This increasingly feels like Russiagate in that we have Trump feeding suspicions that something sinister is afoot with things he’s said and his critics spinning that into ever more far-fetched conspiracy theories. Last week he told Fox that he opposes more funding for the Postal Service in the new stimulus relief bill since that might facilitate universal mail-in voting. That was stupid in two ways, first because it handed Democrats a political cudgel over delays in mail delivery and second because the USPS already has the capacity to process universal voting by mail even if all 50 states resorted to it (which they won’t). They do more volume during Christmas season than they would in a national mail-only election.
Trump’s comments would have been bad enough in isolation, but in the context of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy trying to reorganize the agency to cut costs they’ve triggered a burst of paranoia. Twitter erupted last week over news that mail-sorting machines were being removed from some facilities and mailboxes were being taken off the streets of some U.S. cities, even though there seem to be innocent explanations for both. Last night brought a new freakout, easily the dumbest one yet.
Read this and consider: If Trump and DeJoy were looking to create obstacles to voting, why would they bother extending their efforts to a state like California that’s going to go blue by 30 points regardless? And why would Mitch McConnell have anything to say or do about it?
That item has 17,000 retweets as I write this. There’s a perfectly rational explanation for locking the mailboxes, it turns out, one that predates Trump’s election to the presidency. Most of those mailboxes aren’t even truly “locked” in the sense of being unusable:
I just drove there. There was a guy taking photos because he saw the inaccurate post on Twitter. I showed him that there were slots on the other side (I have no idea why I called them holes like english was my 13th language). pic.twitter.com/oM8pnQKHRj
— haunted dog (@zandywithaz) August 17, 2020
We’re in the midst of a full-blow national panic now. Trump lit the match, social-media posters are providing the kindling, and Democrats are supplying as much oxygen as they can in hopes that this fire will incinerate Trump’s campaign.
Thousands of voters have called government offices in recent days to ask whether it is still safe to mail their ballots, according to officials across the country. Attorneys general from at least six states are huddling to discuss possible lawsuits against the administration to block it from reducing mail service between now and the election, several told The Washington Post. State leaders are scrambling to see whether they can change rules to give voters more options, and Democrats are planning a massive public education campaign to shore up trust in the vote and the Postal Service…
“I was planning on doing it though the post office,” said Kamilla Gilfedder, 36, a voter in Lexington, Ky., who plans to vote for Biden. “It was primarily just to avoid covid. I’ve got a toddler, and my family is high-risk. But when I think about it, I just want to make sure that my vote is registered. So I think I’m going to go in.”
Kathy Blair, 73, a retiree who lives in St. Paul, Minn., said she is still waiting for her granddaughter in California to receive a birthday present she mailed July 14 using priority service. Blair said she plans to vote early in person this fall and has persuaded several of her friends who had planned to vote by mail to do the same. Otherwise, she said, “five weeks, six weeks later the ballots may never show up,” calling the postal delays “a travesty.”
Some of the main Russiagate players are returning to the stage…
The Postmaster General must resign.
He’s slowed delivery, banned overtime & decommissioned mail-sorting machines.
Right before the election. During a pandemic.
The House must demand answers. Hearings should start now. It can’t wait.
We won’t let Trump destroy the Post Office.
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) August 16, 2020
But it’s not just them. Even the most independent members of the Democratic caucus, like Joe Manchin, are pounding Trump for USPS delays. Jim Cooper is one of the most centrist Democrats in Congress and he’s, uh, well … let’s just say it’s gettin’ chippy out there:
We need to subpoena the Postmaster General, and if he fails to appear, we should send the Sgt at Arms to arrest him.
— Jim Cooper (@repjimcooper) August 15, 2020
As Karen noted this morning, Pelosi has already called the House back into a sort of emergency session over the issue, demanding that DeJoy come and testify next Monday. The inspector general of the USPS is also taking a look at some of the administrative changes made lately by DeJoy, including the possibility of a conflict of interest over some of his investments. For Democrats, this is potentially a win-win-win situation. First, they might convince voters to blame Trump for any delays they’re experiencing in mail delivery, and not just with respect to voting. If your diabetes medicine is arriving slower than usual lately, they want you not only blaming DeJoy for the slowdown but believing that DeJoy engineered it deliberately to help Trump with the election.
Second, spooking the electorate that their mail-in ballots might not arrive in time is a good way to convince them to vote earlier than usual, which benefits Biden since he’s the candidate who’s leading right now. Democrats want to shorten the campaign in any way they can, to give Trump less time for a comeback. This is their opportunity. This morning on Fox, Trump said he’d be open to various alternatives to mail-in ballots in order to make voting easier, from extending in-person voting to the weekend before November 3 to opening more polling places. We already have that “extension,” though; it’s called early voting, and thanks to the panic he started about the Postal Service, more people are going to use it this year than otherwise would have. To his detriment.
Third, it’s no coincidence that DeJoy’s being asked to testify next Monday. What else is happening that day? Right — the start of the Republican National Convention. Pelosi wants to counterprogram Trump’s big reelection pitch to voters with days of news about a slowdown in postal service orchestrated by the president and carried out by his evil lackey, the postmaster general. Wouldn’t surprise me if House Dems call other witnesses on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday to keep the story going as the convention wears on.
There are a number of pieces online today that debunk some of the worst fears about what’s happening with the post office, and not just from hardcore MAGA types. Byron York has one at the Examiner; anti-Trumper Nick Harper has one as well at Medium. I’ve made some of the same points they make in my own posts, but one question persists that no one seems able to answer: Why is DeJoy undertaking to reorganize the Postal Service right now, in the thick of a pandemic, when more Americans than ever before are hoping to vote by mail? Paul Brandus wonders:
Yes, the Post Office is a bloated money pit and needs to innovate. But with 11 weeks to go in an important election — perhaps the most crucial since 1860, when Abraham Lincoln squeaked in with less than 40% of the vote — this isn’t the time. If Trump wanted to overhaul the post office, he could have done so in 2017-2018, when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate. Instead, he has decided that now is the time? No. Give the postal service what is needed to get through this election and then let’s revisit reform.
In a way, Trump’s comments about not wanting to fund the USPS in the next round of stimulus relief are a red herring. The agency won’t be insolvent until next year. Denying them a bailout now shouldn’t affect their ability to process ballots in November. What’s harder to explain is DeJoy’s insistence on ending overtime for USPS workers under the circumstances described by Brandus. That’s the main cause of the delays in delivery, it seems; DeJoy is pinching pennies at a moment when the rest of the federal government is spending money hand over fist to try to keep the country functioning. So what’s the answer to Brandus’s objections about this exceedingly ill-timed overhaul? Why not just give the USPS money short-term to keep it functioning, allow for overtime to keep the mail — which includes medicine — moving, and start the reorganization after a vaccine has arrived and America starts getting back to something approaching normal?