WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States Postal Service is popularly known for delivering mail despite snow, rain or heat, but it faces a new foe in President Donald Trump.
Ahead of the November 3 elections in which millions of voters are expected to cast ballots by mail due to the coronavirus, Trump has leveled an unprecedented attack at the USPS, opposing efforts to give the cash-strapped agency more money even as changes there have caused widespread delays in delivering letters and packages.
“They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday, adding, “but if they don’t get those… that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Widespread mail-in voting, he added on Saturday, would be a “catastrophe.”
Democrats on Sunday pushed back forcefully.
Some called for the House of Representatives to return early from summer recess to take action to protect the postal service, a call that found an echo from a senior Republican eager to seal a deal on a huge new coronavirus relief package.
“I am deeply, deeply concerned” by Trump’s stance on the postal service, Senator Bernie Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Sanders had sought his party’s presidential nod but instead will be speaking Monday in support of Joe Biden on the opening day of the Democrats’ four-day nominating convention, held virtually for the first time.
Sanders called Trump’s assertion that it was Democrats who were blocking postal funding “pathetic,” adding, “The House should come back and make sure the postal service is fully funded.”
The president’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said the Democrats could obtain more postal funding if they are ready to make a deal on the stimulus package.
“If my Democrat friends are all upset about this, come back to Washington” to reach agreement on a stimulus package including aid for small businesses, he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Put the postal funding in there. We’ll pass it tomorrow,” Meadows said. “The president will sign it.”
Biden has dismissed the president’s stance as “Pure Trump,” saying, “He doesn’t want an election.”
Senator Kamala Harris, who is slated to accept the party’s nomination as Biden’s running mate on Wednesday, tweeted: “We cannot let Donald Trump destroy the United States Postal Service.”
Trump has long been a critic of the postal service, insisting it is poorly managed, but his latest charges come at a time when he trails Biden in most polls. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal survey released Sunday showed the former vice president with a nine point lead over Trump among registered voters.
The matter has drawn intense attention across the country — the postal service being one government agency that directly touches every American.
On Saturday, protesters gathered at the Washington home of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a recent Trump appointee, blaring horns and banging pots in anger.
USPS spokesman David Partenheimer attributed changes at the agency to its poor financial state.
“We are not slowing down election mail or any other mail,” he told AFP.
“The Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume and a broken business model,” he explained.
He called on Congress and regulators to enact reforms.
But Congress remains deadlocked over a new stimulus bill to follow the $2.2 trillion CARES Act package passed in March.
Democrats have proposed giving the USPS billions of dollars in funding. Trump, after initially saying he opposed that, said Friday that perhaps some new funds could be included in a compromise.
The president said candidly in April that mail-in voting “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” He has repeatedly described such ballots as prone to fraud.
A study this year by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice found that “it is… more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud.”
In an interview, American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein blamed the nationwide slowdowns in mail deliveries on measures implemented by DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser who has pledged to reform the agency.
Dimondstein said overtime for postal workers was recently reduced. That, combined with the around 40,000 workers who have had to quarantine since March because of COVID-19, has created delays.
“But the same work is still there to get done,” Dimondstein said.
As concerns mount over the USPS’s ability to handle the expected surge in ballots, states are working to ensure their residents’ votes count.
Pennsylvania this week asked its supreme court to push back its deadline for accepting mail-in ballots.
In a court filing, it cited a letter from a USPS official to the state warning of “a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted.”
The Washington Post reported on Friday similar notices were sent to 45 other states and the District of Columbia.
Dimondstein said he hoped Trump’s “brazen challenge to the democratic right — that somehow he’s going to starve this institution to suppress the vote — somehow gives more impetus to Congress to react.”
“Congress needs to act, and they need to act soon,” he said.