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The Morning Dispatch: The Postal Service Drama Continues
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The Morning Dispatch: The Postal Service Drama Continues

Plus, Trump tries to play to the fears of suburban voters. Will it work?

Happy Monday! To quote both President Trump on his own Cabinet and Declan on the Cubs’ three-game losing streak: “I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with everybody, frankly.”

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The United States confirmed 43,781 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, with 5.6 percent of the 782,528 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 589 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 170,052.

  • A report by the Government Accountability Office—an independent congressional watchdog—found that Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli were improperly appointed to their current roles and are therefore ineligible to serve. The GAO’s opinion is not legally binding, but will likely result in a flurry of lawsuits regarding actions taken by DHS during Wolf’s tenure.

  • Amid mounting internal pressure to relinquish power, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko reportedly appealed to Vladimir Putin over the phone for Russian military support.

  • Tens of thousands of Iowans remain without power a week after a derecho whipped through the Midwest. Gov. Kim Reynolds requested $4 billion in disaster relief from the federal government.

  • Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith will plead guilty to altering a government email used to justify continued surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Clinesmith’s case is the first stemming from U.S. Attorney John Durham’s review of the Justice Department’s probe of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

  • The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for a new, less invasive COVID-19 test that relies on saliva samples, a move that could drastically increase testing efficiency and capacity.

  • President Trump’s younger brother Robert died at the age of 71 over the weekend. “He was not just my brother, he was my best friend,” the president said. “He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again.”

USPS Drama Continues …

Congressional Democrats issued a joint statement on Sunday demanding that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan testify before the House Oversight Committee during an “urgent” hearing on August 24, following what Democrats call the “sweeping and dangerous operational changes at the Postal Service that are slowing the mail and jeopardizing the integrity of the election.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also announced Sunday that Congress will return from recess to vote on emergency USPS legislation.

As we explained in Friday’s Morning Dispatch, the USPS saga intensified Thursday, when President Trump said during an interview with Fox Business that he opposes the Democrats’ $25 billion funding proposal for the USPS because, without it, “you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.” Trump also said that “[Democrats] want $3.5 billion for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent.”

Unsurprisingly, Democrats were quick to condemn the president’s admission. And the fact that the president openly acknowledged his desire to block funding to prevent additional mail-in voting earned criticism from leaders beyond his political opponents. In an op-ed for the Washington Post this morning, Admiral William McRaven, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, writes, “As Trump seeks to undermine the U.S. Postal Service and stop mail-in voting, he is taking away our voice to decide who will lead America.”

Further, the USPS sent letters to 46 states warning them there’s a chance the service might not be able to deliver all ballots in time to be counted for the November election.

Given the recent comments from the president, proposed changes to postal operations, and warnings from the USPS itself, there are reasons to be concerned about the role the postal service will play in the coming election. But how significant are these concerns and what effect might they have? Are Trump’s words—as they so often are—just bluster?

Perhaps in response to the uproar of the past week, the USPS paused some of its plans to downsize. “Given the recent customer concerns,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum said on Sunday, “the Postal Service will postpone removing boxes for a period of 90 days while we evaluate our customers concerns.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows addressed a similar concern. “Sorting machines between now and Election Day will not be taken off line,” he said on CNN. “The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way, whether it’s the post office or anything else.”

In a USPS Board of Governors meeting earlier this month, DeJoy said the operational changes—which include reducing mail-sorting machines and overtime pay for workers, among other things—were instituted for financial purposes, citing concerns over the USPS’ “broken business model” and “nearly $80 billion of cumulative losses [the USPS has] experienced since 2007.”

The U.S. Postal Service has long been in dire financial straits. As Dispatch contributor Jeryl Bier notes, the Washington Post wrote in July 2009 that “in the past 20 years, 200,000 mailboxes have vanished from city streets, rural routes and suburban neighborhoods.” The optics of further mailbox removals coming months before a presidential election in which one of the candidates is continually railing about mail-in votes are not great, but seeking efficiencies is not a new phenomenon.

Further, even a slightly reduced-capacity USPS should be able to handle an influx of absentee ballots leading up to November. About 137 million ballots were cast in the 2016 election. For the sake of argument, let’s say the electorate expands to 150 million voters this year, and all 150 million want to vote by mail (they don’t—a July ABC News poll found 59 percent still prefer to vote in person). That 150 million (spread over a couple of weeks) should be able to be accommodated, given USPS’ self-reported claim of delivering 2.5 billion packages and pieces of mail in one week leading up to Christmas.

ProPublica reporter Jessica Huseman, who covers election administration and voting rights, put it this way: “There is reason to be concerned about policy changes there is not necessarily reason to absolutely panic and lose faith in the system.”

Thomas J. Marshall, general counsel and executive vice president of the Postal Service, is less concerned about the volume of election mail than he is the timing. USPS officials have estimated that ballots will constitute less than 2 percent of mail from mid-September through November 3. Deadlines, per Marshall, are the real concern. He warned that “ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them.” As Bier points out, this seems to have more to do with the states themselves than it does the post office.

Finally, as Sarah has mentioned in her Sweep newsletter, mistakes in mail-in voting are much more difficult to correct than mistakes in in-person voting. Nevada, for example, invalidated roughly 6,700 ballots in its June primary because signatures were unverifiable. Tens of thousands of ballots were invalidated in New York’s June primary over signature mishaps and improper postmarking. More than 18,500 ballots were discounted in Florida’s March primary because they were received after the election deadline. Given that 72 percent of Donald Trump’s supporters plan to cast their votes in person while 62 percent of Joe Biden’s supporters will cast theirs by mail, these ballot invalidations could take on a partisan split.

Not in My Neighborhood!

