- Major changes at the U.S. Postal Service have increased concerns about both the future of the agency and its ability to collect mail-in ballots in time for the November election.
- Those changes have included the removal of several drop boxes and sorting machines; however, after much scrutiny this weekend, the USPS said it would stop removing mail boxes until after the election.
- Similarly, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has said that “no sorting machines” will be “going offline between now and the election.” It is unclear if his comment was an attempt to deny reports of sorting machines that are already said to have been removed.
- On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she was calling the House back to Washington D.C. to vote on a bill that would reverse the post office’s recent overhauls.
Sorting Machines and Mail Boxes Removed
The United States Postal Service has become a point of political focus in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. Over the last few days, concerns around the USPS have spiked even more following reports that the agency was removing mail-sorting machines and mailboxes from rotation.
According to multiple outlets, a plan outlined by Postmaster Louis DeJoy last month included decommissioning 10% of the postal service’s costly mail sorting machines. In raw numbers, that means decommissioning 671 of those machines, which are scattered across the country.
Widespread reporting of this plan surfaced on Thursday, following an interview with President Donald Trump on Fox News. In that interview, Trump said that he wants to deny funding to the USPS ahead of the elections so that the postal system won’t be able to handle an influx of mail-in ballots in November.
Notably, that’s been viewed by many as a blatant attempt to suppress mail-in voting, something that Trump has repeatedly claimed will lead to widespread fraud — even though there is no hard evidence to back up this claim.
Even before these reports, there were already fears that mail-in ballots could arrive at election offices late. For years, the USPS has been stressed. It’s understaffed. It’s not funded by tax dollars. It’s losing money.
As part of a massive overhaul of the agency, DeJoy also instructed it to cut overtime and to send out mail trucks on time even if all the mail for that run hasn’t been sorted yet.
Recently, the postal service warned 46 states and Washington D.C that it can’t guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted. If that happens, under the current system of most states, those ballots would be invalid — even if a person mailed their ballot on time.
Thus, many fear the removal of sorting machines could slow down and jeopardize that process even more.
But it’s not just sorting machines. Other reports from people online and even government officials appear to show photos of the postal service’s iconic blue mailboxes either being taken away or locked up.
Alongside both developments, there have been widespread reports of major delays in mail being delivered.
Why Are These Machines Being Removed?
When reports of these units being removed first surfaced, the public did not seem to have a concrete answer as to why this was happening. Reportedly, the USPS had not announced any new policy to local union officials. The agency also didn’t explain its reasoning or say what was going to happen to those machines and mailboxes.
Additionally, it was only learned that DeJoy planned to decommission 671 sorting machines after multiple outlets — such as The Washington Post, NBC, and CNN — obtained internal documents reportedly stating such.
The fact that sorting machines are being either removed, replaced, or modified is nothing new. That much happens all of the time; however, recent removals appear to be much more widespread than normal practices.
“Look at it this way,” one USPS employee at a Buffalo, New York, distribution center — which was set to lose six of its 21 machines — told VICE. “Your local grocery store was forced to cut 1/3 of its cash-out lines, but management expected the same productivity, quality, and speed for the customer. It’s just never going to happen.”
Still, traditional mail has been declining for years, and many distribution centers are now finding themselves having to sort through less mail than ever before. Because of that, it’s possible the USPS might not need as many of those machines or mailboxes. In fact, once the USPS publicly responded on the matter, that soon became their explanation.
“The Postal Service routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes,” a USPS spokesperson said. “Package volume is up, but mail volume continues to decline. Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations, and better service for our customers.”
Alongside that, on Friday, a USPS official told KSHB in Kansas City that several mail-processing machines in the area had been removed earlier in the summer “for efficiency and lower mail volume” related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a similar statement regarding mailboxes, a spokesperson explained that units are removed if they “consistently receive very small amounts of mail for months on end,” saying that having carriers drive to such locations drives up costs.
Regarding why other mailboxes have been spotted with locks, it appears that this could be a semi-routine way to stop after-hours theft, though it’s still unclear if this is actually the case. It’s also unclear if the practice has become more widespread recently or if this is mainly a case of people now noticing a routine occurrence.
USPS confirmed Friday that it will stop removing mailboxes until after the election.
Still, it does appear that changes to mailboxes and sorting machines may be — along with other changes — what has caused recent slowdowns and delays in mail delivery.
In a letter to employees, DeJoy reportedly said that the changes are simply “unintended consequences” and that his plan for the agency “will increase our performance for the election and upcoming peak season and maintain the high level of public trust we have earned for dedication and commitment to our customers throughout our history.”
Democrats, Celebs, and Others Criticize Recent Changes with USPS
A lot of people haven’t bought that explanation. Instead, they’ve argued that these changes are likely to hurt mail-in voting.
“We are 80 days out until the next election,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said. “I don’t think there’s any question that this is all related to the upcoming election. People in our community right now ought to begin writing letters and screaming and saying this is a misplaced political move.”
On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) issued a scathing statement that accused Trump of manipulating “the operations of the Post Office to deny eligible voters the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election.”
“The President’s own words confirm: he needs to cheat to win,” the joint statement says.
The idea of Trump needing to “cheat to win” is one that has grown increasingly popular over the last few weeks, with many accusing the president of suppressing mail-in voting efforts in an attempt to win the election. Though statistics do not show any partisan lean, Trump has repeatedly claimed that widespread mail-in voting will secure the White House for Democrats.
