Transcribe your podcast

From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is the of. Today, the president, the Postal Service and the election, my colleague Luke Broadwater, on what's actually going on. It's Wednesday, August 19th. Look, there's a theory floating out there about the post office, the president and the upcoming election. I wonder if you can just explain what is this theory?


So the theory, I guess the short version of it is this. President Trump has installed a mega donor and close ally as the postmaster general and has sent him about on a course to cut the post office and in doing so, wreak havoc on to mail in voting, thereby helping President Trump be re-elected. And look, where does this theory come from? Well, we can take it all the way back to about the turn of the century when male use peaks in America right around 2001.


And since that time, we've seen about a 50 percent reduction in the mailing, a first class mail to accommodate this. A series of postmaster generals have approved cuts and reductions to things like mailboxes, to things like sorting machines in an attempt to shrink the agency along with the lower volume of mail. Then you have this pandemic come in and you have a ton of people now and a ton of states looking at mail in balloting. Something like three out of four Americans may be eligible to vote by mail this year.


And so you have this whole new demand on the post office. Mm hmm. Then on top of all these problems, a new postmaster general is installed.


His postmaster general is a Republican mega donor who eighty five days from the election, by the way, decided the time was right for a chaotic and sweeping overhaul.


His name is Lewis Dejoy. He has never worked for the post office before.


Critics of the president say he's trying to sabotage the postal service ahead of the election. It was only a month and a half ago Trump identified mail in voting as the biggest threat to a second term.


He reassigns more than 20 executives in the post office. He immediately limits overtime for the postal workers. In the union's view, he speeds up the removal of mail sorting machines. He puts in stringent rules that limit how many times a mail carrier can make a run in a day. And the result of all these changes where some people were seeing slower mail becomes, in many people's view, a crisis. People all across the country are calling their senators, calling their congresspeople.


They are saying they haven't got a mail for weeks. I talked with one congressperson in Philadelphia who said in a normal July, he gets something like 10 to 20 complaints about the post office. And this year, in July, he got more than three hundred and was four hundred. And so people who are already worried about Dejoy and what he was doing at the post office, their fears were exacerbated when last week.


But two of the items are the post office and the three and a half billion dollars for mail in voting. Now, 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.


President Trump came out and basically admitted that he doesn't want to fund certain aspects of the post office because they might contribute to mail in voting.


And when he said that, it was like alarm bells rang across the country for Democrats.


What is the president objecting to here, exactly?


What is his problem with this fund and what is this funding?


So this all comes out of the fight over the latest round of stimulus legislation to help Americans suffering from the coronavirus and to help the American economy. And the Democrats proposal. They have twenty five billion dollars to help the post office and they have three point six dollars billion to help states with their elections. There is a provision in the Democrats bill for universal mail in voting, but that is not directly connected to the money for the post office. It appears that President Trump has conflated these two issues.


So he thinks that by blocking the money for the post office, he's preventing universal mail and voting. The truth is that states have already decided on their own whether or not they're doing universal mail and voting. And this money for the post office would not change that.


So in the process of opposing this thing, that's not really even in the Democrats proposals, he's nevertheless admitting very explicitly that he wants to find a way to curtail mail and voting by depriving the postal service of funding. Yes, he says that out loud.


And you could hear Jaws hitting the floor around the country. Got it. But to make matters worse, right around this time, you start seeing reports come out from different states across the country that they have received letters from the Postal Service saying we might not be able to accommodate. Mail in balloting in the final weeks of the election for your state. And so with Trump's comments, then these letters and everything else we know about Postmaster General Dejoy and his background and ties to the Republican Party and the cuts he's putting in place, people around the country start to suspect that their sabotage going on.




So here you're laying out the kind of elements of this theory that now I'm sure for many people, especially Democrats, is starting to sound not so much like a theory, but a kind of reality. And so I'm curious how people within the Democratic Party are reacting. Exactly what are they saying? What are they doing?


Well, it was I mean, it was immediate outrage. People started protesting, right?


