Updated 1:18 p.m. ET
While President Trump has long railed against mail-in voting, falsely claiming it leads to rampant fraud, he appeared to confirm Thursday morning that he opposes Democrats’ proposed boost in funding for the U.S. Postal Service because he wants to make it harder to expand voting by mail.
Trump gave that explanation during an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Network after she asked why the White House and congressional Democrats are still miles apart on approving a new stimulus deal.
Trump said one major factor is the Democrats’ push for an injection of funds into the U.S. Postal Service to expand voting by mail.
“They [the Democrats] want three and a half billion dollars for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent — that’s election money basically,” Trump said.
Continued the president: “They want $25 billion for the post office. Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Eight states are mailing ballots to all active voters this fall, including six that have been doing so for years, but most states are not conducting what Trump calls universal mail-in voting.
Continued Trump: “If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in her weekly press conference later on Thursday that if funding for the Postal Service is a red line in negotiations, it’s news to her.
“What [negotiators] are saying is different than what the president is saying,” she said. “If they came in the room and said the president is never doing this, that’s something we’d take to the American people. And the American people want the Postal Service protected and preserved.”
Pelosi’s statement on the negotiations also differs from what White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow has said.
“So [many] of the Democratic asks are really liberal, left wishlists — voting rights and aid to aliens and so forth,” he told CNBC Thursday. “That’s not our game, and the president can’t accept that kind of deal,” Kudlow continued.
Pelosi told reporters the $25 billion allocated for the Postal Service in the “HEROES Act” is a figure recommended by the board of governors of the Postal Service. She stressed that Americans rely on the Postal Service to deliver, among other things, prescription drugs and paychecks to workers.
Biden attacks over postal controversy
The campaign of the Democrats’ presumptive presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, quickly responded to Trump’s interview, calling his intentions an “assault on democracy.”
“The president of the United States is sabotaging a basic service that hundreds of millions of people rely upon, cutting a critical lifeline for rural economies and for delivery of medicines, because he wants to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely during the most catastrophic public health crisis in over 100 years — a crisis so devastatingly worsened by his own failed leadership that we are now the hardest hit country in the world by the coronavirus pandemic,” Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
This isn’t the first time even this week that the president has lambasted voting by mail.
On Wednesday, he devoted a considerable amount of time during his daily briefing with reporters to denounce any plans for additional funding to support the U.S. Postal Service.
“Now they want to take it countrywide — mail-in voting. It’s going to be the greatest fraud in the history of elections. When you always talk about Russia, Russia, Russia and China, Iran on voting — the biggest problem is going to be with the Democrats, not with China, Russia and Iran,” he said.
Experts have estimated that as many as 70% of votes could be cast by mail in this election cycle because of disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. That has raised questions about the long-beleaguered Postal Service, which was losing money well before the COVID-19 disaster and has been put into an even more difficult position.
Although Trump asserted in his interview with Fox that there’s “nothing wrong with getting out and voting,” citing people who voted during the first and second world wars, health experts say that voting by mail could reduce voters’ exposure and spread of the coronavirus.
Election watchdogs denounced Trump’s latest comments.
“Trump’s brazen abuse of the post office to try and win an election is a shameful misuse of presidential power. Defunding the Postal Service and slowing its ability to deliver mail ballots to Americans will hurt Democratic and Republican voters alike,” said Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center and former Republican chair of the Federal Election Commission.
The Declaration for American Democracy, a coalition of over 160 organizations, weighed in too.
“President Trump made clear today that he is intentionally sabotaging the U.S. Post Office and blocking election funding to suppress Americans’ votes. This act is a disgrace and a stain on our democracy,” it said.
NPR’s Claudia Grisales contributed to this report.