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Trump Opposes Boosting Postal Service Funding To Block Expansion Of Mail-In Voting

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump has stepped up his assault on both mail-in voting and the U.S. Postal Service. He is criticizing Democrats for their call to provide billions of dollars to fund both. And this morning, he bluntly stated that the money he opposes providing for elections in the Postal Service will prevent Democrats from expanding mail-in voting. Here's the president on Fox Business.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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.

SHAPIRO: This comes after the president's repeated claims, without evidence, that mail-in voting invites widespread fraud. We're joined now by NPR's Pam Fessler, who covers voting. Hi, Pam

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Seems like a remarkable admission by the president. Are his remarks today a clear confirmation that he is trying to block expanded mail-in voting by denying funding to the Postal Service?

FESSLER: Well, it certainly sounds that way. But like a lot of things that the president says, it's also confusing because he tends to conflate issues, and he uses terms that aren't actually accurate. So, for example, he says that a lack of Postal Service funding in this pandemic relief package that's being negotiated in Congress is going to prevent the Democrats from implementing universal mail-in voting. But no one's really trying to do that. Almost every state's still planning to have in-person voting in November, even as they expand mail-in and absentee voting.

And, in fact, the president even says he supports absentee voting, which is basically the same thing as mail-in voting, and he and many of his supporters use it. So any funding shortfall could affect their ability to vote as well, which makes his position even more confusing.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, so how are people reacting today to these remarks by the president?

FESSLER: Well, the Democrats are blasting the president for blocking these additional postal funds when he admits it's going to make it harder for some people to vote. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it an effort to undermine the health of our democracy. Joe Biden's presidential campaign said Trump's remarks show that, quote, "he wants to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely during the most catastrophic public health crisis in over 100 years."

And I should add that there are a number of Republicans that aren't really happy about the president's repeated attacks on mail-in voting because it seems to be discouraging Republican voters from requesting absentee ballots, and that's not going to help the party in November. As for the Postal Service, it stands by its comments made last week by the postmaster general that the Postal Service is still ready to deliver all election mail securely and on time in November.

SHAPIRO: Well, in recent primaries, how has it been working? Have mail-in ballots been delayed or lost, or has everything gone smoothly?

FESSLER: Well, as you've probably seen a lot of places, it hasn't gone smoothly at all. We have reports of some ballots taking weeks to get delivered. Some never reach the voters or the election office. Or sometimes they arrive too late to be counted. Thousands of ballots have already been rejected because they came too late.

Now, it's not really clear how much of this is the Postal Service's fault and how much is just election officials being overwhelmed by this demand for absentee ballots 'cause we're talking about an unprecedented amount this year, you know, tens of millions of ballots. Election officials are trying to fix things by November, but President Trump has latched onto some of these problems, especially things like - it's taking a very long time in some places, like New York City, to count mail-in ballots, and he's using that to argue that we're going to have what he calls the greatest election disaster in history.

SHAPIRO: But is he effectively enabling that disaster by denying or blocking the money that election officials say would help fix these problems?

FESSLER: Well, it could be. I mean, that's the irony. Election officials of both parties say they need more money to expand mail-in voting efficiently and to make in-person voting safe during this pandemic. They've been trying to work with the Postal Service, also, to make sure that things are going more smoothly - will go more smoothly in November.

Although, I just learned that a bipartisan group of secretaries of state asked this week to meet with the postmaster general, who's a Trump campaign donor, to talk about some of these issues, and they haven't gotten a response yet, which is highly unusual given that we're only a few weeks away from states starting to send out absentee ballots. And the Postal Service hasn't responded to my question about why that meeting hasn't been scheduled yet.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Pam Fessler. Thank you for the update.

FESSLER: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.