involved, the subject matter of former President Barack Obama's eulogy for the late Rep. John Lewis was never going to be apolitical. But Obama's speech on Thursday in the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta hit hard on themes in the upcoming national election.

Bull Connor may be gone, but today we witness with our own eyes police officers kneeling on the necks of Black Americans,” Obama said. “George Wallace may be gone, but we can witness our federal government sending agents to use tear gas and batons against peaceful demonstrators.” (For his remarks in full, click here.)

Ex-Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also spoke at the service for Lewis, who died July 17 at age 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Bush said in part: "We, the people, including congressmen and presidents, can have differing views on how to perfect our union while sharing the conviction that our nation, however flawed, is a good and noble one."

Lewis wrote in an opinion piece he'd prepared to be published in The New York Times after his death: "The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society." (For the full message, click here.)

Case still in against Flynn

A federal appeals court will rehear a legal challenge on whether charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn must be dropped. It is the last continuing criminal case from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and it comes as Attorney General William Barr tries to smash down Russiagate's impact ahead of the next presidential election.

The ruling is a blow to Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russian diplomats during Trump's transition. Flynn had been awaiting sentencing when Barr moved to drop the case. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan declined to do so, and a lawyer assigned by Sullivan called the abrupt move to withdraw the case “highly irregular conduct to benefit a political ally of the President.”

Herman Cain (1945-2020)

Herman Cain, a former pizza-chain executive best known as a long-shot 2012 Republican presidential candidate who briefly led in polls, died Thursday in Atlanta. He was 74, and the cause was complications from the coronavirus.

“We knew when he was first hospitalized with COVID-19 that this was going to be a rough fight,” Dan Calabrese, the editor of Cain’s website, said. He added, “Although he was basically pretty healthy in recent years, he was still in a high-risk group because of his history with cancer.”

"He was a very special man, an American patriot, and great friend," Trump tweeted Thursday. He also spoke about Cain at the briefing.

Photos of Cain at Trump's rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, showed him without a mask, as were many in attendance. He tested positive for the virus days later, though the timing of how and when he caught it is unknown. “The atmosphere was electric, and the president’s words were inspiring,” Cain wrote of the rally, slamming media accounts of its poor turnout.

Pizza place in Twitter-space

Negotiations toward a new coronavirus aid package involving Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and congressional leaders are bogged down. But at least a pizza place on Long Island got a lift from free presidential advertising, thanks to the owner's well-publicized support for Trump.

Patio Pizza owner Guy Caligiuri got fresh publicity on Fox Business for his "Keep America Great" flag. The president on Thursday tweeted: "Support Patio Pizza and its wonderful owner, Guy Caligiuri, in St. James, Long Island (N.Y.). Great Pizza!!!" (See Newsday's story by John Valenti and Matthew Chayes.)

Most public officials balk for obvious reasons at doing commercial endorsements, but not Trump, who recently plugged Goya products after that company's CEO came under fire for hailing him.

Biden's economic angle

Trump repeatedly points fingers at China after months praising it for containing the coronavirus. His vapory estimate of "millions" of lives purportedly saved by his administration's action seems to keep growing. In the meantime, Biden holds fast to the conventional message that disaster is not just occurring on Trump's watch but is worse because of it.

“The depth of economic devastation our nation is experiencing is not an act of God, it’s a failure of presidential leadership,” Biden said in a statement from his campaign. “Had President Trump taken immediate and decisive action, tens of thousands of lives and millions of jobs would never have been lost.” Before the pandemic, the economy was the centerpiece of Trump's claims of accomplishment.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Trump, who has pressed for schools to reopen fully in the fall, said at the briefing that he couldn't offer assurances that holding in-person classes would be safe. But he falsely claimed again that kids are "almost immune" to the coronavirus.
  • The Department of Homeland Security compiled “intelligence reports” on work by reporters covering protests in Portland, Oregon, according to The Washington Post.
  • COVID-19 cases are spiking in New Jersey as surges slam Midwestern states.
  • Chinese government-linked hackers earlier this year targeted biotech company Moderna, which with U.S. authorities developed an experimental coronavirus vaccine being tested now, in a bid to steal valuable data, Reuters reports. The Justice Department is investigating.
  • Big Tech companies, under congressional scrutiny, are thriving financially during the pandemic.
  • Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, continues to promote hydroxychloroquine for the coronavirus despite administration health agencies advising against that use, and he defends having a doctor who promotes crackpot theories on his podcast.

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