President Trump indicated Thursday morning that he opposes Democratic proposals to provide additional funding to the U.S. Postal Service because he doesn’t want to expand voting by mail ahead of November’s presidential election.
Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in voting, claiming without evidence that it results in widespread fraud and could result in a “rigged” election. On Thursday morning, he told the Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo that the postal service funding is one reason his administration and congressional Democrats remain far apart on a broader coronavirus relief package, inaccurately suggesting that Democrats want universal mail-in voting:
"They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent, that's election money basically. They want 3.5 trillion 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.”
He added: “Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
In an afternoon press briefing, the president denied that he had threatened to veto a deal that included funding to help the Postal Service handle an expected surge in mail-in voting — while repeating his baseless claim that mail-in voting will make the election “fraudulent.”
The background: The Democratic coronavirus relief package passed by the House in May included $3.6 billion for “election resilience grants” that Politico reports could be used for a range of measures, including preparing for what’s expected to be an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots but also for protecting in-person voting and supplying personal protective equipment for poll workers.
The package also included $25 billion for the Postal Service. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that the figure was the amount recommended by the Postal Service’s bipartisan board of governors, “100% appointed by Donald Trump.”
Experts say that mail-in voting fraud has been rare and that there’s no evidence that mail-in voting favors Democrats, but at a White House briefing Wednesday, Trump argued — again, baselessly — that expanded mail-in voting in this year’s election would result in “the greatest fraud in the history of elections.” In March, Trump said that making it easier for more people to vote would ensure “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump again says the quiet part out loud: Trump is making an explicitly political case for his opposition to Postal Service funding. As Politico puts it: “he doesn’t want to add funding for the Postal Service in an attempt to kneecap mail-in voting, which he believes will be heavily Democratic.”
Trump’s not the only administration figure to make that link. In an interview with CNBC Thursday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow lumped “voting rights” in as part of what he described as a liberal wish list of demands for coronavirus relief. "So [many] of the Democratic asks are really liberal, left wishlists — voting rights and aid to aliens and so forth," he said. "That's not our game, and the president can't accept that kind of deal," Kudlow continued.
This could further complicate negotiations: Trump’s comments on Thursday leave some confusion about just what he would or would not accept in a coronavirus relief deal.
USPS funding is one area where the two sides had made progress, with Democrats reportedly agreeing to $10 billion for one year instead of $25 billion through fiscal 2022.
"What [negotiators] are saying is different than what the president is saying," Pelosi said. "If they came in the room and said the president is never doing this, that's something we'd take to the American people. And the American people want the Postal Service protected and preserved."
Pelosi emphasized that the Postal Service remains popular with the American public and is essential for delivering prescription drugs, among other things. “The president says he’s not putting up any money for absentee voting and he’s not putting up any money for the postal service, undermining the health of our democracy,” she said Thursday. “It’s a health issue, you shouldn’t have to choose between your health and your ability to cast a vote.”
Biden campaign responds: "The president of the United States is sabotaging a basic service that hundreds of millions of people rely upon, cutting a critical lifeline for rural economies and for delivery of medicines, because he wants to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely during the most catastrophic public health crisis in over 100 years," a Biden campaign spokesperson said in a statement. Asked what he thought about Trump tying his opposition to Postal Service funding to mail-in voting, Biden said it was “Pure Trump. He doesn’t want an election.”
Election watchdogs slam Trump: "Trump's brazen abuse of the post office to try and win an election is a shameful misuse of presidential power. Defunding the Postal Service and slowing its ability to deliver mail ballots to Americans will hurt Democratic and Republican voters alike," Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center and former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission, told NPR.
Jana Morgan, director of the Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of more than 160 organizations, said in a statement: "President Trump made clear today that he is intentionally sabotaging the U.S. Post Office and blocking election funding to suppress Americans' votes. This act is a disgrace and a stain on our democracy.”