“Trump’s calculated dismantling of USPS proves one thing clearly: He is WELL AWARE that we do not want him as our president,” singer Taylor Swift said Saturday. “He’s chosen to blatantly cheat and put millions of Americans’ lives at risk in an effort to hold on to power.”
“Donald Trump’s ineffective leadership gravely worsened the crisis that we are in and he is now taking advantage of it to subvert and destroy our right to vote and vote safely,” she added. “Request a ballot early. Vote early.”
Alongside big-name responses, many protested this weekend outside of DeJoy’s house in D.C., as well as outside of his North Carolina mansion. Many held signs reading, “Deliver de Mail, Depose DeJoy.”
Will Trump Approve USPS Funding?
In response to the criticism against him, over the weekend, Trump responded by working to redirect the blame back to Democrats.
On Friday, Trump backpedalled on his previous statement that he’d block billions of dollars of funding from going to the USPS as part of the next coronavirus relief package. Instead, he said he would approve that funding, but only if Democrats give Republicans what they want.
On Saturday, Trump then continued his attack on the USPS by calling the agency a catastrophe, defending DeJoy, and saying, “Obviously, if you’re going to do these millions of ballots out of nowhere, he’s going to obviously need funding. But the Democrats aren’t willing to provide other things, and therefore, they’re not going to get the funding for that.”
States Work to Accommodate Mail-in Voting
Even with a stalemate between Trump and Congress, many states have been busy making moves to accommodate for ballots that could reach election officials after November 3rd.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania election officials asked the state’s Supreme Court for permission to count ballots arriving up to three days after election day.
On Sunday, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy told Fox News that his administration is working to ensure that votes are counted accurately in November. His plan would include expanding access to secure mails sites, as well as expansions to other precautions that aim to deliver mail-in ballots on time. Also included within that would be a measure to extend the deadline in which mail-in votes could be received, as long as they are postmarked by election day.
It’s also likely that a coalition of states’ will take action regarding concerns surrounding the USPS. Reportedly, the attorneys general for states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Washington, and North Carolina are expected to launch a lawsuit against the Trump Administration later this week.
In other states, however, those rules might not actually be able to be changed. Last month, the Michigan appeals court denied a request that would have allowed mail-in ballots to be counted even after polls close on election day. The state’s Supreme Court later refused to hear that case when the decision was appealed again.
Pelosi Calls House Back Early
On a federal level, Sunday, Pelosi announced she was calling the House of Representatives back from its August recess early to address concerns that the USPS is being used to undermine the November elections.
While up to this point, the debate in Congress has been centered around funding, the House is now expected to vote on a bill that wouldn’t center around that, but rather, organizational issues at the USPS.
In her announcement, Pelosi said that bill would prohibit “the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on January 1, 2020.”
If there was any room for debate over whether or not Pelosi was specifically targeting DeJoy’s recently outlined overhaul, she didn’t leave that question open-ended. In fact, she even called him a “complicit crony” of Trump in that announcement.
Pelosi also said that DeJoy has pushed “sweeping new operational changes that degrade postal service, delay the mail, and… threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.”
Mark Meadows Interview
Also on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that USPS sorting machines won’t be taken offline between now and Election Day.
However, Meadow’s response in that interview was delivered in such a roundabout way that multiple news outlets have all reported the information differently. In fact, even Tapper didn’t seem to fully understand what Meadows meant.
“There’s no sorting machines that are going offline between now and the election,” Meadows said. “That’s something that my Democrat friends are trying to do to stoke fear out there. That’s not happening.”
“Are you saying that sorting machines have not been taken offline and removed?” Tapper asked in response. “Are you asserting that? That that did not happen?”
“I’m saying that sorting machines between now and the election will not be taken offline,” Meadows said. “Listen, I had postal under my committee—”
“They’re the ones that have been taken offline in the last couple of months?” Tapper repeated.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Tapper continued to ask Meadows to clarify his statement.
“That’s not this postmaster general that did that,” Meadows eventually said. “That was the previous postmaster general under Obama.”
“I get that,” Tapper said. “Why were these sorting machines taken offline? Why were they taken offline and why is the postmaster general imposing these new rules?”
“Get your producer to share where exactly those sorting machines were taken offline,” Meadows said. “Let him whisper in your ear, because what I’m telling you is you’re picking up on a narrative that’s not based on facts.”
Since this interview, many have wondered if Meadows was denying that sorting machines have recently been decommissioned or if he was talking about from that moment specifically until election day. Others wonder if he was trying to blame former President Obama for DeJoy’s new policy.
According to reports, postal workers have said that the USPS started removing those machines back in June. That’s the same month DeJoy was appointed postmaster general.
It’s also been reported that the postal service inspector general is reviewing DeJoy’s policy changes and potential ethics conflicts.
DeJoy is slated to appear before the House Oversight Committee on September 17, although there have been concerns that this could come too late and would be ineffective at forcing him to reverse the changes.
Because of that, on Sunday, the Oversight Committee announced that it plans to hold an emergency hearing on mail-in voting next week. It’s now invited DeJoy to testify early.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”
Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees
The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
An Agency Crawling With Extremists
Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.
The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.
The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.
“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.
POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.
The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.
In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”
Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.
The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem
Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.
In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.
The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.
The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.
Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.
In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.