WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday said he opposes both election aid for states and an emergency bailout for the U.S. Postal Service because he wants to restrict how many Americans can vote by mail, putting at risk the nation's ability to administer the Nov. 3 elections.
Trump has been attacking mail balloting and the integrity of the vote for months, but his latest broadside makes explicit his intent to stand in the way of urgently needed money to help state and local officials administer elections during the coronavirus pandemic. With nearly 180 million Americans eligible to vote by mail, the president's actions could usher in widespread delays, long lines and voter disenfranchisement this fall, voting rights advocates said.
Trump said his purpose is to prevent Democrats from expanding mail-balloting, which he has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, would invite widespread fraud. The president has also previously admitted that he believes mail voting would allow more Democrats to cast ballots and hurt Republican candidates, including himself.
In an interview Thursday with Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo, Trump said he opposes a $25 billion emergency injection sought by the U.S. Postal Service, as well as a Democratic proposal to provide $3.6 billion in additional election funding to the states. Both of those requests have been tied up in congressional negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package.
"They need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," said the president, claiming again that mail ballots would be "fraudulent," one of more than 80 attacks he has made against the election's integrity since March, according to a tally by the Washington Post. Many of his assertions have been misleading or unfounded.
"If we don't make a deal, that means they don't get the money," he added. "That means they can't have universal mail-in voting. They just can't have it."
Later Thursday, Trump told reporters at the White House that he would not veto legislation that has funding for the Postal Service, but added that "the reason the post office needs that much money is they have all of these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere and nobody knows from where and where they're going."
If Democrats agree to a deal, the president continued, "the money they need for the mail-in ballots would be taken care. If we agree to it. That doesn't mean we're going to agree to it."
Trump's remarks prompted swift outcry from Democrats and even some Republicans, while voting-rights advocates denounced what they described as an unprecedented threat by a sitting president to undermine the election for his own political benefit.
"The president is afraid of the American people," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "He's been afraid for a while. He knows that, on the legit, it'd be hard for him to win."
"Pure Trump," offered Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in response to the president's remarks. "He doesn't want an election."
As Trump has lagged in the polls behind Biden, the president and his allies have ramped up their rhetoric questioning the integrity of the vote and intensified their actions in the courts, revealing a far-reaching strategy to restrict mail voting and challenge the results if he loses.
The Republican National Committee and conservative groups are pursuing an unprecedented effort to limit expansion of mail balloting before the November election, spending tens of millions of dollars on lawsuits and advertising aimed at restricting who receives ballots and who remains on the voter rolls.
And the RNC and Trump campaign advisers are now mapping out their post-election strategy, including how to challenge mail ballots without postmarks, as they anticipate weekslong legal fights in an array of states, according to people familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal discussions.
Trump's opposition to the $3.6 billion in election funding could put him at odds with some Republicans, including Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who has indicated his support for some additional money to help the states carry out the vote during the pandemic.
"We need to have enough money to do our best to be sure that the November elections are held safely and results are available," Blunt told reporters Wednesday.
Democrats have proposed the election money for the states, saying the resources are necessary to pay for a wide range of preparations to assist both in-person and mail voting in the health crisis. "We have to make it easier and doable," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a top advocate for the additional election funds.
State and local officials say they need money for protective equipment to prevent infection among poll workers and sanitizing supplies for polling locations, along with paper stock, printing costs and high-capacity ballot scanners for an expected surge in mail voting.
Tom Ridge, a Republican and former homeland security secretary under George W. Bush, said in an interview that with "absolutely no historical anecdotes" for the type of massive fraud that Trump claims could occur, it's impossible not to conclude that the president's real concern is losing.
"To subvert the process and discredit the use of absentee ballots is a shameful exercise," Ridge said.