Watchdog calls for probe amid fears of 'voter suppression tactics' through Postal Service

USPS coronavirus

A watchdog organization is calling for an investigation and hearings amid concerns about mail-in ballot “voter suppression tactics” by the Trump administration through the United States Postal Service.

“Recent actions” taken by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed by Donald Trump in May, “will delay prioritizing mail delivery,” which threatens voting by mail, warned a letter Thursday from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). Johnson is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

The number of Americans voting by mail is expected to surge across the nation as voters seek to avoid the risk of catching COVID-19 at the polls. Yet DeJoy is slashing overtime for mail carriers and prohibiting employees from making late delivery trips, which will slow the mail, he revealed in an internal memo. DeJoy, who has no experience in the agency, is a prominent Trump donor and the former lead fundraiser for the Republican National Convention.

“We have an underfunded state and local election system and a deliberate slowdown in the Postal Service,” Wendy Fields, the executive director of the Democracy Initiative, told The New York Times. Trump is “deliberately orchestrating suppression and using the post office as a tool to do it,” she said.

Former Democratic leader of the Georgia House and Democratic vice presidential hopeful Stacy Abrams also accused Trump on Sunday of attempting to “steal” the election by manipulating the postal service along with his partisan postmaster general. 

After significant delays by the USPS in delivering absentee ballots to voters in Wisconsin’s April primary, a probe by the USPS Office of Inspector General determined that the agency needed to “strengthen adherence to procedures” and “improve communication and coordination” with election offices.

CREW’s letter, which was also signed by Common Cause Wisconsin, calls on Johnson’s Senate committee to determine whether USPS is proactively addressing the “increased national demand for voting by mail” this November. The committee must also determine how cutting back on overtime and extended deliveries by the USPS will impact voting by mail, the letter states. 

Trump has railed about “fraudulent” mail-in ballots, without any basis. He called the upcoming election “fixed” and “rigged,” and the “greatest election disaster in history” — even though the election hasn’t yet occurred.

The system is so suspect, he claimed, that Trump floated the idea of delaying the election in a tweet last Thursday. Trump has no power to do so.

Bizarrely, he urged Americans on Friday to vote via “absentee” ballot, which is a mailed-in vote. Most jurisdictions’ “vote by mail” systems have identical requirements for all voters. 

“It’s actually a great thing, absentee ballots. I’m going to be voting absentee,” Trump told reporters. He noted voters have to “go through a process to get” absentee ballots. Voters have to go through a process for any mail-in ballots.

Michael Steele, former head of the Republican National Committee, later responded in an interview: “The president was like, ‘Well, I love absentee balloting, just [not] this mail-by-vote thing.’ Mr. President, they’re the same thing, OK? Just so you understand: An absentee ballot is the same as a mail-in ballot.”

Critics have charged that Trump is already worried that he’ll lose the election, so he’s strategizing to discredit and even sabotage mail-in votes so he can claim that his defeat was “rigged.”

“Mark my words, I think he is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said back in April. 

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) on Sunday said he believes Trump won’t leave the White House if he loses the election, and warned the president might invoke some kind of “emergency” action to remain.

Trump’s proposal to delay the U.S. election has infuriated Democrats and has not been supported by Republicans.

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Trump doesn't think Cain caught virus at Tulsa rally

Herman Cain with Black Trump supporters

President Trump said Friday that he’s confident that his recent rally in Tulsa, Okla., isn’t the reason Herman Cain got sick. 

Cain, the entrepreneur, conservative commentator and 2012 presidential candidate, died on Thursday due to complications from COVID-19. The 74-year-old contracted the virus in late June, days after attending the Trump campaign rally there.

Yahoo News asked Trump on Friday if he believed that Cain was exposed to the virus at the rally. “No, I don’t think so,” Trump said.

Trump also expressed his remorse at Cain’s passing.  

“Herman Cain was a great man. He did a fantastic job. He was respected by everybody, he was loved by everybody and we will miss Herman Cain,” said Trump. 

Cain was photographed attending the June 20 rally, which drew about 6,000 attendees, sitting in the crowd close to other high-profile Trump supporters who were not wearing masks. 

Corrin Rankin, an advisory board member on the president’s African-American outreach team, also posted a photo on social media showing Cain indoors prior to the event with Trump supporters including Rankin, Trump campaign adviser Katrina Pierson, Republican Party communications adviser Paris Dennard and Rev. C.L. Bryan. In one of the pictures, Cain was wearing a cloth mask around his chin. It did not cover his face. Rankin has since deleted the photo. 

The event was the largest indoor event in the country since the coronavirus lockdowns began. Nevertheless, it suffered from poor attendance that was potentially due to fear of the pandemic. 

Public health officials in Tulsa subsequently suggested the rally may have contributed to a spike in COVID-19 cases in the area. And on the day of the rally, the Trump campaign announced that six of their advance staffers had tested positive for the virus. The staffers did not attend the rally. 

Earlier this month, Cain's team announced he tested positive for COVID-19 on June 29, nine days after the event. Experts say coronavirus symptoms often occur between one and 14 days after exposure. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also addressed Cain's death — and the possibility that he was exposed to the virus at the rally — during a briefing with reporters on Friday. McEnany stressed that no one should “politicize” Cain's death and noted how he “rose to be an extremely successful businessman” after coming from “a small farm” in Georgia.

“Herman Cain is the absolute embodiment of the American Dream,” McEnany said. “We are grieved and we are very saddened by his passing.”

McEnany then read aloud a statement from Dan Calabrese, the editor of Cain’s website, that acknowledged “people will speculate about the Tulsa rally, but Herman did a lot of traveling.”

“I don’t think there’s any way to trace this to one specific contact that caused him to be infected,” Calabrese said in the statement, adding, “We’ll never know.” 

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Trump complains that Americans like Fauci more than him

President Trump used a White House press briefing on Tuesday to wonder aloud why he was less liked than Dr. Anthony Fauci, a prominent member of the White House coronavirus task force.

“Nobody likes me,” the president said in a rare moment of self-reflection. “It can only be my personality, that's all.” The lament came on the same day that the nation surpassed the grim benchmark of 150,000 deaths as a result of the worsening pandemic.

“Remember, he's working for this administration,” Trump said of Fauci, who  is not a political appointee who serves at the pleasure of the president. “He's working with us. We could've gotten other people. We could've gotten somebody else. It didn't have to be Dr. Fauci.”

Trump has long been at odds with Fauci, who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. A veteran of the battle to find a cure for HIV/AIDS, Fauci is now serving his sixth president. And though he is adept at protecting his domain, he has lately been forced to navigate a political climate in which science and expertise have been treated with profound suspicion.

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“He's got this high approval rating,” Trump said of Fauci on Tuesday. “So why don't I have a high approval rating and the administration with respect to the virus?"

Trump’s approval rating has suffered from what critics have described as an erratic and inattentive handling of the pandemic. That approval rating now stands at about 40 percent, a dangerously low number for a president seeking reelection.

Fauci, by contrast, is not an elected official, but his frank assessments of the pandemic, delivered in a strong Brooklyn accent, have earned him public affection, as well as a Saturday Night Live imitation courtesy of Brad Pitt (that imitation earned an Emmy nomination on Tuesday).

A poll in April found that 76 percent of Americans trusted the information they got from Fauci. He has repeatedly advocated for Americans to practice social distancing measures, wear face masks and to take the coronavirus as a serious threat.

Trump has also recently endorsed such measures, but only reluctantly. Still, he apparently sees no difference between his positions and those of Fauci, describing it as “curious” during Tuesday’s briefing that Americans preferred the avuncular immunologist and Dr. Deborah Birx, another task force member, to the commander-in-chief himself.

Trump could simply remove Fauci from the White House task force, but he has so far declined to do so, choosing to undermine him instead through a continuing series of public spats on everything from the resumption of professional sports to the use of the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine, a malaria medication that some of the president’s supporters maintain could defeat the coronavirus. 

On Monday evening, Trump retweeted a message to his 80 million followers  on Twitter charging that Fauci had “misled the public” about the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine and on other virus-related matters. 

The next morning, Fauci went on Good Morning America, an appearance during which he described hydroxychloroquine as “not effective.”

It was a question on hydroxychloroquine that prompted Trump to discuss Fauci and insist that the women continued to maintain a “good relationship.”

Tuesday’s turn marks Trump’s continued attempt to show that he is in control as the coronavirus continues to devastate large parts of the nation. But much like the briefings that were a springtime staple, this one turned contentious.

In particular, Trump appeared bothered by a question from CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins about a video Trump had shared — and which Twitter subsequently removed — in which a Houston doctor makes false claims about coronavirus cures and maligns the wearing of face masks.

“Mr. President, the woman that you said was a ‘great doctor’ in that video that you retweeted last night said that ‘masks don’t work’ and there is a cure for COVID-19, both of which health experts say is not true,” Collins said when called on by Trump. “She’s also made videos saying that doctors make medicine using DNA from aliens and that they are trying to create a vaccine to make you immune from becoming religious—”

Trump cut her off, saying that he had seen the doctor on television and found her to be “very impressive.”

“I thought her voice was an important voice,” Trump said, “but I know nothing about her.” He then walked out of the briefing room.

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