With his administration engulfed in controversy over cuts to the post office and slowdowns in mail delivery, President Donald Trump spent Saturday golfing and tweeting about baseless conspiracy theories as more than two dozen House Republicans defied him and joined Democrats to vote for a $25 billion infusion for the Postal Service.
Though the legislation is not likely to get anywhere in the Republican-held Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s iron hand, the debacle involving one of America’s most beloved institutions has shown the limits of Trump’s strategy three months before voters decide whether to reelect him.
On the eve of the Republican National Convention, when many in the GOP would like to see the President stick to the script and broaden his appeal to middle-of-the-road voters, Trump appears far from the reset he’ll need this week.
Just as the President wants to go on the offensive, he’s been dealing with a series of new unwelcome controversies, from the arrest of his former strategist Steve Bannon to revelations late Saturday about unflattering comments his sister made about him to his niece, Mary Trump. Maryanne Trump Barry bitterly criticized her brother, President Donald Trump, saying, “Donald’s out for Donald,” and appeared to confirm her niece Mary Trump’s previous allegations that he had a friend take his SATs to get into college, according to audio excerpts obtained by CNN. The Washington Post first obtained the previously unreleased transcripts and audio from Mary Trump, author of a recent bombshell book about the President and one of his most outspoken critics.
Throughout it all, Trump continues to embrace tactics that seem intended only to fire up his base. On Saturday, his focus was on the Postal Service and the Food and Drug Administration.
Before calling the request for the additional post office funding a “HOAX” on Twitter, Trump conjured up a new theory that employees at the US Food and Drug Administration are conspiring to slow down the development of a coronavirus vaccine to hurt his reelection chances.
The President’s unwavering campaign to erode public confidence in long-trusted institutions knows no end. But his assault on mail-in voting in the midst of a pandemic has dragged on for months, and there are clear signs that some GOP lawmakers are losing their patience with his tactics.
Republican senators joined Democrats this week in demanding answers from Trump’s new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally and donor, about recent changes under his watch including the removal of high-volume sorting machines, some blue mail boxes on city streets, the elimination of overtime for postal workers and the curtailment of post office hours.
The subsequent slowdowns have prevented some veterans from getting their medicine on time, angering members of both parties. DeJoy insisted the moves were intended to increase efficiency, but he said this past week that he would suspend the changes until after the election – although, as CNN has learned, that doesn’t necessarily mean machines that had been removed will be put back in use.
Even DeJoy broke with the President on mail-in voting Friday, telling the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, “I voted by mail for a number of years. The Postal Service will deliver every ballot and process every ballot in time that it receives.”
And although the vote on additional funding in the Democrat-controlled House Saturday evening was largely along party lines, the more than two dozen Republicans who joined the Democrats included vulnerable members trying to shore up their support before they face voters this fall, moderates, and even members from deep-red districts who are clearly feeling the heat from their constituents on the Postal Service slowdowns.
The bipartisan Board of Governors that oversees the post office proposed the $25 billion figure saying the money is needed for the post office to continue normal operations and maintain normal delivery speeds. Still, Trump inaccurately tweeted on Saturday evening that representatives of the post office “have repeatedly stated that they DO NOT NEED MONEY and will not make changes.”
“This is all another HOAX by the Democrats to give $25 billion unneeded dollars for political purposes without talking about the Universal Mail-in Ballot scam…. that they are trying to pull off in violation of everything that our Country stands for,” Trump said.
He urged fellow Republicans to vote “no” on the “Pelosi/Schumer money wasting hoax” and added that “only absentee ballots are acceptable,” even though there is little difference between an absentee ballot and a mail-in ballot in most states.
In a floor speech Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued that the Trump administration’s operational changes to the Postal Service “degrade service, delay the mail and threaten to disenfranchise voters, particularly in communities of color.”
She told the story of a veteran with epilepsy in her district who told her the prescriptions sent by the VA through the mail are now taking twice as long to arrive.
“This is immediate in their lives. We are their Representatives,” the California Democrat said, arguing for the passage of the legislation in spite of the President’s veto threat. “For the sake of every senior who is delayed in getting his or her Social Security check; every veteran who is delayed in getting his or her medication; every working family who is delayed in getting their paycheck; and every voter now facing the prospect of choosing between their vote and their health, we need to pass this bill.”
McConnell criticized the “piecemeal” approach that he said ignored the needs of families struggling in the pandemic. He charged Pelosi with “blocking billions in relief for American families and laid-off workers” due to the stalemate in negotiations on the next stimulus package.
“As soon as House Democrats convinced themselves their own jobs might be in jeopardy, they came sprinting back to Washington to pass a totally piecemeal postal bill without a dime to help struggling families,” McConnell said, ignoring the fact that Republicans had also voted for the measure.
A new conspiracy theory about the FDA
Earlier on Saturday, the President suggested without any evidence that unnamed employees at the FDA are purposefully slowing the process of developing and approving a vaccine.
He called out FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, whom he appointed – the latest example of his willingness to target his own advisers if he does not think they are helping his political ambitions.
“The deep state, or whoever, over at the FDA is making it very difficult for drug companies to get people in order to test the vaccines and therapeutics,” Trump tweeted. “Obviously, they are hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd. Must focus on speed, and saving lives! @SteveFDA.”
Back in May, Hahn told CNN’s Sara Murray and Marshall Cohen that science and data would be his “north star.” Hahn has also said that the FDA will not “cut corners” to approve a vaccine, particularly when so many Americans are concerned about the safety and efficacy of a vaccine that the administration has vowed will be developed at “warp speed.”
Though Trump has repeatedly said that he hopes a vaccine will be ready before the end of this year, vaccinologists interviewed by CNN have said that timeline is unrealistic.
Now, like so many other Trump advisers with medical or scientific expertise, Hahn finds himself ensnared in a Trump conspiracy theory as the President presses for a miracle that will help him win reelection this fall in the form of a live-saving treatment or a vaccine for Covid-19.
The FDA did not respond to CNN’s request for comment Saturday.
Looking to draw a sharp contrast with Democratic nominee Joe Biden before the Republican National Convention, Trump is also criticizing Biden’s assertion in an ABC News interview that he would shut down the country again if there is a second wave of coronavirus and scientists recommend the move to slow the spread of Covid-19.
“I would be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives. I would shut it down. I would listen to the scientists,” the former vice president told ABC News’ David Muir during a joint interview with his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, that is set to air Sunday night.
On Twitter, Trump mischaracterized Biden’s remarks, not mentioning Biden’s qualification that he would shut down the country if scientists made the recommendation.
The President tweeted Saturday evening that “despite biggest job gains and a ‘V’ shaped recovery, Joe Biden said, ‘I would shut it down’, referring to our Country. He has no clue!”