As Trump suggests delaying election, White House condemns Hong Kong for postponing its own vote

OlegAlbinsky/iStock

By BEN GITTLESON, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The White House on Friday condemned Hong Kong for delaying its upcoming legislative elections for a year even as President Donald Trump a day earlier elicited significant backlash for suggesting the United States postpone its own November vote.

Earlier Friday, Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam used emergency powers to push back the city's hotly contested legislative council elections, a day after a dozen pro-democracy activists had been barred from running.

"We condemn the Hong Kong government's decision to postpone for one year its Legislative Council elections and to disqualify opposition candidates," White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said at a news conference.

She went on, "This action undermines the democratic processes and freedoms that have underpinned Hong Kong's prosperity and this is only the most recent in a growing list of broken promises by Beijing, which promised autonomy and freedoms to the Hong Kong people until 2047 in the Sino-British Joint Declaration."

Lam cited the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus for her decision to delay the vote, in which pro-democracy candidates were expected to gain a historic majority in the legislature. They had gained support amid anti-Beijing protests and the unpopularity of a restrictive national security law enacted by mainland China.

The White House's censure of a foreign government delaying its election came just one day after Trump had suggested postponing this year's general election in the United States.

The deeply unpopular president is facing a tough fight for re-election as nearly two-thirds of Americans in a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll said they disapproved of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, nationwide unrest over racial inequality and relations with Russia.

In a Thursday morning tweet, Trump criticized mail-in ballots, declaring without evidence that "2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history" and adding, "Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???"

Trump, trailing in polls in key battleground states, wouldn't directly say at a press conference later Thursday if he was seriously advocating for the move, but he continued to sow doubt in the election, scheduled for Nov. 3.

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

Election experts have debunked theories of widespread fraud with mail-in ballots and it's not within the power of the presidency to change the date of the election.

Trump's idea drew blowback from members of Congress and officials across the political spectrum, including senior Republican officials who dismissed the idea.

"Never in the history of the country through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Kentucky television station WNKY. "And we'll find a way to do that again this November 3."

ABC News' Britt Clennett, Karson Yiu, Will Steakin, Libby Cathey and Kendall Karson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.