Trump's postmaster general is playing with political fire

Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill Judge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes Postal service changes delayed 7 percent of nation's first-class mail: Democratic report MORE came to Washington to deliver for his ally, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE. He's stepping into a political minefield.

DeJoy was tapped this spring to be postmaster general by the Postal Board of Governors, headed by a former chairman of the Republican Party.

He is a big donor to Trump and the Republican Party; his qualifications to run the Postal Service were tangential.

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For Trump, however, the Postal Service is a big deal, particularly to check a pandemic-related surge in voting by mail which he thinks hurts him.

In earlier fiscal relief negotiations, Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinLawmakers fear voter backlash over failure to reach COVID-19 relief deal United Airlines, unions call for six-month extension of government aid House Democrats plan to unveil bill next week to avert shutdown MORE told congressional leaders the president would veto any bill that had money for the Postal Service. Unemployment is at the highest level since the Depression, a million small businesses are closing, kids can't go school and Trump's litmus test is the Postal Service.

Democratic leaders fired back this week, hauling DeJoy up to Congress to demand he stop slowing mail deliveries prior to the election. It was a contentious session. They also are demanding more money for the Postal Service in the current stalled deliberations over the COVID-19 relief bill, which may prolong the impasse.

Initially, Trump's primary target in his criticism of the Postal Service was Amazon because its CEO also owns The Washington Post whose coverage he didn't like. Amazon could easily find alternatives to sending its packages.

Now for the Trumpites it's all about mail voting. In 2016 and 2018, close to 40 percent of Americans voted by mail. That could almost double this fall with the pandemic concerns. States run elections, but the Postal Service is central to mail voting.

What the president cares about is a type of voting skewed to help him. In a recent interview with Axios's Jonathan Swan — the best Trump interview I've seen — the president appeared clueless that voting by mail (which he says is bad) and absentee voting (which he says is good) use the same vehicle: mail. Later he encouraged mail-in voting in Florida, after Republicans warned that his diatribes were backfiring in that state, while declaring it was bad in Nevada. When asked about the disparity, Trump emphasized that Florida has a Republican governor.

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Go figure.

The charge by Trump and his attorney general that mail voting risks massive fraud is a canard. Spencer Cox, the conservative Republican lieutenant governor of Utah, who oversees voting in one of five states that exclusively votes by mail, says it's a "tremendous success" with little fraud.

The stated reason for going after the Postal Service is red ink which totaled $8.8 billion last year. A little bit of context on Donald Trump worrying about deficits: As a businessman, he bragged about being "the King of Debt," and on his watch, the federal deficit has almost doubled to close to $1 trillion, before the pandemic.

The new postmaster general is a Trump loyalist. He has given $2 million to Republicans and Trump campaigns since 2016, the latest being a $210,000 contribution to the Trump Victory Fund in February. He was going to be finance chair of the Republicans’ Charlotte convention before it was curtailed; his wife has been nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Canada.

DeJoy told the Postal Board of Governors Friday that he's not making any changes that will impede voting by mail and declared: although he has a "a good relationship" with the president, any assertion he'd make decisions at the direction of Trump "is wholly off-base."

In response to an email from me, he wouldn't say whether he spoke with Trump about the job prior to his appointment or has communicated with him since taking over.

He has not assuaged Democrats.

Congressman Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyJudge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D-Va.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, told me: "Trump has appointed a donor and political crony to undermine the postal service for partisan gain."

In the first month and half under DeJoy, instructions have gone out to the more than 600,000 postal workers to curb any overtime and cut back services.

There's a more pressing need for overtime during this health crisis. Most postal workers are out every day, exposed to the virus. Three months ago — the latest data — some 2,400 postal employees had tested positive for the virus; 17,000 had been quarantined, and scores died. Those numbers undoubtedly have risen since then.

DeJoy is playing with political fire.

In a recent Hart Research-North Star Opinion Research national survey, 94 percent of Americans say the Postal Service is important to them, and there's widespread backing of federal support. A large number of the 31,000 post offices are in rural America, areas that are generally more dependent on mail delivery and that are represented by Republicans.

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There will be a final fiscal relief measure that sends out checks for which Trump plans to take credit. Some payments, approved by Congress months ago, still haven't gotten out because of problems at the Internal Revenue Service.

Imagine if after cutbacks at the Postal Service some of this next round of checks are also delayed by the IRS — and then are held up another four or five days because of postal cutbacks...

They’d arrive November 4.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.