People went to postmaster general, to Joy's house and protested outside his house saying, oh, well, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi has called the House to come back and pass emergency legislation to block what Postmaster General Dejoy and President Trump are doing to the post office in her view.


And you see a hearing on Monday, an emergency hearing in which Mr. Dejoy will be called in front of Congress to take tough questions about about his role in all this and what his plans and intentions are.


So the president's comments essentially confirming many people's fears, have poured a lot of fuel onto this theory. But as plausible as this theory may sound. Is there actual evidence that connects to Joyes actions to Donald Trump and shows that he's actively seeking to undermine the Postal Service to strengthen his chances of re-election? I mean, he has said that, but in terms of actual actions. I don't think you can say that to pull that off, you would have to destroy the post office in key areas, right?


You would have to do it in Democratic strongholds, but not in rural areas. You would have to be very sort of selective about how you went about cutting and weakening the post office. And that's not really what we've seen. What we've seen is across the country, we've seen problems with the post office. In fact, a lot of the complaints that we get are from rural Americans and we see a lot of rural Republicans who are very upset about what's going on at the post office, GOP senators and Republican secretaries of state.


So Donald Trump believes that mail in voting helps Democrats. But almost all the studies we've seen is that it doesn't really help anybody. It just makes more people vote. Now, maybe he views it as if fewer people vote. I can win, but there's no real evidence of that either that sort of a smaller electorate would benefit him over Joe Biden.


Well, now that we've seen this reaction to the president's words and this theory has taken hold, how is the Trump administration responding?


Well, they've walked back a number of things that Trump said.


If the Democrats were to give you some of what you want, which you articulated in a series of tweets in the last hour, would you be willing to accept the twenty five billion dollars for the postal service, including the three and a half billion dollars? Do you think it was what we wanted?


And so what I want is what the American people want. So the president has now said he's open to funding the post office in a way that he wasn't only a day earlier. His chief of staff, Mark Meadows, has gone out there and said, I'm all about piecemeal.


If we can agree on postal, let's do it, if we can, that they would be open to a standalone bill to fund the post office.


I've been the one that's advocating for Speaker Pelosi is the one who said that she won't do anything unless it's a big deal.


They've made a number of pledges to try to tamp down some of the accusations.


There's no sorting machines are going off line between now and the election. That's not happening.


They've said they'll stop removing the post boxes they said they have authorized over time for the election. And the postmaster general has pledged that every ballot will be treated with respect and counted and sent to the proper place. They are pledging up and down. There won't be any sabotage. We'll be right back. The following message is brought to you by Business Roundtable, what is the purpose of a corporation? A year ago, 181 Business Roundtable CEOs committed to a new mission company should serve not only shareholders, but all stakeholders over the long term.


That means investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing fairly with suppliers and supporting communities where they operate. When the pandemic hit, companies took extraordinary steps to uphold this commitment. It is the start of an important change to strengthen our economy and increase opportunity for all Americans. Visit Business Roundtable again purpose.


This is Sam Dolnick. I'm an assistant managing editor at the New York Times. Our newsroom has been empty since March, but we've been busier than ever before. The pandemic has changed how we work, but it hasn't changed what we do. We are living through history. Every single one of our journalists is trying to match the moment we have education reporters researching how kids can go back to school safely. We have data journalists tracking every single virus case in America, millions upon millions of them.


We have reporters braving tear gas so they can report on protests. Well, others are tracing the roots of systemic racism. And then there are food writers offering advice for what to cook during these many nights at home. This is why we became journalists to bring to light real verified information when the stakes couldn't be higher. We can't do this work without our subscribers. If you'd like to subscribe, please go to NY Times dot com slash subscribe and things.


So at this point, the Trump operation has more or less said we will stop doing the things that are fueling this theory that's now very much out there, that we are trying to damage the Postal Service to try to win a second term in the middle of a pandemic. Curious what the actual capacity of the Postal Service is with the cuts that are already in place. Can the Postal Service handle an election in which 100 to 200 million people may use?


