Former President Barack Obama condemned President Donald Trump in a new interview over his efforts to “actively kneecap” the United States Postal Service in order to frustrate mail-in voting ahead of the November election — casting the maneuvers by his White House successor as “unique to modern political history.”
The criticism from Obama came in response to Trump’s admission Thursday that he opposes additional funding for the federal agency and election security grants because those provisions would help facilitate voting by mail amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
“What we’ve never seen before is a president say, ‘I’m going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to [discourage] voting, and I will be explicit about the reason I’m doing it.’ That’s sort of unheard of,” Obama told David Plouffe, his 2008 campaign manager and longtime adviser, in an interview on Cadence13’s Campaign HQ podcast released Friday.
Obama went on to praise congressional Democratic leaders, who since last Friday have remained at an impasse with White House negotiators over the next stimulus measure. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have “been very clear, and they want to do what’s right by the American people,” he said.
In May, Pelosi and the Democrat-controlled House passed the HEROES Act — their opening offer for relief talks with the Republican-led Senate — which allocated $3.6 billion in grants that election administrators could use to prepare for an influx of mail-in ballots, to protect in-person voting and to buy personal protective equipment for poll workers.
The House bill also included a $25 billion payment to the cash-strapped Postal Service “for revenue forgone due to coronavirus.” Trump, who has claimed mail-in voting leads to widespread election fraud, referred to those funding figures Thursday in an interview with Fox Business network’s Maria Bartiromo.
“[Democrats] want 3 ½ billion dollars for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically. They want 3 ½ billion dollars for the mail-in votes, OK? Universal mail-in ballots. They want 25 billion dollars — billion — for the Post Office,” Trump said.
“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,” he added. “By the way, those are just two items. But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Several states have moved to expand mail-in voting as Covid-19 caseloads continue to spike across the country, with physical polling places posing increased risks of infection. But Trump has stated that mail-in voting “doesn’t work out well for Republicans,” and has urged Americans to cast their ballots in-person.
A recent study found that voting by mail does not benefit one party over another, and cases of election fraud in the U.S. are exceedingly rare. Experts acknowledge there are some slightly higher fraud risks associated with mail-in balloting, but only when proper security measures are not in place.
On Friday, Obama admonished Republican lawmakers and argued that the Postal Service “is not simply a delivery system for mail-in ballots,” but also “sends out critical benefits” and acts as a “lifeline” for senior citizens and those who cannot afford the fees charged by delivery services companies.
“What are Republicans doing where you are so scared of people voting, that you are now willing to undermine what is part of the basic infrastructure of American life?” he said, adding that “there have to be some basic shared assumptions that bind us together. And one of those is that we don’t actively hurt people or undermine key parts of our lives just for partisan advantage.”