Top White House and campaign aides fanned out on Sunday to defend President Donald Trump’s opposition to universal mail-in voting, casting widespread access to voting amid a global pandemic as a disaster waiting to happen.
Top Democrats, meanwhile, called on officials with the U.S. Postal Service to testify before a congressional committee next week, a high-stakes hearing that would occur on the opening day of the Republican National Convention.
The split screen comes as the Postal Service has emerged as a top political issue, with Democrats asking for $25 billion in funding and the president candidly observing in a Fox Business Network interview last week that leaving the service without aid would make universal mail-in voting impossible. The Postal Service has already sent letters to 46 states and Washington, D.C., warning that some ballots might not arrive in time to be counted for the November election.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would reconvene the House, which is currently in recess, to address the Postal Service crisis. Earlier Sunday, Pelosi and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, invited Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors, Robert Duncan, to testify at a hearing next Monday.
“The hearing will examine the sweeping operational and organizational changes at the Postal Service that experts warn could degrade delivery standards, slow the mail and potentially impair the rights of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming November elections,” they said in a statement. “The Postmaster General and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election.”
Trump has asserted without evidence that universal mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud — fearmongering rhetoric that comes as he trails former Vice President Joe Biden in several national and battleground-state polls. There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud, though White House chief of staff Mark Meadows countered on Sunday that “there’s no evidence that there’s not, either.” Only nine states have universal mail-in voting.
Even in an active pandemic that has infected 5.3 million Americans and killed more than 169,000 people in the U.S., 80 percent of registered voters who support or lean toward supporting Trump would rather vote in person, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Nearly 60 percent of voters who support or lean toward supporting Biden would prefer to vote by mail.
The pandemic has also disproportionately affected people of color, many of whom vote for Democrats over Republicans. Trump won 57 percent of white voters in 2016, according to exit polls, but only 8 percent of Black voters, 28 percent of Hispanic voters and 27 percent of Asian voters.
Meadows said the president’s issue wasn’t voting by mail, but rather mailing ballots to every registered voter in the country — “even those that don’t request it.” He argued that voter rolls were inaccurate and that ballots could be sent to old addresses or dead people’s homes, potentially leading to the actual residents voting more than once.
It’s “asking for a disaster,” Meadows said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” noting that Trump had already requested his absentee ballot to vote in Florida, a critical swing state.
“We want to make sure that every vote counts but that only one vote counts. And so, when you look at that, this debate is really over a process,” he continued. “A number of states are now trying to figure out how they’re going to go to universal mail-in ballots. That’s a disaster, where we won’t know the election results on Nov. 3 and we might not know it for months.”
Democrats have noted that five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — have voted largely or entirely by mail for years, with few problems. They’ve also pointed out that people who want to cast ballots in another person’s name would be subject to prosecution for using a fake signature.
New Jersey Democrats highlighted fraud in a May special election in which four people were charged as evidence that the system works, though nearly 20 percent of the ballots in that vote-by-mail election were disqualified because of mistakes in how they were completed.
“I actually have some optimism from that that actually people tried to screw with the system and they failed,” Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey said on “Fox News Sunday.” He added that the individuals were caught, indicted and would pay a price.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said that voter fraud is “incredibly rare,” but that when it’s done by mail, “the reason why it’s so easy to find out is because you literally have a paper trail.”
Trump allies pointed to recent primary elections in New York state — where it took six weeks to declare Maloney the winner — as a harbinger of what’s to come in November if most of America votes by mail.
In a nightmare scenario that Meadows laid out for Republicans, Pelosi would choose the next president if there’s no declared winner by Jan. 20. And Jason Miller, a senior Trump campaign adviser, said Democrats were trying to rush through a system that takes years to properly implement.
“We’ve seen where dogs and even cats have received official communications from registrars, from secretary of states,” Miller said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It takes a long time for states to be able to put this together safely and securely. And to go and to rush this through, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said a friend of his in New Jersey who was recently married received a ballot in both her new name and her maiden name. He also invoked Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, who said there was “no reason” Americans couldn’t vote in person as long as they wore a mask and followed social-distancing guidelines.
“I think what President Trump wants is a fair system,” Kushner said on CBS’ “Face the Nation. “If you have a tried-and-true system, where there are some security mechanisms built in, that’s acceptable. But you can’t have a new system and expect Americans to have confidence in the election.”
Democrats have said the Postal Service issue isn’t just about voting, noting that the agency also delivers medicine for seniors and paychecks for workers. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), however, appeared on three of the political talk shows, where he accused Trump of trying to suppress votes by defunding and destroying the post office.
“He wants to sabotage the Postal Service because he does not want many millions of people to be able to vote through mail-in ballots,” Sanders said of the president on CNN. “That’s not me. That is exactly what he said.”
Sanders added on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump was “sabotaging our democracy.”
“I guess that he thinks that a suppressed vote, a lower voter turnout, will work for him and that it will help him win the election,” he told host Chuck Todd.
Democrats and Republicans did agree on one thing, though: Congress needs to act.
Pelosi is considering bringing the House back from recess early to pass Postal Service legislation, though the measure would be focused on the agency’s organizational issues, not funding. And on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged his Republican counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to bring the upper chamber back to take up any such bill the House passes.
Meadows suggested that he was ready to make a deal, be it narrow legislation on Postal Service funding or a package that included stimulus aid to Americans and an extension of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses.
“We’ll pass it tomorrow,” Meadows said of such a package. “The president will sign it and this will all go away, because what we are seeing is Democrats are trying to use this to their political advantage.”
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