Mail in ballots. The short answer is yes, they have more than enough capacity to handle that volume of mail, pretty much everybody agrees on that. Election experts, the postal union, the postmaster general. If you look at a traditional Christmas time, you have much more mail moving than you're going to see during this election, even though it is a very heightened amount of mail in ballots. The issue for the post office is not the volume or the capacity.


The issue is the timing. And so they have a concern about last minute requests for mail in ballots. That's really their issue. There's forty five states across the country that allow people to request ballots within two weeks before the election. Some allow the requests as short as four days. There are even five states that will send out a mail in ballot to a voter if they receive an application by mail even the day before the election. Wow.


That's just not a lot of time for the Postal Service to get a ballot out, get a person to fill it out and get it back in time before the election.


Yes, exactly. So the Postal Service is saying even in a good year, even a year where there's not this big rush of mail in ballots and there's no pandemic, we would have trouble with some of those deadlines. And so we're asking you in a pandemic year in a year where seventy five percent of voters are eligible to vote by mail. Please push your deadlines back and give us two weeks to process these things. OK, they're just basically creating a bigger buffer of time to make sure they can handle all this capacity.


That seems kind of reasonable. Yeah, I mean, and I think that if this request had gone out without Donald Trump's comments, without postmaster general, the joys, cuts, they would have been seen as a sort of a reasonable letter to ensure that everyone's vote actually counted, that the post office can accommodate some of these deadlines. Well, let's change them to make sure that no one is under a false impression, that they're filling out a ballot that's going to count when it's not actually going to get there in time.


Mm hmm. So, look, I want to return to the original theory here about the president, the postal service and the election. You identify the ways in which the president could, if he wanted to weaken the Postal Service in ways that would advantage him in the election by, for example, going into a democratic community and making cuts to the postal service.


Does the president actually have that kind of power? Could he demand changes to the postal service in the next 70 or 80 days that would actually make it? Easier for him to win re-election. Well, so he does control the board of governors now for the Postal Service, and he controls the postmaster general and he could give them some marching orders theoretically. That said, I do think it would be difficult to carry out without raising the alarm of a large unionized workforce if all of the sudden the entire branch of the Philadelphia Post office was closed down and people were laid off, we wouldn't know about that.


These are not shrinking violets. Who would just be pushed around? So he either need buy in from the unions to sabotage the election. A bunch of unionized workers, which seems highly unlikely. Or we would hear crying foul from every corner of the country about what he was doing.


So you're saying it's not very practical as an electoral strategy for the president, but I wonder if you're getting the sense that the president's actions so far, in his words, when it comes to the Postal Service and this election, are creating a lot of doubt about whether mail in voting is going to work and whether the Postal Service can make mail and voting work. And if that is starting to in its own way, undermine faith in the postal service in the minds of voters.


Absolutely. It's an interesting thing the president's doing because the post office has long been one of the most popular functions of government. I think 91 percent of Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, support the post office. And so what the unions believe he's doing is they say there are three. Three levels of support that they have. One is the board of governors, they say the president has taken that over. The second is the postmaster general. They say the president has taken that over.


And the third is the American public. And they still have the American public on their side. But if the service of the post office is so eroded and the confidence in it has degraded so much that their polling starts to fall and people don't have confidence in them anymore. Well, now the theory goes it's open for privatization.


Oh, interesting. And what could be a bigger stage for people to judge the Postal Service than an election? That's right.


There is the issue of voter fraud. Is it amazing the way they say there's no voter fraud?


Donald Trump has long sought to undermine American elections with his rhetoric.


There are one point eight million dead people that are registered right now to vote. And folks, folks, some of them vote. I wonder why. I wonder how that happened. They woke up from the dead and they went and voted.


But now what we're seeing is on the other side within this administration is an attempt to make sure your vote doesn't count and doesn't count as cast.


Democrats are worried about a rigged election.


The options this administration are taking because of the voting system are sacred. Right to vote are a domestic assault on our Constitution.


Donald Trump is aimed at hurting the elections. He says he wants to slow down the mail to hurt the elections and make people doubt the results of the election.


