The Note: Trump’s war on mail-in voting is more bark than bite

President Donald Trump’s latest salvos are likely to go down as empty threats

May 21, 2020, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It was just another pair of presidential tweets -- riddled with errors of fact and law, but just tweets nonetheless.

President Donald Trump's latest salvos, suggesting that expanded mail-in voting in Michigan and Nevada is "illegal" and saying he may withhold federal funding as a consequence, are likely to go down as empty threats.

But even if there is no bite, the bark may be the point. Leaving aside the advisability of threatening battleground states in the midst of a pandemic -- including one facing a catastrophic flooding crisis that he happens to be visiting Thursday -- the president sees value in getting the topic of voter fraud back in the ether.

As states scramble to adjust laws to accommodate social distancing and state and federal guidelines -- including in a batch of states with primaries June 2 -- the Republican Party is launching legal challenges to efforts intended to give voters more ways to cast ballots this fall.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 20, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 20, 2020.
Evan Vucci/AP

In many cases, it's Republican governors and secretaries of state who are advocating changes to adjust to new realities. That's even the case in Nevada, where the GOP secretary of state put out the statement Wednesday saying the president is wrong: "All 17 counties have established processes and procedures in place for safe and secure mail-in voting."

Smart state parties and campaigns are adjusting for an unprecedented shift in how Americans will vote this year, rather than complaining about changing rules. Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that a special election for a House seat in California was being "rigged" by Democrats; he went silent on that subject after the Republican won.

Trump can't change the fact that elections are run by states, not the federal government. It makes for messiness that the president sees political advantage in, with one result being that he may further undermine trust in the final results.

The RUNDOWN with Kendall Karson

The cracks in the Senate GOP's armor are beginning to show.

With the Senate set to wrap up business without taking up another relief package in response to the coronavirus crisis, some of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election this cycle don't appear in lock-step with Senate Majority Mitch McConnell or Trump on the plan.

Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are joining a bipartisan effort to push for more aid -- in the form of the $500 billion SMART Fund, which aims to provide emergency funding to frontline states and communities across the country. Collins is expected to face one of the toughest roads to re-election against Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat.

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the press after a meeting with Republican Senators in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, May 19, 2020.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the press after a meeting with Republican Senators in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, May 19, 2020.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Another senator from a battleground state, Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is urging for more action before senators head home Thursday afternoon for a week-long recess over Memorial Day weekend.

"It's unfathomable that the Senate is set to go on recess without considering any additional #COVID19 assistance for the American people," he wrote in a tweet thread, "Anyone who thinks now is the time to go on recess hasn't been listening. Coloradans and Americans alike have sacrificed and are hurting."

Whether or not his electoral prospects are top of mind, as he is up against a steep climb back to the Senate in a state the president lost in 2016, the move might not amount to much more than rhetoric, since taking issue on Twitter pales in comparison to objecting to the recess from the Senate floor.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

What will it take for Joe Biden to -- finally -- get Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement? It could take more than words or task force appointments, or even a solid running mate pick. In fact, the freshman congresswoman says it may require something more intangible: "I think what the vice president needs to do and what I'm encouraging him to do and encouraging his team to do is find ways to surprise us," she said.

Ocasio-Cortez deflected answering whether she was planning to endorse Biden during an interview with ABC's "Nightline" co-anchor Juju Chang. Instead, she called for broader party unity which she said "requires a very strong and thorough process of coming together" while also spotlighting the political agenda of her first pick for president, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders holds hands with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during his speech at a campaign rally in Queensbridge Park, on October 19, 2019, in the Queens borough of New York City.
FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders holds hands with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during his speech at a campaign rally in Queensbridge Park, on October 19, 2019, in the Queens borough of New York City.
Kena Betancur/Getty Images

"We understand that the primary is behind us and we all may have been supporting whichever candidate. But ultimately, we don't support candidates just because of their personalities. And Bernie always said this: not me, us. And what that means is that we support a plan and an agenda that addresses our future," she said.

Biden and Sanders recently joined forces and tapped Ocasio-Cortez and former Secretary of State John Kerry as co-chairs of a group tasked with forming Biden's climate policy. But it remains to be seen whether the pair -- who have a difference of nearly three decades of public service between them -- can create a plan that pushes Biden in a surprising enough direction to bring more progressives into the fold.

ONE MORE THING

The coronavirus crisis has been felt among a number of religious backgrounds, but is particularly acute among leading African American members of the clergy and churches with predominantly black congregations, according to faith leaders. ABC News identified at least 33 African American bishops, reverends and pastors who led various denominations around the country who have died from the coronavirus, according to an analysis of news reports.

BRINGING AMERICA BACK

BerGenBioa, a tiny British-Norwegian company developing a treatment for the novel coronavirus says it is "very optimistic" for the potential of a new drug that would require a patient to take only one pill a day. Read this story and more by checking out Bringing America Back, an ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in economic recovery and medical preparedness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast.Thursday morning’s episode features ABC News’ Eva Pilgrim, who explains new scientific finds regarding COVID-19 antibodies. ABC News Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl explains why President Donald Trump continues to rail against vote-by-mail initiatives. And, we continue our special series “Pandemic: A Nation Divided” with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipient Zaid Consuegra Sauza, who tells us how the coronavirus has impacted his livelihood. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

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