Priority mail, Trump-style
President Donald Trump practically shouted the quiet part out loud Thursday, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. The U.S. Postal Service is reeling under deficits and new management cost-slashing measures threatening its reliability amid a pandemic that has made its operations more critical than ever.
But Trump is thinking first and foremost of himself, his reelection and his belief that mail-in voting will work against him. He also continues to claim, with no foundation, that mail-in voting would lead to wholesale fraud. In a Fox Business Network interview Thursday morning, he lashed out at Democratic-led calls in Congress to shore up mail delivery.
"They want $25 billion for the post office," Trump complained. "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," Trump said. “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.”
Trump's drive to destroy confidence in a voting process challenged by the pandemic — if not discourage participation outright — has become clear, Janison writes. Slowing the vote by further degrading the Postal Service wouldn't be a surgical task. The collateral damage could hurt Trump voters, Joe Biden voters and nonvoters alike. Like other Americans, they get mail-order prescription drugs and other vital deliveries that service cutbacks have already delayed across the country. It helps Americans avoid risks from in-person shopping.
Trump's indifference to the importance of the mail to nearly every American could turn into a major political miscalculation, which Biden and other Democrats are rushing to seize upon. In June, the Harris Poll found the Postal Service rated No. 1 among 100 companies and entities for providing essential services during the pandemic. A Pew Research Center survey in April found 91% of the public viewed the Postal Service favorably, the best of any federal agency.
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 Washington Post reported.
By the time of his daily briefing in the evening, Trump gave himself an escape hatch, saying that if the coronavirus relief legislation included a postal bailout, he wouldn't veto it.
Safe voting fail?
The deadlock over coronavirus measures has election officials growing more anxious on whether they will get the extra funding needed to make voting safe during the pandemic, including for in-person voting. Trump's against giving states money for that too.
Ben Hovland, chairman of the independent, bipartisan Election Assistance Commission, told Roll Call election costs could be "unprecedented." Hovland said every election official he has talked to, regardless of party, has said more funding is needed to prepare for a surge in voting by mail and for the extra staff and protective equipment needed to make polling places safe.
Democrats in Congress have sought $3.6 billion for election costs, but Republicans who favor additional funding say that's too much. Still, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said, “We need to have enough money to do our best to be sure that the November elections are held safely and results are available.”
The feds as his election tool
Trump also made it as explicit Thursday that before the election, he expects results from FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General William Barr in the probes of the Russia investigation against him.
Echoing complaints from conservative media that Wray failed to provide enough documents to John Durham — the Connecticut U.S. attorney leading the inquiry for Barr — Trump said during the FBN interview: "We have an election coming up. I wish he [Wray] was more forthcoming; he certainly hasn't been."
Barr said in an interview aired on Wednesday that he is aiming to release some conclusions from Durham's investigation ahead of the November election.
The attorney general has been accused by Democrats of shilling for Trump's interests on a variety of matters related to the Russia investigation and the election, including trying to end the Michael Flynn case, but Trump goaded him to do more: "Bill Barr has a chance to be the greatest of all time. But if he wants to be politically correct, he'll be just another guy."
Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told a Minneapolis radio show that his probe of Obama-era intelligence agencies "would certainly help Donald Trump win reelection," Politico reported. Democrats who accuse Johnson of amplifying Russian-generated propaganda say it was an explicit admission he’s using his Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to damage Biden.
The long, deadly summer
America logged at least 1,470 deaths Wednesday in a New York Times tally, the highest single-day coronavirus death total of the summer, as the toll from an earlier surge in cases in Sunbelt states continued to mount.
There have been about 167,000 U.S. deaths since the pandemic, according to tracking by Johns Hopkins University.
Biden: Mask up, America
Biden called on governors nationwide to order mask mandates for at least the next three months to curb the spread of coronavirus.
"The estimates by the experts are that it will save over 40,000 lives in the next three months. Forty thousand lives, if people act responsibly,” Biden said at an appearance with news media in Wilmington, Delaware.
Running mate Kamala Harris, appearing with him, said Biden exhibited "real leadership" in calling for the mandates, saying he is willing "to speak up, sometimes telling us the stuff that we don't necessarily want to hear, but that we need to know."
Trump ridiculed the idea at his late-afternoon news conference, inaccurately saying Biden was proposing a presidentially ordered mandate.
