As expected, the US House on Saturday passed legislation barring the postal service from operational changes during the pandemic.
The bill also green-lights a $25 billion cash infusion to help the beleaguered agency cope with revenue shortfalls and an anticipated deluge of mail-in ballots during the election. Under heavy political fire, Trump donor and postmaster general Louis DeJoy this week pledged to pause an organizational shakeup blamed for delays, and assured lawmakers during a virtual hearing that all election mail will be handled properly.
His efforts to address concerns fell on deaf ears with some Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, who on Saturday characterized recent discussions with DeJoy as “unsatisfactory”. The postal service, she said, should not be treated like a business.
The speaker also accused Donald Trump of voter suppression in connection with his pseudo-threat to deploy “sheriffs” to monitor polls, and called the president’s already infamous tweet about the FDA dangerous and “beyond the pale even for him”.
On Saturday morning, Trump explicitly accused the FDA of being “deep state” operatives. “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”, he claimed, without citing any evidence. He then accused the agency of “hoping to delay the answer until after November 3rd”.
Later, after the House vote on the postal service bill, Trump called the legislation “another HOAX” and blasted mail-in ballots as a “scam” that represents a “violation of everything that our Country stands for”.
It goes without saying that Trump has it backwards. Expanding the franchise by any (legal) means necessary is what representative government should be all about. Discouraging people from voting by, for example, starving the post office or threatening to deploy law enforcement officers to “Democratic areas” (to quote directly from Trump’s Thursday evening interview with Sean Hannity) are the tactics of a desperate despot.
In a piece published Saturday, The New York Times describes how Steve Mnuchin “paved the way” for Trump’s involvement in the postal service during an election year.
The Times details a February meeting between the Treasury secretary and a pair of GOP postal service board governors, who were encouraged to “find [a postmaster general] who would push through the kind of cost-cutting and price increases that Trump had publicly called for and that Treasury had recommended”. The following excerpts from the same article are disconcerting, if not (at all) surprising:
Since 1970, the Postal Service had been an independent agency, walled off from political influence. The postmaster general is not appointed by the president and is not a cabinet member. Instead, the postal chief is picked by a board of governors, with seats reserved for members of both parties, who are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate for seven-year terms.
Now, not only was the Trump administration, through Mnuchin, involving itself in the process for selecting the next postmaster general, but the two Democratic governors who were then serving on the board were not invited to the Treasury meeting. Since the meeting did not include a quorum of board members, it was not subject to sunshine laws that apply to official board meetings and there is no formal Postal Service record or minutes of what was discussed.
In a separate article Friday, the Times detailed steps Facebook is taking to prepare itself for a scenario that finds Trump refusing to accept the results of the election or otherwise using the site to claim that he won, even if he didn’t.
Facebook, the Times notes, has put itself in a difficult position on this front given Mark Zuckerberg’s generalized unwillingness (until very recently, anyway) to push back against misinformation. “Unlike Twitter, which has flagged Trump’s tweets for being factually inaccurate… Facebook has said that politicians’ posts are newsworthy and that the public has the right to see them”, the Times writes, adding that,
Employees at the Silicon Valley company are laying out contingency plans and walking through post-election scenarios that include attempts by Trump or his campaign to use the platform to delegitimize the results, people with knowledge of Facebook’s plans said.
Facebook is preparing steps to take should Trump wrongly claim on the site that he won another four-year term, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Facebook is also working through how it might act if Trump tries to invalidate the results by declaring that the Postal Service lost mail-in ballots or that other groups meddled with the vote, the people said.
Meanwhile, Politico said Friday that on at least one occasion over the past several months, Trump called Federal Trade Commission Chair Joseph Simons to the Oval Office to “personally push” the FTC to join The White House’s efforts to deter what the president insists is a conspiracy against him perpetrated by social media companies.
During one meeting, Trump is said to have told Simons “he wanted the agency to take action on social media companies’ alleged censorship of conservatives”. The meeting came on the heels of Trump’s social media executive order in May.
Politico calls this “an unusually direct effort by a president to bend a legally independent agency to his agenda”. The FTC declined to comment, as did Simons himself.
All of this is indicative of a president who, even after serving an entire term, still has not accepted the very basic principle that government agencies serve the public, not a president, other than to the extent the president is also a citizen and a taxpayer (and that assumes Trump does, in fact, pay taxes).
The House’s postal service bill has no chance in the Senate, apparently, and Trump has already threatened to veto it. There is, however, some hope that bipartisan support for post office funding can break the stalemate on talks around another virus relief package.
“I don’t know that Speaker Pelosi is willing to entertain a targeted relief package yet”, Mark Meadows said Saturday, speaking to reporters. He did indicate there is a “growing consensus” that if no larger deal is possible, Congress should attempt to roll up money for the postal service in a “skinny” bill that includes other funding on which the two sides have found common ground.
Having reiterated his opposition to the bill Democrats passed on Saturday, and having made it (more than) clear that he is not enamored with the idea of widespread mail-in voting, one can’t help but wonder if the president would unexpectedly threaten to veto any bill that contains funding for the postal service, optics (and previous public statements to the contrary) be damned.