President Trump’s polling isn’t looking too great with most voters right now—CNN’s latest poll shows him trailing Biden by 4 points, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday has him down 9 points to Biden, a CBS News/YouGov survey shows Biden with a 10-point lead—but his sliding numbers with one group in particular could doom him in November.

As Andrew writes in a piece for the site, white suburban women were “credited with helping send [Trump] to the White House in 2016,” but the demographic subgroup “drove the blue wave election of 2018, and doesn’t seem inclined to return to the GOP fold this year either.”

Enter Trump’s Hail Mary:

What is the “Obama-Biden AFFH rule”?

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing was intended to strengthen enforcement of the Fair Housing sections of the 1968 Civil Rights Act by creating opportunities for minorities to move into America’s still largely white suburbs. The rule required jurisdictions that receive federal funds for housing or urban development to assess whether they have patterns of housing discrimination in their communities, and if so to try to find ways to rectify it. In practice, that would likely mean loosening some local zoning restrictions to allow for the construction of some denser and more affordable housing—in a word, apartments—in some jurisdictions that currently forbid them.

Do pollsters think this move could benefit Trump?

“The trend of Republican weakness in the suburbs has continued based on current polling,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres told The Dispatch. “The only issues white suburban women really care about today are the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting effects on our economy and educational system.”

“Most suburbs have become far more demographically diverse,” he added. “So to the extent that racial issues penetrate the dominance of the pandemic and its effects, it’s that white suburban women do not want to be associated with any positions perceived to be racially offensive.”

Worth Your Time

  • “This is the true story of an untrue story,” Andy Kroll writes in his Rolling Stone exposé—based on tens of thousands of pages of court documents and dozens of interviews—on how Fox News mainstreamed conspiracy theories surrounding the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich. “Fox’s loudest voice, Sean Hannity, continued to amplify the piece,” Kroll notes about a FoxNews.com story alleging a connection between Rich’s murder and Wikileaks. “Day after day, he built a larger and larger edifice atop a report whose foundations were crumbling. Even as the story started to fall apart, Hannity insisted that he was ‘not backing off.’ He would continue ‘asking these questions’ about Rich’s murder ‘because the media is trying to destroy a sitting president.’”

  • Olivia Nuzzi talked to 30 different sources in her account of Brad Parscale’s last few weeks at the helm of the Trump campaign, and lays out the daunting task ahead of his successor, Bill Stepien. “[President Trump’s] closest advisers were now telling him that the bad numbers and bad reviews weren’t the fruits of Fake News or a deep-state hoax but a genuine reflection of what could happen in November,” Nuzzi writes. “Though it took some time for him to accept it. The president recently asked a second senior White House official to review Biden’s performance after watching him speak. ‘I said, ‘I think if we lose to this guy, we’re really pathetic,’’ the official told me. ‘The president said to me, ‘I’m not losing to Joe Biden.’ I said, ‘You’re losing to Joe Biden.’”

  • Ahead of the Obamas’ headlining appearances at the Democratic National Convention, Alex Thompson of Politico explores the Obama-Biden dynamic as it exists beyond unity-fostering advertisements and campaign speeches. Despite Biden’s insistence that Obama is “an extraordinary man, an extraordinary president,” fractures between the former president and vice president began to show during Obama’s presidency and the 2016 election—when Obama openly endorsed Hillary Clinton over Biden. “As is sometimes the case in a troubled marriage, there were three people in the Obama-Biden relationship,” Thompson writes. “And the person who ultimately came between Obama and Biden was Hillary Clinton.”

Something Fun

In a very different world, we would have just wrapped up the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The games were rescheduled to next July, but the fireworks weren’t going to last that long.* (See correction below.)

https://youtu.be/r9fSwpZtUu8

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In Sunday’s French Press, David looks at the stakes in November. “There are two things I believe at once. First, there is nothing about the policies of either the Biden/Harris ticket or the Trump administration that will end America…Second, however, it is absolutely true that hate, fear, dishonesty, and corruption can represent an existential threat to our continued existence as a united republic. Flight 93-ism itself presents a danger.” Fatalism itself presents more existential danger than any external threat or misguided policy decision. “The lesson from history is clear,” he writes. “Profound divisions create the kindling for conflict, yet it takes hate and fear to provide the spark that ignited the flame.”

  • Why is House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy welcoming Marjorie Greene—the racist, conspiracy-mongering Republican nominee in Georgia’s 14th district—into the GOP with open arms? In a new Dispatch Podcast, Sarah, Steve, and Declan look at that question and put the controversy into proper context.

  • David commandeered The Remnant feed once again last Friday, bringing back fan favorite Ramesh Ponnuru from National Review and the American Enterprise Institute. There’s the requisite Kamala Harris talk, but also deeper questions about ideology, and the “burn it down” debates.

  • This week marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Audrey Fahlberg looks at the gender gap that has emerged among women voters since the 1980 election.

Let Us Know

John Kasich, the former congressman and Republican governor of Ohio, is slated to speak at the Democratic National Convention tonight, alongside Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama, and Amy Klobuchar. He told CNN last night that another former GOP member of Congress will be joining him in endorsing Joe Biden later today. 

Two questions: 1) Who is Kasich talking about? 2) Which Republican switching sides would be the funniest to see? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Nate Hochman (@njhochman), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Correction, August 17, 2020: The fireworks video linked above, while astounding, is not, in fact, the Tokyo Olympic fireworks display, but rather a simulation. Read a fact-check debunking the claims here. We regret the error. And as an outlet dedicated to fact-based news and analysis with our own fact-checking department, we’re embarrassed about it, too. We’ll do better, even in our ‘Something Fun’ section.

Photograph by John Lamparski/Getty Images.