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Is Trump Sabotaging U.S. Postal Service Ahead of Election as Part of His Attack on Mail-in Voting?

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Image Credit: USPS

Democratic lawmakers say the Trump administration is sabotaging the United States Postal Service ahead of the November election, when a record number of votes are expected to be cast by mail. Since taking office, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — a major Trump donor — has instituted a number of cost-cutting measures that have slowed down the delivery of mail, and overhauled the leadership of the agency in a move that critics say will give him more power. This comes as President Trump continues to attack mail-in voting, claiming the post office can’t handle an increase in ballots. We speak with Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, and David Dayen, executive editor of The American Prospect and author of the new book, “Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Democratic lawmakers in Washington are accusing the Trump administration of sabotaging the United States Postal Service ahead of November’s election, when a record number of votes are expected to be cast by mail. On Friday, the nation’s new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy shook up the leadership of the agency in a move that critics say will give DeJoy more power. Twenty-three Postal Service executives were reassigned or fired in the restructuring.

Prior to becoming postmaster general, DeJoy was a top Republican donor. He had donated more than $1.2 million to the Trump Victory Fund and had been in charge of fundraising for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Since taking office, DeJoy has instituted a number of cost-cutting measures that have slowed down the delivery of the mail. There’s now a days-long backlog of mail across the United States. This comes as President Trump continues to attack mail-in voting, claiming the post office can’t handle an increase in ballots. Democratic Congressmember Gerry Connolly of Virginia accused DeJoy of engaging in, quote, “deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election.” Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio of Oregon criticized restructuring of the agency.

REP. PETER DEFAZIO: Today we had the Friday night massacre. He fired all the senior service postal executives, the people who have run the day-to-day operations of the post office. This is nothing less than Donald Trump and his political cronies trying to steal the election by blocking or delaying vote-by-mail. Trump has sued states to try and block vote-by-mail. That won’t work. But he’s going to try and stop the mail from being delivered. This is outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren has co-written a letter urging the Postal Service inspector general to investigate the changes implemented by DeJoy. Warren also inquired about the financial holdings of DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Wos, President Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Canada. The couple holds as much as $75 million in assets in competitors or contractors of the Postal Service, according to a financial disclosure filed by Wos.

This all comes as the U.S. Postal Service is facing a financial crisis in part due to losses during the pandemic, as well as a controversial 2006 law which requires the post office to prefund its workers’ post-retirement healthcare costs 75 years into the future — something no other government agency is required to do.

We’re now joined by two guests. Mark Dimondstein is the president of the American Postal Workers Union. And David Dayen is executive editor of American Prospect, author of the new book, Monopolized: Life in the Age of Corporate Power.

David, let’s begin with you. Some Democrats are calling this the “Friday night massacre.” Explain what took place.

DAVID DAYEN: Well, it was really a reshuffling of these top executives, some of whom were in positions for decades, into new parts of the business. A couple were displaced, but mostly it was a reshuffling. I mean, think about it: if the person that runs your soundboard now has to do the camera, and the person that runs the camera is now hosting the show. I mean, obviously, these are different skill sets. And it seems like there was sort of a randomness to the design of this, that would only make sense if you’re trying to delay and hinder the mail from being delivered.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how that mail is being hindered, and also who Louis DeJoy is.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah. Well, you said it yourself. I mean, Louis DeJoy is a Trump loyalist. He is a longtime donor. His wife is the nominee for ambassador to Canada. And he was set to be the lead fundraiser on the Charlotte Republican National Convention. So, obviously, this is someone with close ties to the president.

And in just a matter of weeks, he has instituted these measures that have led to this backlog, of days, within the Postal Service, testing new sorting systems that seemingly don’t really need to be tested right now when the mail is under stress, blocking overtime, and various other measures that have created this delay that pretty much everyone sees. I mean, you know, talk to anybody who has had trouble getting their mail, and you’ll know that this is very widespread.

