President Donald Trump has declared that he opposes additional funding for the US Postal Service.
Mr Trump acknowledged his position would starve the agency of money Democrats say it needs to process an anticipated surge in postal votes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Trump also claimed – falsely – that Democrats were pushing for universal postal voting and predicted without providing evidence that postal voting would lead to massive voter fraud in the November election.
Polls indicate Mr Trump is in for a tough re-election fight against Democrat Joe Biden.
The Republican president said on Fox Business Network that among the big sticking points for a new congressional virus relief package were the Democrats’ demands for billions of dollars to assist states in protecting the election and to help postal workers process votes.
Mr Biden, responding during a meeting in Delaware about coronavirus, told reporters the comments were “Pure Trump” and that the president “doesn’t want an election”.
Mr Trump told the broadcaster: “They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
He added: “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Mr Trump has moved to sow public distrust in the Postal Service’s ability to deliver what is expected to be record numbers of postal votes. The agency’s new leader, postmaster general Louis DeJoy, a major donor to Mr Trump and other Republicans, has instituted operational changes that have led to delivery delays across the US.
For Democrats, Mr Trump’s new remarks were a clear admission that the president is attempting to restrict voting rights.
Spokesperson for Mr Biden Andrew Bates said: “The President of the United States is sabotaging a basic service that hundreds of millions of people rely upon, cutting a critical lifeline for rural economies and for delivery of medicines, because he wants to deprive Americans of their fundamental right to vote safely during the most catastrophic public health crisis in over 100 years.”
Negotiations over a new virus relief package have all but ended, with the White House and congressional leaders far apart on the size, scope and approach for shoring up households, reopening schools and launching a national strategy to contain Covid-19.
While there is some common ground over 100 billion dollars for schools and new funds for virus testing, Democrats also want other emergency funds that Mr Trump rejects.
“They want 3.5 billion dollars for something that will turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically,” Mr Trump said during his interview.
Democrats have pushed for 10 billion dollars in all for the Postal Service in talks with Republicans on a huge Covid-19 response bill. That figure, which would include money to help with election post, is down from a 25 billion dollar plan in a House-passed coronavirus measure.
Mr DeJoy, who was hired to head the Postal Service by a Trump-appointed board of governors and started in June, has said that the agency is in a financially untenable position, but he maintains that it can handle this year’s election. He is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who is not a career postal employee.
Memos obtained by The Associated Press show that Postal Service leadership has pushed to eliminate overtime and halt late delivery trips that are sometimes needed to ensure post arrives on time, measures that postal workers and union officials say are delaying service. Additional records detail cuts to hours at post offices, including reductions on Saturdays and during lunch hours.