President Donald Trump sought to reframe the fall election two days before the Democratic National Convention, arguing on Saturday that key economic and pandemic indicators were moving in his favor, while attempting to shift blame for US Postal Service funding problems to Democrats and refusing to acknowledge his administration’s efforts to undermine the agency three months before Election Day.
The President’s finger-pointing and misinformation about the upheaval within the USPS was his latest attempt to rewrite history in real time into a version that better suits his reelection narrative.
He’s long done the same with the economy. Glossing over the fact that the US economy contracted at a 32.9% annual rate during the second quarter and tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, Trump claimed Saturday that the US is witnessing “the fastest economic recovery in American history” because of the “foundation” set by his administration. He touted an all-time high in retail sales and gains in the stock market as evidence of a rebound that would sway voters to support him in November.
“If I win, which — I hope to win, how can you not when you see numbers like this both on the virus and on the economy?” Trump said during a Saturday news conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. “I mean, we should win. We should all keep this incredible thing going. And I built it once and I’ll build it again.”
At a time when his administration is engulfed in controversy over its efforts to curtail USPS operations when the demand for mail-in ballots has grown exponentially due to the pandemic, Trump tried to blame the agency’s funding woes on Democrats. He said they are blocking negotiations on the next stimulus package due to an impasse over the Democrats’ proposed aid package for states that drained their coffers while fighting the pandemic.
On Friday, the postal service, which is mired in longstanding funding problems, warned nearly all 50 states and Washington, DC, that mail-in ballots may not be received by election offices in time to be counted.
CNN and other news organizations reported Friday that the postal service has reduced operating hours in several states and was removing letter collection boxes off streets in some states, according to union officials.
The postal service announced Sunday that it will stop removing collection boxes until after late November, citing “recent customer concerns” over the decisions.
The announcement came the same day that White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” that USPS will not dismantle any mail-sorting machines between now and Election Day.
“Sorting machines between now and Election Day will not be taken off line,” Meadows said.
House Democrats, who have been fuming over the postal service’s issues in recent weeks, said Sunday that they’re ramping up their probe into the agency, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors Robert Duncan to testify before lawmakers next week.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders echoed Democrats’ frustrations with the USPS on Sunday, telling Tapper on “State of the Union” that he thinks Pelosi should bring back the House to pass a bill providing much-needed funding to USPS and that the Democratic Party should be using their oversight authority to review the actions of DeJoy.
Trump admitted last week during a Fox News interview that he opposes at least part of the proposed emergency funding infusion for the post office, because he believes the uptick in mail-in ballots during the pandemic will favor Democrats. In the NPR/PBS/Marist poll released last week, 62% of Joe Biden’s supporters say they plan to cast their ballot by mail, while 72% of Trump supporters say they will vote in person.
During the Fox interview, Trump said Democrats want $25 billion for the USPS as part of the stimulus negotiations with $3.5 billion directed toward mail-in voting. He then repeated his baseless claim that mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud, stating that the $3.5 billion will go toward “something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent.”
Revealing his own political calculations as they relate to post office funding, Trump went on to say in that Fox interview that if Democrats don’t get that funding “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.” (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the bipartisan board of governors that runs the USPS — a board whose members are appointed by Trump — requested the proposal of $25 billion for USPS in the next stimulus bill).
On Saturday, Trump continued to sow doubts about the integrity of the November election, claiming without any evidence that “universal mail-in voting is going to be catastrophic” and would “make our country a laughingstock all over the world.”
He claimed to not know the details of the scaling back of postal services under DeJoy, a GOP donor and Trump fundraiser, calling DeJoy a “fantastic man” who “wants to make the post office great again.” On Friday, CNN reported that the USPS inspector general is reviewing controversial policy changes by DeJoy, including eliminating overtime for workers.
“I don’t know what he’s doing. I can only tell you he’s a very smart man,” Trump said Saturday.
Democrats are considering bringing the House of Representatives back into session as early as next week to discuss the issues facing the USPS, according to CNN reporting late Saturday.
Former President Bill Clinton criticized the changes made by the postmaster general on Saturday.
“We expect our elected officials to protect the right to vote and to ensure every vote is counted. This attack on the Postal Service —an institution as old as the Republic itself and depended upon, and trusted by, millions of Americans— is designed to ensure that neither is done,” Clinton tweeted.
Trump claims progress on the pandemic
Trump tried to strike an upbeat tone on Saturday as he gave an update on coronavirus case positivity rates and hospitalization rates. He cited improvements in the test turnaround times by commercial labs and said the administration has intensified its focus on shielding the most at-risk individuals in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, by rushing protective gear and rapid testing equipment to those sites.
As of Saturday, there were at least 5.3 million coronavirus cases in the US and more than 169,000 US deaths. The seven-day average of new cases was trending down in 22 states as of Saturday, but last week, the US was continuing to average more than 1,000 deaths per day.
As the Trump administration continues its push for students to return to school for in-person instruction, new guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the Covid-19 rates in children are steadily increasing, creating new fears for parents. An analysis by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association also found that there has been a 90% increase in Covid-19 cases among children over the four-week period from July 9 to August 6.
Trump also said Saturday he did not agree with the assessment of CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield that America could be primed for “the worst fall, from a public health perspective, we’ve ever had,” if people don’t follow the CDC guidelines on basic safety measures like wearing masks and avoiding crowds.
“You can’t compare it to 1917, that was incredible. That was the worst ever by far,” Trump said Saturday, referring to the flu pandemic that caused tens of millions of deaths worldwide in 1918 and 1919. “No, I don’t agree with that.”
“I do believe that Americans, many are wearing masks, which is a good thing,” Trump added, with no hint of irony, after he held out so long on wearing a mask in public and many of his most loyal GOP governors have refused to impose mask mandates in their states. “When you look at the numbers, the way the numbers are coming out, I mean, it’s very impressive when you see what’s happening…. We’ve done it right. We closed it up.”
He then immediately pivoted to the economy, which he is counting on to save his reelection prospects: “Our economy is going to set records – if stupid people aren’t elected next year, we’re going to have one of the greatest years that we’ve ever had.”