Last week, President Donald Trump admitted that he is attempting to disrupt the November election by preventing the U.S. Postal Service from processing election ballots. This flagrant crime against democracy should be grounds for his swift impeachment and removal from office, and it demands an immediate, all-hands-on-deck oversight effort from congressional Democrats.
During an appearance on Fox Business, Trump attacked two provisions of the House coronavirus rescue bill that would fund basic election activities amid the ongoing pandemic.
“That’s election money, basically,” Trump told host Maria Bartiromo. “They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes, OK — universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all these millions and millions of ballots … if you don’t get those two items, that means you don’t have universal mail-in voting.”
Trump has been making wild claims about the supposedly nefarious process of sending a ballot through the mail for months, even going so far in July as to suggest that the threat posed by mail-in voting should be grounds to delay the November election. Conservative legal scholar and longtime Trump defender Steven Calabresi described that suggestion as “fascistic.”
But Trump has not relented. His new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy — a longtime Republican megadonor — has implemented chaotic cutbacks and rule changes at the agency that have resulted in massive shipping delays, leaving many Americans without medication or other essential items delivered through the mail. DeJoy and his staff have defended these disastrous policy changes by citing the Postal Service’s financial situation.
Last week, Trump made clear he does not want Congress to help improve that financial position, because doing so would enable more people to vote.
Last week, Trump forced Republicans to grapple with the question out in the open: Are they, like their president, enemies of democracy?
Voter suppression has long been a part of the Republican electoral playbook, particularly efforts to disenfranchise Black voters. But GOP officials typically shroud their efforts in complex policy terms or insist they are really concerned about other issues, like preventing voter fraud.
Trump has been more direct. Back in March, he blasted a different coronavirus rescue package from Democrats, telling Fox News, “The things they had in there were crazy … levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” The equation was pretty simple: More votes equals fewer Republicans.
There is, to be clear, nothing wild or crazy about voting through the mail. In 2016, 33 million Americans voted by mail, a number that should rise substantially in 2020 as coronavirus pandemic precautions discourage voters from standing in long lines and crowding into gymnasiums and other election sites.
American democracy has always been imperfect. It took a civil war for Black men to win the legal right to vote. American women had to fight for another half-century and immigrants from Asia were denied the right to naturalize as citizens ― and thus vote ― until 1952. In practice, these legal rights were often met with indifference or violence. Throughout our history, there have been forces and factions at work who worked to prevent America from realizing its democratic potential and unwind democratic protections already in place.
In different eras, these authoritarians have found solace in different political parties. Last week, Trump forced Republicans to grapple with the question out in the open: Are they, like their president, enemies of democracy?
The experience of the past four years does not offer much cause for optimism on that point. Typically, when Trump does something heinous, Republican leaders blanch for a moment, blink before the camera and then defend whatever the horror of the day may be.
Democrats cannot mirror this complacency. Trump admitted to a serious crime last week — one much more severe than his effort to coerce the Ukrainian government into attacking his political rival, which rightly resulted in his impeachment. House Democrats announced this week that they will return from their August recess to convene an emergency public hearing on the Postal Service crisis.
But this is not a moment for the theater of public questioning alone. It demands action — subpoenas, investigations and documentation that state lawmakers can use to bring legal action against the administration swiftly. Time is running out.