In late June, Joe Biden claimed President Donald Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.” At the time, we wrote that the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee had no evidence of Trump’s ulterior motive — but now he does.
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 — funding that Trump said is needed to allow the Postal Service to handle an expected surge in mail-in voting.
Maria Bartiromo, the host of “Mornings with Maria” on Fox Business, asked Trump “what specifically are [the Democrats] pushing for that is causing this breakdown in any deals.” The president singled out two provisions in the HEROES Act, or the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act.
Trump, Aug. 13: They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically. They want $3.5 trillion — billion dollars for the mail-in votes, OK, universal mail-in ballots, $3.5 trillion. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.
The bill, which passed the Democratic-controlled House in May with only one Republican vote, includes $3.6 billion for states to pay for “contingency planning, preparation, and resilience of elections for Federal office,” according to a summary of the act. It also contains $25 billion for USPS to replace revenues “forgone due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Hours after his interview with Bartiromo, Trump said he wouldn’t veto the bill if it includes money for the Postal Service and state election planning — but he repeated his statement about the agency being unable to handle mail-in ballots without it.
“But if the bill isn’t going to get done, that would mean the Post Office isn’t going to get funded, and that would also mean that the three and a half billion dollars isn’t going to be taken care of,” he said at an Aug. 14 press briefing. “So I don’t know how you can possibly use these ballots, these mail-in ballots.”
The perpetually cash-strapped Postal Service has been hurt by COVID-19. Earlier this year, the Postal Service had asked Congress for, among other things, $25 billion in emergency appropriations and $25 billion in loans from the Treasury Department.
At a June 23 virtual fundraiser, Biden accused Trump (at about 1:13:00 into the video) of undermining democracy and urged viewers to register to vote and volunteer to be poll workers. Biden then added this about mail-in ballots (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.”
But it is equally true that the president for years has criticized the Postal Service for losing money and has insisted that it should increase fees for packages, repeatedly singling out Amazon. The Postal Service has been caught up in the president’s feud with Amazon’s CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post — which the president frequently targets in tweets for its news coverage.
And, despite Trump’s criticisms of the Postal Service’s years of red ink, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which the president signed March 27, 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.
On July 29, the recently appointed postmaster general — Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser and Trump ally — announced that the Postal Service had reached an agreement with Treasury to access the $10 billion borrowing authority, which DeJoy said “will delay the approaching liquidity crisis.”
As we wrote at the time, we found no instance of Trump saying he wants to thwart the Postal Service’s ability to deliver mail-in ballots, and the Biden campaign didn’t provide us with any. Biden appeared to have conflated the two issues — Trump’s criticism of both the Postal Service and mail-in-ballots — to accuse the president of wanting to “cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots.”
But that’s moot now. Trump provided Biden with the evidence that he earlier had lacked.
What we don’t know is if denying the Postal Service additional funding “means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it,” as Trump said.
The Postal Service has repeatedly said that funding issues will not prevent mail carriers from making their appointed rounds throughout 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,” Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer told us in late June.
More recently, the postmaster general said at an Aug. 7 board of governors meeting that the USPS can handle the expected increased volume of mail-in ballots.
“Although there will likely be an unprecedented increase in election mail volume due to the pandemic,” DeJoy said, “the Postal Service has ample capacity to deliver all election mail securely and on-time in accordance with our delivery standards, and we will do so.”
DeJoy made those remarks even after it was reported that he had instituted cost-cutting measures that will result in mail delivery delays.
In a July 10 memo to all employees, the Postal Service directed mail carriers to begin and end their routes on time — even if it means leaving behind some unsorted mail at processing and distribution centers — because “late trips” and “extra trips are no longer authorized or accepted.” The memo said late and extra trips cost the agency about $200 million a year in additional costs.
“One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that — temporarily — we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks (in P&DCs), which is not typical,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by Federal News Network.
Whether these temporary changes have an impact on the delivery of mail-in ballots also remains to be seen. As we have written before, about a quarter of ballots cast in the 2018 general elections nationwide were by mail, according to the Election Assistance Commission. But some states — including key swing states, such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — have had low volumes of mail-in ballots in past elections.
But we do know at this point that Biden’s earlier remarks that Trump “wants to cut off money for the post office so they cannot deliver mail-in ballots” have been confirmed — by the president himself.
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