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Biden Floats Baseless Election Conspiracy [UPDATE: See our latest story ‘Trump Proves Biden Right on USPS Funding, Mail-In Ballots’]

Editor’s note, Aug. 14: Joe Biden’s June 23 remarks that President Donald Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots” have been confirmed — by the president himself.

In an Aug. 13 interview, Trump admitted that he opposes a coronavirus pandemic relief bill crafted by the House Democrats because it includes funding for the U.S. Postal Service and state election officials — money that Trump said is needed to allow the Postal Service to handle an expected surge in mail-in voting.

For an update, see our story, “Trump Proves Biden Right on USPS Funding, Mail-In Ballots.”

Updated, Aug. 17: We added an update to the original headline to give the new information more prominence. See “Mailbag: Our Headline on U.S. Postal Service Story” for more information.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, claimed without evidence that President Donald Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.”

The perpetually cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service has been hurt by COVID-19 and is negotiating with the Treasury Department for a $10 billion loan, which the president has said he will not approve without changes in USPS pricing and leadership.

But a USPS spokesman told us its current financial condition will have no impact on its ability to deliver mail-in ballots this year.

Biden floated his election conspiracy at a June 23 virtual fundraising event with former President Barack Obama. The former vice president made his remarks about the Postal Service when he was offering suggestions on how to “keep our democracy strong,” including registering to vote and volunteering to be poll workers. (It starts at about 1:13:00 of the campaign video.)

Biden then said this (at 1:14:10): “Making sure we tell the American public what the president is doing, saying he wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.”

We can find no instance of Trump saying he wants to thwart the Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots, and the Biden campaign hasn’t provided us with any.

It is true that Trump has been waging a relentless and frequently misleading campaign against states expanding the use of mail-in ballots for this year’s elections, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It is also true that the Postal Service is losing more money than usual because of COVID-19 and has requested an infusion of cash, and it is not clear to what extent Trump will help. During negotiations with Congress over the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, the Trump administration reportedly opposed Democratic efforts to provide funding to help bail out the U.S. mail system. 

But Trump has been a frequent critic of the Postal Service, and there’s no evidence that his current stance toward the U.S. postal system is related to the presidential election.

The CARES Act, which Trump signed March 27, didn’t give the Postal Service everything it wanted, but the law provided two forms of relief: deferred payments of the employer share of Social Security and the ability to borrow up to $10 billion from the Treasury Department.

The Postal Service, in its most recent quarterly financial report, said deferring Social Security payments will save the organization an estimated $1.6 billion this year.

Obtaining access to the $10 billion line of credit will be trickier.

As is customary with such loans, the terms and conditions of the loan must be mutually agreed upon by the treasury secretary and the Postal Service — giving Trump leverage over an organization that he has long criticized for losing money. Since 2007, the Postal Service reports that it has cumulative net losses of $83.1 billion through March.

At an April 24 bill signing, Trump criticized the Postal Service for not charging Amazon and other online retailers more for package delivery. He said the Postal Service “should raise the price of a package by approximately four times” and threatened to block the $10 billion loan unless it raises rates.

At the bill signing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he agreed that rates should be increased. He also added that “we are going to put certain criteria for our postal reform program as part of the loan.” Two weeks later, the Postal Service’s board of governors installed a new postmaster general — Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser and Trump ally.

But Trump’s criticism of the Postal Service and how much it charges Amazon isn’t new. The president has had a long-running feud with Amazon’s CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post — a frequent target of Trump’s false claims of “fake news.”

Although he has been criticized for trying to kill or privatize the Postal Service, Trump has acknowledged its unique place in the United States. “[Y]ou could never replicate the post office,” he said at an April 29 press conference. “The post office is massive. But they’ve got places and little sections of our country that no company could ever go to. That took hundreds of years to build the post office.”

The president’s latest critical comments about the Postal Service are in line with statements he has made for years.

Also, the Postal Service told us that the financial impact of COVID-19 isn’t as dire as it initially projected, and that the organization will be able to deliver mail-in ballots this year.

In April, then-Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan warned that “the COVID-19 pandemic will increase the Postal Service’s net operating loss by more than $22 billion dollars over the next eighteen months.”

At the time, the Postal Service had asked Congress for $25 billion in emergency appropriations and $25 billion in loans from the Treasury Department to continue operating, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

But David Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman, told us in an email that conditions have improved since Brennan’s April 10 statement.

“Thus far mail volume has drastically declined, but not as significantly as we originally predicted based upon the data we had from the first three weeks of the pandemic, and package volume has been growing exponentially,” Partenheimer said. “The recent trends indicate that our 2020 financial performance will be better than our early scenarios predicted, but the pandemic will nevertheless have an extremely detrimental impact on the financial condition of the Postal Service.”

In a sign of its improved condition, the Postal Service reported a net loss of a whopping $1.2 billion in April, but a more modest $225 million in May, according to its monthly financial reports.

Overall, USPS has reported a net loss of $3.1 billion from March through May – about $459 million more than it had for that same period in 2019, according to its unaudited monthly financial reports.

Partenheimer said that the mail service will continue through the 2020 election.

“Regarding our role in elections, our current financial condition is not going to impact our ability to deliver election and political mail this year,” Partenheimer said.

The spokesman referred us to the second quarter report from March that said the Postal Service “expects that it will have sufficient liquidity to continue to operate through at least May 2021” through a combination of loans and “prioritizing payments,” such as paying employees ahead of funding retirement and retiree health plans.

As we’ve explained, the president has certainly been critical of USPS, suggesting some conditions on a potential loan to the service, and he has made several false and misleading statements in his campaign against mail-in ballots. But Biden conflates the two issues to make the unsupported claim that Trump is “saying he wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.” There’s no evidence Trump ever said such a thing.

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