This is related to today's news that Trump mentioned the idea of delaying the election in one of his tweets.

I understand that the president cannot legally change the election date, but according to the Washington Post:

The U.S. Constitution gives the power to regulate the “time, place and manner” of general elections to the U.S. House and Senate, with Congress also empowered to alter the rules.

Even though the president can't change the election date, how can he force Congress to vote on the issue of delaying it?

And worst-case scenario, Congress decides to vote on the issue, so the Senate approves and the House rejects. How would the votes be counted and what would the end-result be?

I relate it to selecting a supreme court judge: the president nominates someone and the Senate votes on it. The difference here is that the house and the senate would have to vote.

Btw, Hong Kong delayed their elections due to the pandemic. I'm not saying it's the same thing, but there's precedent: Hong Kong delayed its September election by a year, citing the pandemic.

  • 12
    Are you really asking "is there some mechanism by which the President can force Congress to vote on an issue?" Because if you're just literally asking whether the President can suggest it, the answer is "yes he can, and so can I, and so can you; whether Congress will listen is another question." Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 15:56
  • Yes, I suppose that would be my follow-up question. I'm just saying that if he's floating the idea, then there has to be a procedure for it. I'll edit question. Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 15:59
  • To whoever wants to close the question, can you explain why? Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 16:05
  • 2
    Lots of comments deleted. Please note that the purpose of comments on this website is to ask for clarification or suggest improvements to posts, not to engage in political debates.
    – Philipp
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 9:05
  • 3
    As one of the answers has pointed out, what you think that you have asked is not what you have actually asked. From the commentary, apparently you think that you're asking about some procedure that you are not heretofore aware of. But what you've actually asked is simply how a president can force a legislature to do stuff such as altering presidential powers, elections, and the constitution; in answer to which history is littered with prior examples.
    – JdeBP
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 18:36

3 Answers 3


The President has no legal power to force Congress to do anything of the sort besides his soft-power "bully pulpit" to try and force them to come to vote. It's important to note that in the US system, elections are not rescheduled with the ease or frequency of parliamentary systems, making changing the election date difficult for even a highly popular president.

In order to change the date of the federal elections, Congress would have to vote, as it is set in federal law. However, it has not been changed since 1845. Because this is a regular federal law, it would need to be passed by both the Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-led House, then signed by the President. Considering the Republican Senate delegation cannot come to an agreement on pandemic aid after having months to consider it, moving fast on the election date seems unlikely, and would no doubt be opposed entirely by the House in favor of aid for mail-in ballots.

Furthermore, the date of the new president's term is set by the Constitution, in the 20th Amendment. There is no way for this to be changed, since a change needs to be passed by both houses of Congress then ratified by three-quarters of the states.

If states were to not hold elections because of a state of emergency, the president would be chosen by the rump Electoral College, presumably comprised of the states that conducted their elections, or appointed electors; perhaps those states that already had entirely vote-by-mail and those that expanded it. Since these states are mostly blue, red states would be shooting themselves in the foot by skipping the election.

In other words, it's not going to happen. See also.

  • Let's say that, worst-case scenario, Congress votes on the issue, so the Senate approves and the House rejects. How would the votes be counted and what would the end-result be? Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 13:38
  • 2
    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf Just like a regular bill? Since they split, nothing would happen, because no bill was passed. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 13:42
  • 11
    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf Yes, that is how the legislative branch functions. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 13:53
  • 1
    I would suggests that the "bully pulpit" could PERSUADE Congress to vote, rather than force it to do so.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 23:37
  • 1
    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf: My comment was just about the wording. Whether the persuasion would be successful is a different matter - and I agree that in this case it's unlikely that it would be. Indeed, from reactions I've seen in the news, it's hardly a foregone conclusion that the Senate would support it: forbes.com/sites/mattperez/2020/07/30/…
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 16:51

Article 2, Section 3 of the constitution details the two things a President can force Congress to do (emphasis mine):

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

And that's all he can do. He can say "hey, I think we urgently need to deal with X, so I shall convene you to do so", but the Houses are under no obligation to do anything other than to convene and hold session. They aren't even obligated to talk about the issue. They can simply convene the session, decide there's nothing they need to do, and then close the session immediately afterwards.

