WASHINGTON – A day after President Donald Trump faced withering, bipartisan blow back for floating the idea of delaying the U.S. presidential election, a senior White House aide condemned the year-long postponement of an election in Hong Kong as undemocratic.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced Friday the government there would postpone highly anticipated legislative elections by one year, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
“We condemn the Hong Kong government’s decision to postpone for one year its legislative counsel elections,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday. “This action undermines the democratic processes and freedoms that have underpinned Hong Kong’s prosperity.”
McEnany’s remarks came a day after Trump drew fire from Republicans for raising the prospect of delaying the November election because of the COVID-19 pandemic and his unproven concerns about expanded mail-in voting. Presidents don’t have the authority to move an election unilaterally and the idea met stiff resistance on Capitol Hill.
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The president later sidestepped a question about whether he supported Hong Kong’s postponement.
“I want to right now focus on this election, I’ll have a statement about that soon,” he told reporters at a roundtable discussion with the leadership from the National Association of Police Organizations. “I heard that, that they did the delay in Hong Kong, and we’ll have a statement about that. But I want to focus on this.”
Many critics pushed back on the idea with arguments similar to those McEnany used to criticize Hong Kong’s delay.
“All I can say is, it doesn’t matter what one individual in this country says, we still are a country based on the rule of law and we want to follow the law,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Speaking later Thursday, Trump appeared to row back on the idea but didn’t completely foreclose on it as he continued to raise doubts about efforts to expand mail-in voting in some states in response to the coronavirus.
McEnany answered indirectly Thursday when asked whether the White House unequivocally would rule out pushing for delay in the election.
“The president answered this three times yesterday,” McEnany said. “He said ‘I want the date more than anyone. I don’t want a delay. I want to have the election.'”
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The postponement in Hong Kong is a setback for the pro-democracy opposition, which was hoping to capitalize on disenchantment with the current pro-Beijing majority to make gains. A group of 22 lawmakers issued a statement ahead of the announcement accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.
Contributing: Jessica Flores, Doug Stanglin