AMY GOODMAN: And the fact that DeJoy and his wife, who is now being considered to be the ambassador to Canada — this came out in her filings for that position — have something like $75 million to $100 million invested in the U.S. mail service’s competition or its contractors?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, it’s pretty surprising. I mean, you know, we talk about the impact of this on the elections, but I think the larger goal — and it’s a stated goal of much of the Republican Party and certainly this apparatus — is to privatize the service and to give up the monopoly on the mailbox and allow UPS and FedEx, primarily, to enter into direct competition, and degrade the service, overall. I mean, it seems clear that that’s the ultimate intent.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s bring in the president of the American Postal Workers Union, Mark Dimondstein. If you can respond to everything that has taken place now and the attack on the Postal Service and what some are calling the “Friday night massacre,” what this means for the workers and for the country? I mean, the U.S. Postal Service is older than this country.

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: That’s right. That’s right. Well, thanks so much for having me on.

First, let me just say this: Anything, any policy that slows down the mail runs counter to everything a postal worker stands for, and we’re completely opposed to these policies that are delaying mail. And we’ve let this new postmaster general know that, and we’ve done it with vehemence. Postal workers, we treat the mail as if it’s our own. That’s how we’re trained. It’s our DNA. And our job is to get it to the customer. And we work under a law that says “prompt, reliable and efficient service.” “Prompt” means quickly. So, obviously, it’s a demoralizing thing to postal workers, who are out here on the frontlines of the pandemic as essential workers, connecting the country in these difficult and challenging times, to then be told to delay mail.

Now, the Friday night or the Friday massacre, I’m more focused on the policies than who’s running what and who’s assigned to what. And I think that’s where we have to look. The most significant thing, Amy, on Friday, in my opinion, was the new postmaster general was absolutely silent on the most pressing issue facing the public U.S. Postal Service, and that is Congress coming through with stimulus financial relief due to the impact of the pandemic on the Postal Service. So, the House of Representatives has passed $25 billion of COVID-related relief to get us through this emergency. Normally there’s no taxpayer dollars. This is one exception. It’s now in the hands of the Senate and this administration. It’s an ask of the Postal Board of Governors, a unanimous ask. In March, Congress and this administration took care of the private side to the tune of over $500 billion. It’s about time that Congress took care of the public side, including the United States Postal Service. And there was absolute silence on that key question facing the people this country right now in terms of what’s going to happen to their public postal services.

AMY GOODMAN: The Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi called DeJoy to the Hill on Wednesday. Can you talk about what happened at that meeting?

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, I wasn’t at the meeting; I can just read the news. And apparently they certainly weighed in on their concerns about these policies of slowing down the mail, focused on just arbitrarily saying there’s not going to be anymore overtime. Here we are in a COVID world. Forty thousand postal workers have been quarantined since March, over 2,500 sick. And so, obviously, leave is up, and that has to be covered [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: How many postal workers have died?

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: We’ve had over 75 postal workers who have passed away from COVID. And that’s just what’s known and identified, so it’s certainly more than that. But the — I’m sorry, I got lost in the —

AMY GOODMAN: I was asking what they talked about at that meeting, Schumer and Pelosi, with DeJoy.

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: So, they obviously — from the news, they voiced their concerns about the policies, as I was starting to say, about overtime, transportation changes, hours in the retail units, pulling out of sorting machines. And I know that that was raised, from reading the news. And I’m quite sure that both raised the need for the COVID financial relief to the tune of $25 billion. And that $25 billion is not going to CEOs and shareholders; it’s going to the people of the country to make sure we can continue to carry out what we call our universal service mandate, that small-D democratic right that no matter who we are and where we live, we have an equal access to public postal services at a uniform and reasonable rate.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Trump campaign sued the state of Nevada over its plan to send absentee ballots to all registered voters, but the president has supported mail-in voting in Florida. Last week, Trump said part of the reason is that Florida has a Republican governor.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Florida has got a great Republican governor, and it had a great Republican governor. It’s got Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott, two great governors. And over a long period of time, they’ve been able to get the absentee ballots done extremely professionally. Florida is different from other states. I mean, in Nevada, where you have a governor — he said, “Let’s just send out millions of ballots,” and the post office cannot be prepared. I haven’t spoken to the post office about it, but I don’t know how they could possibly be prepared.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump has been seriously attacking mail-in voting — David Dayen, I wanted to bring you back in on this issue — and particularly talking about how he won’t trust the election if the results aren’t in November 3rd at night. Talk about the significance of all this and what he said. Now he’s — because there’s been such pushback by Republican governors in the country that use mail-in voting, he is saying, no, in Republican states you can have it, you can trust it.