A new Fox News poll found 74% of American voters, including 58% of Republicans, favor requiring everyone to wear a face mask when they are outside of their home. The poll also showed Biden with a 7-point lead.
A step for Mideast progress
Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced Thursday they are establishing full diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by the Trump administration that requires Israel to halt its contentious plan to annex occupied West Bank land sought by the Palestinians.
The agreement makes the UAE the third Arab country, after Egypt and Jordan, to have full diplomatic ties with Israel. Whether it will bring an end to the standoff between Israel and the Palestinians any closer remains a question.
A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the deal amounts to “treason” against its cause and should be reversed. Trump called the deal “a truly historic moment” and told reporters in the Oval Office: “Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates.”
In a statement that avoided mentioning Trump and suggested groundwork was laid during the Obama-Biden administration, the former vice president praised Israel for freezing the annexation plan. “The United Arab Emirates and Israel have pointed a path toward a more peaceful, stable Middle East,” Biden said, adding that his presidency “will seek to build on this progress.”
Kushner's Kanye channel
Jared Kushner confirmed Thursday that he had a "friendly discussion” about policy with Kanye West in Colorado last weekend, but the White House senior adviser did not say whether they discussed the entertainer’s presidential campaign.
“He has some great ideas for what he’d like to see happen in the country, and that’s why he has the candidacy that he’s been doing," said Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who didn't specify which ideas he liked. West's campaign rollout included a call for free marijuana and $1 million for everyone who has a baby.
West's uneven efforts to qualify for ballots in several states, with the help of known Republican operatives, have prompted suspicions that pro-Trump forces are encouraging the hip-hop star in the belief, sound or not, that he could peel away Black votes from Biden. A Politico/Morning Consult poll this week found no groundswell of support for West among African Americans or registered voters at large — the figure for both categories was 2%.
After his only rally in which West rambled and went on a crying jag, his wife, Kim Kardashian West, appealed for public understanding of his mental health struggles.
Trump words on women: 'angry,' 'ditzy,' 'yaps'
The president, who needs to dramatically improve his standing with female voters, had more unkind words Thursday for Biden's running mate Harris, moving on from "nasty" to a "mad woman" and "angry."
In the Fox Business Network interview and on Twitter, his other targets included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ("stone-cold crazy"), MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski ("ditzy airhead") and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens). "AOC was a poor student … This is not even a smart person, other than she’s got a good line of stuff. I mean, she goes out and she yaps," he said in the interview.
Ocasio-Cortez fired back in a tweet: "Let’s make a deal, Mr. President: You release your college transcript, I’ll release mine, and we’ll see who was the better student. Loser has to fund the Post Office." She got her 524,000 likes.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- If claiming that Biden would destroy Second Amendment rights or is "against God" isn't enough, Trump has a new argument against the Democratic ticket: “They don't want to have cows, they don't want to have any form of animals." That was part of his false claim about Biden's climate change policy during the Fox Business interview.
- Trump on Thursday echoed a false assertion percolating in right-wing circles and promoted by his campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, that Harris is ineligible to be vice president because her parents were immigrants. Asked about that during his news conference, Trump added his own fake "birther" twist: "You’re saying that they’re saying that she doesn’t qualify because she wasn’t born in this country?” Harris was born in Oakland, California.
- Michael Cohen, the former Trump personal attorney and more recently a federal inmate, released the foreword of his forthcoming book, "Disloyal." Sprinkled amid self-loathing for having served as Trump fixer and his fear of getting killed after turning on his ex-boss, Cohen teased a previously unknown alleged episode in a "sex club in Vegas." One detail was similar to the never-verified, Trump-denied tale from the Christopher Steele dossier involving Trump and two prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
- Trump told the New York Post in an interview that he intends to give his Republican National Convention acceptance speech from the White House lawn, defying critics who said the location was an inappropriate use of federal property.
- The Supreme Court sided with Rhode Island officials over Republicans who wanted to stop them from waiving a mail-in ballot security measure — that the ballots be notarized or have two signed witnesses. The high court has sided with Republicans on other cases related to pandemic-era changes in voting procedures.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he warned Russia in a call with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov against offering bounties for killing American and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Trump has called the CIA assessment about the bounties "fake news" and a "hoax," saying he didn't bring it up in a recent conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Trump has requested a mail-in ballot for Tuesday's local and congressional primaries in Florida. Despite his multiple claims that mail-in voting was unsafe and vulnerable to fraud, Trump last week said it was OK in Florida.