“Did the president just admit to sabotaging the post office for the purpose of suppressing voter participation?” asked reporter Tim Alberta of the clip below.
Well … sort of, yeah. Although I’d say it’s more that he’s admitting he won’t fix the post office than that he’s sabotaging it.
Let’s back up. For weeks, Democrats have accused Trump of playing games with the Postal Service in order to hamstring the agency. He’s spent months crusading against mail-in voting as unreliable, fraud-prone (except in Florida!), and destined to lead to chaos on Election Night — or Election Week, I should say. Those complaints aren’t totally without merit; based on New York’s recent experience, the odds of chaos are high. But voting by mail may be the only truly safe option this fall depending on how bad the second wave of COVID is. And as a basic matter, voting by mail is legal in every state. In most you don’t even need an absentee excuse to request an “absentee” ballot. Since you have the right to vote by mail, your government should do whatever it can to make your exercise of that right feasible.
Dems have viewed problems with the Postal Service lately entirely through an electoral lens. Is Trump *deliberately* sabotaging the agency to make it more difficult to vote by mail? they wonder. Newspapers have been tracking backlogs in mail delivery as Trump loyalist turned postmaster general Louis DeJoy reorganizes the USPS. They’ve also noticed the agency’s recommendation that state and local governments mail ballots to voters with first-class postage to ensure timely delivery instead of the usual third-class postage, upping the cost. “In past elections,” notes WaPo, “when states have chosen to send election mail under third-class designations, postal workers were instructed to treat those items as though they were first-class.” Not this year, I guess.
The benign explanation for all this is that the Postal Service has had money problems for ages, those problems have turned more critical of late, and DeJoy is making the hard choices needed to keep the USPS afloat. The Democratic conspiratorial alternative is that DeJoy is a lackey in the Bill Barr mold, tasked with coopting his agency to serve the president’s political interests. In Barr’s case that meant cutting Roger Stone and Mike Flynn special sentencing breaks; in DeJoy’s case, it supposedly means hobbling mail delivery with an eye to discouraging voters from using it in the first place. Or, in a truly sinister scenario, to ensure in November that many millions of ballots arrive at state election headquarters past the deadline, too late to be counted.
Watch three minutes of Trump this morning on Fox Business, as he’s asked about the stalled stimulus negotiations between Democrats and Republicans. Bear in mind that a deal, if one is eventually reached, will approach $2 trillion — “trillion” with a T — and that funding for the Postal Service plus funding for mail-in ballots would amount to something like $28 billion. That’s a little more than one percent of a fiscal program on which millions of people are depending to keep them liquid in the midst of a grinding economic downturn. Even so, says Trump, it’s a dealbreaker.
Why? Because “if [Democrats] don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Note Bartiromo’s incredulity that $28 billion for voting and the post office might end up killing a multi-trillion-dollar package aimed at keeping out-of-work people functioning. “This is one of the sticking points that’s holding back stimulus for Americans during this coronavirus?” she asks. She’s not a hostile interviewer either, rather the opposite.
Oh yes, says Trump. Because $3 billion for mail ballots — which would be 0.15 percent of a $2 trillion deal — is a lot of money.
Lest there’s any doubt that this is something he opposes but might reluctantly sign on to if it’s part of a deal or if it’s a true dealbreaker, an administration official removed that doubt for WaPo. “We told them very clearly that the president was not going to sign the bill if [money for the Postal Service] was in it,” the official said. “I don’t know if we used the v-bomb, but the president was not going to sign it, and we told them that.”
Liberal Bill Scher is urging people on his own side not to overstate Trump’s point to Bartiromo. “Trump is saying here he opposes extra money in any stimulus bill to aid mail voting since he doesn’t want universal mail voting,” says Scher. “He is NOT copping to purposefully slowing mail delivery to prevent ballots from counting…” Right — and the reason Scher’s worried about that is precisely because he *doesn’t* want this talking point to spread on the left and convince voters that they can’t trust the Postal Service to deliver their ballots. That would achieve precisely what Democrats suspect Trump of wanting, discouraging voting by mail among people who, whether because of age or COVID risks or both, might not be able to make it to the polls in-person instead. Even voting via a hobbled Postal Service beats not voting at all.
But if Trump isn’t copping to deliberately slowing down the Postal Service, he certainly is copping to not wanting to speed it up. If he’s worried (not unreasonably) about mail-in ballots being processed efficiently, one would think a proper democratic solution would be to make mail voting more, not less, efficient and reliable. You don’t starve the USPS of funding three months before an election in which voting by mail is expected to reach an all-time high. You increase it, especially if you’re already in the process tossing trillions of dollars to taxpayers to keep the economy moving.
So, no, Trump’s not admitting that he’s trying to break the Postal Service’s legs. But he’s certainly admitting that he won’t offer it a crutch as it limps along. And he’s quite plain about his reason: It *is* election-related, because of his personal doubts about mail-in voting, never mind that 70 percent of Americans support it and all 50 states allow it to some degree or another. There have been more theatrical dystopian moments during his presidency (e.g., Lafayette Park), but on the merits and given the scale of the potential consequences, I’m not sure any have been worse than this.
Here’s another clip making the rounds today, of Larry Kudlow discussing the stimulus negotiations and casually dismissing “voting rights” as “not our game.” Some House Dems who figured prominently in impeachment are talking very tough about what Trump said to Bartiromo. Hearings may be coming.
Here is the President’s chief economic adviser describe “voting rights” as part of “really liberal left wishlists” that the President will oppose pic.twitter.com/ToiK4kSw6R
— Don Moynihan (@donmoyn) August 13, 2020