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah, and that’s also campaigns, who are saying that by demonizing vote-by-mail, Republicans are losing what is actually a traditional advantage for Republicans, who traditionally vote by mail in higher numbers. And this was sabotaging the efforts to get out the vote and bank those votes early in the election.

So, yeah, absolutely, there’s an effort underway to delegitimize this election. It’s obviously going to take longer to count absentee and mail-in ballots than it would to count ballots that are cast at the polling places. And so, November 3rd, we’re not going to see the end of this election. And, you know, Trump is setting the stage for, on the night of November 3rd, whatever the count is, he can use that to potentially declare victory.

So, it’s a very dangerous situation. The public, I don’t think, is necessarily fully informed that this is going to be a long process, like we see here in my state of California, where it takes weeks to eventually count all of the ballots, and sometimes races change. That’s going to lead to cries of fraud and delegitimization. And it’s a very difficult situation.

AMY GOODMAN: David, you write, “The Postal Service has informed states that they’ll need to pay first-class 55-cent postage to mail ballots to voters, rather than the normal 20-cent bulk rate”?

DAVID DAYEN: Yeah. My understanding is that there was a meeting where the Postal Service officials said that they would like to see that happen. That will take quite a bit of doing, changes in the regulatory system at the Postal Regulatory Commission and some other factors. There would obviously be litigation to that. But just the threat of this, that they’re going to almost triple the price that it would take for states and counties to pay to get those ballots out, could lead some states to say that we’re not going to take up the expense, just fearing that the rates will increase. Even though there’s a very short window to do this and it may be unlikely, it may be used as a very convenient excuse to hinder ballots from getting out.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Mark Dimondstein, do you think President Trump is trying to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service in the lead-up to the election?

MARK DIMONDSTEIN: Well, I think we can let President Donald Trump speak for himself on this question. On June 28th, Amy, the Office of Management Budget of the White House put out, in writing, a proposal to privatize — i.e. break up — the Postal Service and sell it to private corporations, where they can then make private profit. And, of course, whether people get postal services at all will then depend on who they are, where they live, and how much it would cost, if they can even get services at all, because somebody would have to then be able to make or want to make a quick buck. So, it’s in writing. It is their plan.

So we’re very concerned that any policies that undermine and degrade service to the people of this country have a goal of undermining the public support for the Postal Service. You can’t privatize a public Postal Service that people trust, people love. Ninety-one percent of the people of the country, in a recent Pew Research poll, rated the post office favorably, at 91%. It’s the most popular brand, the number one brand, during this COVID pandemic. That’s an indication of how much people appreciate the role of postal workers, how much people trust it. So, the only way you can get to privatization is if you undermine people’s confidence and support in the institution. And anything that slows down the mail does that.

And if I could say, if we have time, Amy, just on vote-by-mail, we’ve been doing vote-by-mail for generations as postal workers. We’re not beholden to any candidate, any political party. It’s part of our proud civic responsibility and duty to the people of the country. And what’s more important than that, than providing access to the ballot box? It’s ever more popular from election cycle to election cycle. 2018, 31 million people voted by mail, including the president himself. There’s no difference between vote-by-mail and absentee balloting. And it’s been proven. The facts say that it works. And the state of Oregon has been doing it 19 years, by law, 100 million — over 100 million ballots cast, 15 cases of voter fraud. So, this idea that it’s corrupt, it’s fraudulent, that the results of the election shouldn’t be accepted, or the tyrannical trial balloon, that somehow the election maybe should be postponed because of the fraudulent problems with vote-by-mail, that in itself is a fraud on the people of this country. People can trust vote-by-mail. People are going to have to vote quickly when they get their ballots. But in this pandemic, literally, it’s going to make the difference between whether tens of millions of people have access to the ballot box. Postal workers can handle this. The idea that there’s not capacity is just wrong. And it really works well. And it’s a great way for people to exercise the hard-fought and cherished democratic right.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Dimondstein, I want to thank you for being with us, president of the American Postal Workers Union. And, David Dayen, I’d like to ask you to stay with us. After break, we want to look at Trump’s new coronavirus relief executive orders. What do they mean? Even Republican lawmakers have slammed them as unconstitutional. Stay with us.

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