- 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)
House Panel Approves Commission To Study Reparations
- In a 25 to 17 vote along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would establish a commission to study slavery reparations for Black Americans.
- Republicans objected to the plan, arguing that it will cost too much money and that it is unfair to make all American taxpayers responsible for the consequences of slavery.
- Democrats pushed back, claiming the modern oppression of Black people still holds roots in slavery, and noting that the bill just creates a commission to study reparations, not implement them.
- While the proposal faces steep odds in the Senate, Wednesday’s historic vote will move the measure to the House floor for a full vote for the first time since it was introduced over three decades ago.
Reparation Commission Achieves First Approval
The House Judiciary Committee voted for the first time on Wednesday to advance a bill that will create a commission to consider paying slavery reparations for Black Americans.
The legislation was first proposed over 30 years ago, and if signed into law, it would create a 13-member commission that would study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S. and then give Congress a recommendation for “appropriate remedies” to best compensate Black Americans.
The measure passed the committee 25 to 17 along party lines, as expected, with objections from Republicans, who claimed reparations will cost too much and that they are unfair to Americans who have no history of enslavers in their families.
Democrats pushed back against those assertions, arguing that the federal government does have enough money to take some kind of action. They also noted that the commission will not actually implement any reparations, but rather just look into the options and then make a non-binding recommendation.
There are a lot of different ideas for what reparations could look like. While some support direct cash payments of various sizes, others have argued there are different proposals that might be more realistic to put into law, like no-interest loans for Black homeowners or free college tuition.
“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight. Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday.
Others also condemned the argument that some Americans, particularly those whose ancestors did not directly benefit from owning slaves, should not bear responsibility. They said that this line of thinking ignores both generational wealth, which vastly benefits white Americans over all others, as well as how Black Americans are hurt by modern-day discrimination and oppression that has roots in slavery.
“Slavery was indeed ended 150 years ago but racism never took a day off and is alive and well in America,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in committee Wednesday.
“You can ask the family members of Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd. Black folks in this country cannot keep living and dying like this. But we’ll be forced to do so if White folks in America continue to refuse to look back at history.”
While many have described the legislation as a flexible first step, any further congressional action will almost certainly be an uphill battle. The committee vote is just the very first step: the proposal still has to go to a vote by the full House, where it is unclear if it will even garner enough support among the House Democrats’ slim majority.
If it were to pass the lower chamber, the bill faces almost insurmountable odds in the 50-50 split Senate, where ten Republicans would have to join all Democrats to break the legislative filibuster.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he will start considering when to schedule the vote, though it is unlikely to be considered soon. Hoyer also urged President Joe Biden to use his executive power to create the commission if the legislation fails.
The White House has said that Biden supports the commission, but administration officials have not confirmed whether he would act unilaterally on the subject.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (Vox)
Biden To Pull All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11
- President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
- The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
- Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
- Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.
Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.
“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’
The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.
The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.
Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.
As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.
According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.
Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.
However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens.
Concerns Over Withdrawal
The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.
As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust
Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.
Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.
But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.
While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.
Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.
Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.
“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”
Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave.
Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.
“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”
In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.
“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.
The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.
“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”
It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)
Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen
- A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
- Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
- Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
- Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”
Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.
Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.
Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.
Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.
The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018.
In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”
The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.
One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.
Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.
Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.
“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”
Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.
“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.
The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.
Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.
It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.
The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.
The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.