Donald Trump has threatened to deprive the US post office of money needed for postal voting in November’s presidential race, in a move set to undermine a system that will play a larger than usual role in the election.
With Republicans and Democrats still at loggerheads over a Covid-19 stimulus package, Mr Trump warned that he would not agree to any legislation that provided money to facilitate postal voting.
The US Postal Service needs the funding to tackle the big increase in postal voting expected due to the pandemic. “They need that money in order to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Mr Trump told the Fox Business channel on Thursday.
“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.”
Mr Trump has in recent months railed about postal voting, which he has claimed without evidence is “riddled by fraud”. He currently trails Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, in national and swing-state polls.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, spoke to Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary who is leading talks for the administration, for the first time in five days on Wednesday. But they failed to make any progress on a stimulus package with each side blaming the other for the stalemate.
Democrats have accused Mr Trump of trying to sabotage the November election by blocking $3.5bn for postal voting, plus $25bn for the US Postal Service included in their proposal at the request of the office’s board of governors.
“Trump admitted this morning that he is sabotaging the USPS to stop people from voting safely by mail during a deadly pandemic,” Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 election to Mr Trump, tweeted on Thursday.
Democrats have also pointed out that the heavily indebted post office provides critical services, such as delivering prescription drugs to US veterans.
“When the president goes after the postal service, he’s going after an all-American, highly approved-by-the-public institution,” Ms Pelosi said on MSNBC television on Thursday.
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Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic official, on Thursday told the business news channel CNBC: “So much of the Democratic asks are really liberal left wishlists . . . you know, voting rights and aid to aliens and so forth. That’s not our game, and the president can’t accept that kind of deal.”
Mr Biden this week slammed Mr Trump for not being personally involved in stimulus negotiations. “Instead of doing the hard work of meeting face to face with congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans . . . Donald Trump is on the golf course,” he said.
The back and forth recriminations come as the White House and Democrats struggle to breach an almost $2.5tn gap in proposals. The Democratic-controlled House earlier this year passed a $3.5tn rescue plan, but Republicans want to limit the stimulus package to $1tn.
Mr Trump at the weekend signed several executive orders that would partly renew federal unemployment benefits that expired last month. He also said he would suspend the payroll tax, which is paid by both employers and employees, and used to fund welfare programmes such as social security.