Because of the pandemic, the American electorate will be more reliant than ever on the U.S. Postal System in the coming months, counting on the USPS to distribute, retrieve, and deliver ballots. That would put a strain on our mail infrastructure under the best of circumstances, but thanks to changes imposed on the USPS by the Trump administration, the postal system appears ill equipped for the challenge.
Donald Trump, who's made no secret of his desire to make it more difficult for Americans to vote in the fall, acknowledged the problem during a White House press briefing yesterday. Referring to the USPS, the president said, "They don't have the money to do the universal mail-in voting. So therefore, they can't do it, I guess. Are they going to do it even if they don't have the money?"
What Trump failed to acknowledge is the inconvenient detail: the USPS doesn't have the resources it needs because Trump refuses to allow the USPS to receive the resources it needs. As the Washington Post reported overnight:
President Trump says the U.S. Postal Service is incapable of facilitating mail-in voting because it cannot access the emergency funding he is blocking, and made clear that requests for additional aid were nonstarters in coronavirus relief negotiations. Trump, who has been railing against mail-in balloting for months, said the cash-strapped agency's enlarged role in the November election would perpetuate "one of the greatest frauds in history." Speaking Wednesday at his daily pandemic news briefing, Trump said he would not approve $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service, or $3.5 billion in supplemental funding for election resources, citing prohibitively high costs.
Imagine your friend is complaining about his dying house plant. You ask him what it needs to recover, and he replies, "Clearly, it's not getting enough water." At that point, you make the obvious suggestion: give the plant more water. Your friend then replies, "Absolutely not."
In this hypothetical, you'd probably assume that your friend doesn't like the plant and wants it to die.
In the real world, we're seeing a similar dynamic unfold: Trump complains every day about the integrity of the upcoming elections and voters' dependence on the U.S. Postal System. Asked about the nature of the problem, the president concedes the USPS doesn't have the financial resources it needs. Offered a chance to give the mail system more money, the Republican effectively replies, "Absolutely not."
Indeed, he's begun abandoning all subtlety about his motivations. Trump added in a Fox Business interview this morning, in reference to the Postal Service, "They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes, OK. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 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."
If this sounds like a man trying to sabotage his own country's postal system to derail mail-in voting during a pandemic, it's not your imagination.
What's more, he's maintained this posture for months. As regular readers may recall, when Democrats tried to add USPS aid to the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in the spring, Trump made clear he was prepared to reject the entire package if it included money to bolster the Postal Service. Asked about his apparent hostility toward the independent agency during a recent White House press briefing, the Republican offered a long, meandering, hard-to-follow diatribe, in which he seemed to argue that the USPS would be fine if it imposed higher rates on Amazon.com (a company Trump appears to hate because its owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns the Washington Post).
The problem is far more acute now, reinforcing concerns that the president, like your friend with the neglected house plant, wants to weaken the USPS -- on purpose -- ahead of its critical role in his own country's elections.
Alas, this isn't the only area of concern. The Trump-appointed postmaster general, campaign donor Louis DeJoy, is making a series of changes to the agency that risk timely deliveries. As Rachel noted on the show last night, congressional Democrats are especially concerned about a new "reform," writing to DeJoy yesterday about the prospect of treating political mail as bulk mail.
"It is always essential that the Postal Service be able to deliver mail in a timely and effective manner. During the once-in-a-century health and economic crisis of COVID-19, the Postal Service's smooth functioning is a matter of life-or-death, and is critical for protecting lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy," lawmakers wrote.
"The House is seriously concerned that you are implementing policies that accelerate the crisis at the Postal Service, including directing Post Offices to no longer treat all election mail as First Class. If implemented now, as the election approaches, this policy will cause further delays to election mail that will disenfranchise voters and put significant financial pressure on election jurisdictions."
In case this weren't quite enough, CNN reported last night that Postmaster General DeJoy "continues to hold a multi-million-dollar stake in his former company XPO Logistics, a United States Postal Service contractor, likely creating a major conflict of interest, according to newly obtained financial disclosures and ethics experts."
The same report added, "Raising further alarms, on the same day in June that DeJoy divested large amounts of Amazon shares, he purchased stock options giving him the right to buy new shares of Amazon at a price much lower than their current market price, according to the disclosures."
Watch this space.
Update: This post has been updated to reflect Trump's quote to Fox Business this morning.