President Donald Trump said yesterday that his team is rejecting Democrats’ bid to include funds for the US Postal Service and shore up election infrastructure in a new coronavirus relief bill, as he vowed to block money to facilitate mail-in voting.
Congressional Democrats accused Trump of trying to damage the struggling Postal Service in an effort to improve his chances of being re-elected in November.
The Republican president has been railing against mail-in ballots for months as a possible source of fraud, although millions of Americans – including much of the military – have used the post office to cast absentee ballots for years without such problems.
Trump said his negotiators have resisted Democrats’ calls for additional money to help prepare for presidential, congressional and local voting during a pandemic that has killed more than 165,000 Americans and presented severe logistical challenges to organising large events like the November 3 election.
“The items are the post office and the $3.5bn for mail-in voting,” Trump told Fox Business Network, saying that Democrats want to give the post office $25bn. “If we don’t make the deal, that means they can’t have the money, that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
The amount of money in question is less than 1% of either party’s current proposed response.
Senate Republicans have unveiled a $1tn response while the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed a $3tn bill in May.
Democrats have cried foul, accusing Trump and his party of trying to make it harder for Americans to vote, as opinion polls show him trailing his Democratic rival, former vice-president Joe Biden.
“Pure Trump. He doesn’t want an election,” Biden said, when asked about Trump’s comments before a campaign appearance.
Roughly one in four US voters cast ballots by mail in 2016, and Trump has voted by mail.
However, Trump and his fellow Republicans have criticised state efforts to make voting by mail more widely available, saying without evidence that it could lead to widespread fraud.
Evidence shows mail voting is as secure as any other method.
The White House negotiating team of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has not met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in six days.
Pelosi said that any coronavirus relief bill should include billions of dollars to protect not just Americans’ right to vote but also essential services, such as mailing prescription medicines, during the pandemic.
“You would think they’d have a little sensitivity, but so obsessed are they to undermine absentee voting that this is their connection there,” Pelosi told a news conference. “So 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 that Democrats would “have the volunteer power” on Election Day to assure that votes are cast early and that there is a clear decision that day.
In remarks opening the Senate yesterday, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell harshly criticised Democrats as seeking to include projects not related to the health crisis in the relief bill.
“Their partisan games continue,” he said.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed that Americans blame both parties for the stand-off, which has led to the expiration of a $600-per-week lifeline to unemployed people.
New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has donated $2.7mn to Trump and his fellow Republicans since 2017, has ordered operational changes and a clampdown on overtime in a bid to fix the financially-troubled Postal Service, which reported a net loss of $2.2bn in the last quarter.
Cost-cutting measures put in place by DeJoy have led to mail delays across the country, raising concerns that they could complicate mail-based voting.
State election officials have scrambled to expand mail-voting capacity as experts say the pandemic could prompt up to half of all US voters to cast their ballots by mail.
The Postal Service in recent months has encouraged election officials to send their ballots using regular first-class mail, rather than the cheaper and slower bulk mail rate that many states use, to ensure ballots are delivered in a timely manner.
In the past, the Postal Service has generally treated all election and political mail as if it were first-class, the service’s internal watchdog said in a 2019 report.
That has caused some Democrats to accuse DeJoy of trying to undermine mail-in voting.
DeJoy said last Friday that the Postal Service’s approach to election mail has not changed.
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