So now we're seeing both sides questioning the legitimacy of the election and. I don't know how that's a good recipe for America and for confidence in our electoral system, what we've never seen before is a president say I'm going to try to actively kneecap the postal service and I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it. That's sort of unheard of.


You know, I can't help but think about 2016 and Russian interference. And I'm kind of haunted by the Russian theory of the case, which is that you don't actually have to do the thing. You don't actually have to interfere on the election because the real power is just in calling the election itself into doubt.


Oh, that's an interesting point. Yeah, I mean, the key distinction between the two is in 2016, a lot of the concern was about outside interference. This time the accusation is that the meddling is coming from the White House itself, that the call is coming from inside the House, so to speak. That is obviously a huge cause for alarm and it's a very different line of concern than we saw in twenty sixteen. Now, you know, despite all this concern and all the heated rhetoric that we've heard, there is perhaps a silver lining.


And that is when you talk with a lot of get out the vote folks and you talk with activists about how their messaging is changing. Now, they're really pushing this idea that you need to vote a good two weeks before the election by mail. And so people that maybe didn't hear that message and would have voted the week before election and maybe the post office wouldn't have gotten the ballot there in time for their vote to count. I think there's a good chance now that they will get that ballot in ahead of time and their vote will count.


Well, Lou, thank you very much, we appreciate it. Thank you. On Tuesday, under growing pressure from Democrats, activists and voters, Postmaster General Dejoy said he would formally suspend the operational changes he's been making to the Postal Service until after the 2020 election. Among the changes he will suspend are eliminating overtime for mail carriers, reducing post office hours and removing postal boxes, all of which have been blamed for slowing mail delivery and could undermine mail in voting.


But the Joy has not said that he will permanently reverse any of the changes that he has already made. We'll be right back. The following message is brought to you by Business Roundtable, what is the purpose of a corporation? A year ago, 181 Business Roundtable CEOs committed to a new mission company should serve not only shareholders, but all stakeholders over the long term. That means investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing fairly with suppliers and supporting communities where they operate.


When the pandemic hit, companies took extraordinary steps to uphold this commitment. It is the start of an important change to strengthen our economy and increase opportunity for all Americans. Visit Business Roundtable again. Purpose. Here's what else you need to know. The Commonwealth of Kentucky cast all sixty votes for the next president of the United States, Joe Biden.


Mississippi has two votes for Bernie Sanders and 38 votes for our next president, Joe Biden. Delaware is proud to cast its 32 votes for our favorite son and our next president, our Brandauer, Joe Biden.


During the second night of the Democratic National Convention, after a virtual roll call from 57 states and U.S. territories, Joe Biden was formally designated as the party's nominee for president.


Well, thank you very, very much from the bottom of my heart, thank you all. It means the world to me and my family. And I'll see you on Thursday. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Later in the evening, Biden's wife, Dr. Jill Biden, delivered the night's keynote speech from a classroom quieted by the pandemic, recalling her decision to marry Biden not long after the death of his first wife and daughter in a car crash.


I never imagined at the age of twenty six, I would be asking myself, how do you make a broken family? Hold still. Joe always told the boys Mommy sent Jill to us and how could I argue with her?


Recounting that tragedy, Joe Biden described her husband as uniquely capable of healing the nation in the middle of a deadly pandemic and economic collapse.


I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours, bring us together and make us whole carry us forward in our time of need. Keep the promise of America for all of us. The speech was the latest sign that the Biden campaign will frame the coming election as a referendum on President Trump and his handling of the coronavirus.


That's it for the daily unlikeable Baako see tomorrow. The following message is brought to you by Business Roundtable, what is the purpose of a corporation? A year ago, 181 Business Roundtable CEOs committed to a new mission company should serve not only shareholders, but all stakeholders over the long term. That means investing in employees, delivering value to customers, dealing fairly with suppliers and supporting communities where they operate. When the pandemic hit, companies took extraordinary steps to uphold this commitment.


It is the start of an important change to strengthen our economy and increase opportunity for all Americans. Visit Business Roundtable again. Purpose.