The adjournment power has never been exercised to date, but the convening one has. In the modern operations of the Houses both powers are minor to irrelevant anyway. You may have heard the adjournment clause get brought up recently, but merely as a proposed tactical move involving an intentional failure to agree by the House, all so the President could then shove in some recess appointments past an uncooperative Senate.

Originally the travel time between the capital and where the various Congressmen resided was substantial. Indeed, "Congressman" was originally expected to be a side gig that you did in addition to more traditional work, not a well-paying, all-year-long time-consuming career of its own. As such it was expected that Congress could and would not be in session for months at a time. But the founders knew something urgent could happen during that span, or any other span when Congress was adjourned, so they made sure the Executive had the power to pull Congress back into session.

Other than that, the President's sole power over Congress is political in nature. We have seen President Trump, for example, wield his political influence to undercut the re-election campaigns of (Republican) Congressmen who do not 100% support him, to varying degrees of success. Given that the House is currently under Democratic control, however, he is unlikely to be able to force his way on the matter. Best he could do is try to jeopardize some other piece of legislation and offer up not doing so as his concession for the House doing the other thing he wants (budget laws are modern day favorites, with government shutdowns becoming somewhat regular as a result). However, it is hard to imagine this particular matter as being something the House Democrats won't be completely resistant to.

  • 3
    Constitution Annotated: The President has frequently summoned both Houses into "extra" or "special sessions" for legislative purposes, and the Senate alone for the consideration of nominations and treaties. His power to adjourn the Houses has never been exercised.
    – Rick Smith
    Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 16:46
  • @RickSmith Thank you, I was worried I was mistaken on that one. Commented Jul 30, 2020 at 19:07
  • Let's say that, worst-case scenario, Congress votes on the issue, so the Senate approves and the House rejects. How would the votes be counted and what would the end-result be? Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 13:38
  • 4
    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf The law fails to pass both chambers and the President never gets to see it and it doesn't become law. There's no possibility in the US legislative process for one House's vote to override the other in order to pass a law. It either passes both Houses or it fails. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 13:41
  • 1
    @fdkgfosfskjdlsjdlkfsf: Further, that would mean that the current law on Election Day would remain in effect. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 15:05

Yes, he can.

Other answers are assuming a slightly different question of "Can Trump force the Congress by legal means?". But the question has no mention of "legal means". Considering how many times the current administration broke the Constitution and other laws, it's naive to assume they will limit themselves only to constitutional means.

So what can Trump do? Many things, here is one for example. He is still the Commander in Chief of the US Army. He has relatively high support among parts of the military, so it's not impossible that when he orders to move some tanks into Washington, his orders will be followed. And then the Congress would either accede to his demands, or be shot at and the survivors would accede to his demands. That's how the previous president of my country acted when he was threatened with losing his post.

  • 13
    I wish I could say this is ridiculous, but history has shown that it's not all that far fetched. It'd certainly be a huge escalation, and Trump has shown no signs that he's willing to go that far yet, but that doesn't rule it out.
    – Bobson
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 15:52
  • 5
    The chairman of the joint chiefs did circle a letter to his fellow chiefs reminding them that their oath was to the constitution, not to the president. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 22:20
  • 9
    This doesn't particularly answer the question because someone who's going to violate the Constitution by threatening mass murder of elected officials to compel them to reschedule an election isn't likely to honor the democratic results of such an election anyway. I believe the context of the question and "...the president cannot legally change the election date..." assumes we're operating within a legal framework. Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 23:41
  • 3
    I think (as a past member of the US military) that very few military personel would obey such an order, if it was given. The oath you take when you enlist states "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same..." So if Trump (or anyone) tried to order tanks used against Congress, they'd become one of those domestic enemies by that very action.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 23:48
  • 5
    @Pat-Laugh How so? This is not Law Stack Exchange. A lot of questions here are concerning non-legal matters, including wars, coups (violent and not) and other. And I can back that claim, but just from your attitude I'm feeling you won't accept those breaches as such, and this is not a place for discussions.
    – Alice
    Commented Aug 1, 2020 at 4:45

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .