President Donald Trump walked back an apparent threat he levied on Thursday morning — to reject a hypothetical COVID-19 relief package that included $25 billion in emergency grants for the US Postal Service — in an evening press briefing at the White House.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has rejected giving emergency funds or grants to the cash-strapped USPS, which does not take taxpayer money and has seen a major revenue shortfall from the decline in mail volume caused by the pandemic.
In a Thursday morning interview with Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo, Trump suggested that he would reject emergency funding for the post office over his opposition to mail voting in a possible next COVID-19 relief bill.
In addition to criticizing the US Postal Service, Trump has spread false and exaggerated claims that voting by mail is inherently fraudulent. In reality, rates of fraud are extremely low, and there's no evidence that expanding voting by mail hurts or benefits either political party.
"They want $25 billion — billion — for the post office. 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 told Bartiromo, referring to a bill passed by House Democrats in May that would have given the USPS $25 billion in grants and $3.6 billion to states in election assistance.
"Now, in the meantime, they aren't getting there. 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 ... because they're not equipped," Trump added.
But Trump slightly changed his tune in a Thursday evening press briefing with reporters, significantly scaling back his apparent threat to reject any bill with additional USPS funding and saying instead that if Congress can't come to a deal to approve another
At the briefing, CNN's Kaitlan Collins directly asked Trump if he would expressly veto any coronavirus relief bill that included funding for the Postal Service.
"No, not at all," Trump responded. "But one of the reasons the post office needs that much money is they have all these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere and nobody knows from where and where they're going."
In addition to repeating a misleading claim that ballots simply come out nowhere (many states use ballot tracking systems and require signatures on envelopes for returned ballots, among other things), Trump's claim that the postal service is in dire financial straights because of the uptick in mail voting is also false.
Even with states scaling up and expanding the availability of mail voting, ballots and election mail ultimately make up a very small percentage of the mail they process. The US Postal Service also processes other essential mail and medications.
As Amber McReynolds, the former director of the Denver Elections Division and the CEO of the National Vote At Home Institute, told Insider in April, the USPS processed over 140 billion pieces of mail in 2019, meaning that even if a ballot were sent to all of the approximately 250 million voting-age Americans, it would only make up 0.2% of the Postal Service's total volume.
Trump described the fight over USPS funding as "a small part of a big negotiation" around the next stimulus bill, saying, "if the bill isn't going to get done, it means the post office isn't going to get funded, the $3.5 billion isn't going to get taken care of, so I don't know how you could possibly use these mail-in ballots."
States have, even with minimal outside help from the federal government, have been expanding the availability and ease of voting by mail in the pandemic. The CARES Act passed in March gave $400 million in election assistance to grants, which fell far short of the $4 billion experts at the Brennan Center for Justice said was necessary for the federal government to provide for states both to expand mail voting and provide for safe in-person voting as well.
The HEROES Act, if passed by the Senate and signed by Trump, would have given out $3.6 billion in election assistance to states and required that states expand voter registration opportunities and in-person early voting, mandate that states allow citizens to vote by mail without an excuse and with pre-paid postage, and require states to send out ballots to all or most registered voters in emergencies.
When Collins pushed Trump to explain his comments from Thursday morning, he said, "what I'm against is doing something where the people aren't taken care of. And the people aren't being taken care of properly. We want the people to get money, it wasn't their fault that they got shut down," describing USPS funding and election assistance as "two points within a big deal."