Trump Admits He Wants to Block USPS Funding to Stop Mail-In Votes
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. He told the Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo Thursday morning 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 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."
Politico notes that a Monmouth poll released Tuesday found 72% of Democrats are very or somewhat likely to vote by mail, compared to 22% of Republicans.
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 covid relief talks: In sum, 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 actually 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."
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."
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Coronavirus Relief? See You in September
In another sign that any additional coronavirus relief package is likely weeks away, the Senate left Washington, D.C. Thursday until September.
The Hill’s Jordain Carney:
"Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had kept the chamber in session this week, which was technically the first in its August recess, as a last-ditch attempt to create space for the administration and congressional Democrats to get an agreement.
"But with talks stalemated, senators argue there is little reason for them to keep holding daily, roughly 1 1/2-hour sessions. The House already left town and isn't expected to return until Sept. 14."
Pelosi told reporters Thursday that talks on a deal would resume when Republicans are ready to talk about a package costing at least $2 trillion. "When they're ready to do that, we'll sit down," she said.
Quote of the Day: CDC Director Says US Was Under-Prepared for Pandemic
"We need to over-invest, get over-prepared. I will say that in four or five decades of investment, when the big one came — and this is not a minor one, this is the greatest public health crisis that hit this nation in a century — that we were under-prepared. And we need to owe it to our children and grandchildren that this nation is never under-prepared again for a public health crisis."
– CDC Director Robert Redfield, in an interview with WebMD, saying that the U.S. was now paying the price for its failure to invest in public health.
New Jobless Claims Drop Below 1 Million
The number of new unemployment claims fell below 1 million for this first time since March, the Labor Department announced Thursday.
About 963,000 Americans filed for state unemployment benefits for the week ending August 8, a drop of more than 200,000 from the week before. Another 488,000 people filed for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created to assist self-employed workers, down 167,000 from the previous week.
The number of people receiving some form of unemployment benefits fell by 3.1 million from the week before, but the number is still at a historically high level of 28.2 million. The weekly data bring the total number of unemployment filings since the pandemic took hold to more than 55 million.
"Another larger-than-expected decline in jobless claims suggests that the jobs recovery is regaining some momentum but with a staggering 28 million workers still claiming some form of jobless benefits, much labor market progress remains to be done," Lydia Boussour and Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics said in a note to clients.
Reduced pressure for another relief package? The larger than expected drop in jobless claims won’t make it any easier for negotiators to agree on a new coronavirus relief package. Republicans will likely see the data as support for their claims that the $600 per week in extra unemployment benefits millions of workers were receiving through the end of July was acting as a brake on the recovery, and that the economy is now in the middle of a rapid, V-shaped recovery. "The numbers are coming in very, very nicely," Kudlow said earlier this week, adding that he didn’t think the lack of a new relief bill would harm the economy.
Many economists have their doubts about the V-shaped recovery, though, given the size of the current economic hole and the inability of the U.S. to control the pandemic. "The reality is that millions of people have lost their jobs," AnnElizabeth Konkel of the Indeed Hiring Lab told CNN. "These people are faced with mounting bills, and are struggling to find work. The expiration of the expanded $600 federal unemployment benefit has only compounded the dire situation they face. Meanwhile the source of all this economic hardship, the coronavirus, remains unchecked."
CNBC’s Steve Liesman summarized the skeptics’ view in a tweet: "If jobless claims running just under a million in the fifth month of the recession is your benchmark for an economy being in good shape, may i suggest you’ve set the bar too low? That’s still 4x the pre-recession level and about 300k above the worst level of ‘08."
Is Trump’s Unemployment Benefit Plan Legal?
The White House scrambled earlier this week to clarify Trump’s effort to provide extra weekly payments to unemployed workers, settling on the idea that the new program would provide workers with up to $300 per week in enhanced payments, without requiring states to contribute.
But The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell says the plan is anything but clear, with the administration providing "at least five contradictory versions of this parallel benefit system" announced by the president.
Citing Georgetown law professor David Super, Rampell adds that in addition to being a moving target, the program as currently described is probably illegal. Trump’s original plan required states to contribute 25% of the cost of the new unemployment benefit, or $100, bringing the total to $400 per week — a number that has been cited by numerous White House officials. But following a wave of complaints from cash-strapped states, the White House says it has changed the rules to eliminate that contribution.
The problem, Rampell says, is that the 25% cost-sharing payment was part of the plan for a reason. The "state funding match included in Trump’s executive action wasn’t there just for kicks," Rampell writes. "It was there because it’s required under the law Trump cited as giving him authority to create this benefit program: the Stafford Act."
That’s not the only legal issue: "Counting existing state spending on jobless benefits, rather than new spending, to meet the state-match requirement would also violate Office of Management and Budget Circular A-87," Rampell says.
Why it matters: Aside from the basic but profound issue of public officials following the law, the suspect legal standing of Trump’s plan could prevent states from participating in the program. "It’s not a matter of whether states are willing to sign on the dotted line," Super told Rampell. "It’s: What are you actually asking me to sign up for?"
- The True Coronavirus Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000 – Denise Lu, New York Times
- Trump’s Attack on the Postal Service Is Now a National Emergency – Paul Waldman, Washington Post
- Trump Payroll Tax Action Won’t Work, Could Endanger Social Security and Budget – Paul N. Van de Water, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Trump's Push to Cut Capital Gains Taxes Highlights Scattered Coronavirus Relief Effort – Tory Newmyer, Washington Post
- Trump The Disrupter Takes Dead Aim At Social Security – Howard Gleckman, Tax Policy Center
- Another Illegal Trump Administration Policy, and Yet Another Premature Trump Administration Victory Lap – Catherine Rampell, Washington Post
- Trump Executive Action Shows Why Congress Should Federalize More of Unemployment Insurance – Tracy Gordon, Tax Policy Center
- Senator Kamala Harris Proposed a Bold Tax Credit to Help Low- and Middle-Income Workers – Elaine Maag, Tax Policy Center