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On Politics: Putting a Stamp (or Not) on Vote-by-Mail

Email sent: May 21, 2020 6:55am

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President Trump makes false claims, and Mike Pompeo faces scrutiny: This is your morning tip sheet.
Good morning and welcome to On Politics, a daily political analysis of the 2020 elections based on reporting by New York Times journalists.

Where things stand

  • In-person voting during a pandemic can be hazardous. Need evidence? Look to Wisconsin, where studies have linked last month’s elections to a rise in coronavirus infections. That’s why Michigan yesterday joined other states — including some controlled by Republicans — that are sending applications for absentee ballots to all registered voters in their congressional primaries and the general election. And it’s why Nevada, which has a Republican secretary of state, has moved to an almost entirely vote-by-mail election and will send ballots to all active registered voters in its primary.
  • The shift toward mail voting has angered President Trump, who has said in the past that giving voters easy access to the ballot would threaten Republicans’ electoral chances. Yesterday he unleashed a series of tweets falsely accusing Nevada and Michigan of illegally supporting voter fraud, and he threatened to withhold election funding unless they cut back on vote-by-mail plans. He referred to a “great Voter Fraud scenario” in Nevada that would let people “cheat in elections,” and in a since-deleted post he incorrectly said that Michigan was sending “absentee ballots to 7.7 million people.” (The state is sending applications, not ballots; Trump later corrected his tweet and backed off his threat to hold back funding.)
  • As he draws a hard line against expanding vote-by-mail, Trump has also sharpened his attacks on the Postal Service, saying it has been mismanaged and pushing to constrain its funding. Like his recent tensions with the widely trusted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those attacks may not resonate with most Americans: Gallup polling has consistently shown the post office to be the country’s most popular federal agency. But the president’s arguments may find a receptive ear in Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally and longtime Republican donor who will take over as the United States’ postmaster general next month. The Postal Service’s board of governors voted this month to elevate DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman, despite his having no experience in the post office or postal work. Trump has pushed the Postal Service to charge large companies — like, say, Jeff Bezos’ Amazon — far more for deliveries, and his administration has actively prevented Congress from sending emergency funding to the struggling agency.
  • Joe Biden called out Trump yesterday for ousting a string of government watchdogs, and he said Republicans in Congress had failed to stand up to the president. “That used to be a hobbyhorse for Republican senators,” Biden said. “They were strongly, strongly, strongly supportive of these independent inspector generals.” He then asked: “Why aren’t they speaking up about this?” Biden spent decades in the Senate before becoming vice president, and he singled out his former colleague Charles Grassley, who has long made government transparency a signature issue. (A Grassley spokesman responded in a tweet saying the senator had “demanded answers.”) One of the inspectors Trump has removed is Glenn Fine, who was set to oversee the trillions in coronavirus-related stimulus funding that Congress passed in March. Biden said that if elected president, he would install a new inspector general “on Day 1” to ensure stimulus money was “spent fairly and transparently.”
  • The C.D.C. released detailed guidelines for reopening public accommodations and businesses over the weekend — but it’s almost as if nobody was supposed to notice. The Trump administration shot down the agency’s originally proposed guidelines, saying they could slow the economic recovery and impinge on religious liberty. Last week, the C.D.C. put out a pared-back set of checklists for various establishments to use as they moved toward reopening; it didn’t release one for religious institutions. Then reports arrived this week, belatedly, that the C.D.C. had released a 60-page document, longer than the original rejected guidelines, that proposes reopening in “a three-phased approach” aimed at “reducing community mitigation measures while protecting vulnerable populations.” The guidelines similarly steer clear of addressing religious institutions, and they do not mention a mechanism for enforcement. “The phased approach,” they state, “can be implemented statewide or community-by-community at governors’ discretion.”

Photo of the day

President Donald Trump at a coronavirus meeting with the Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Kansas Governor Laura Kelly in the Cabinet Room of the White House.Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Trump at a coronavirus meeting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas at the White House on Wednesday.

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Mike Pompeo acknowledges that he wanted his own inspector general fired. He just won’t say why.

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, has been in hot water since last week, when reports emerged that he had asked the president to fire a government watchdog who was investigating him for possible misuse of government funds.

Yesterday Pompeo stood before reporters to defend himself, saying it was “patently false” that his request had been intended to quell the investigation — which was in its final stages when Steve Linick, the State Department’s lead inspector general, was dismissed last week.

Linick has since been locked out of his office, despite regulations stipulating a 30-day grace period for terminated inspectors general, meant to allow Congress to raise objections. Democrats in both houses of Congress have begun an investigation.

Pompeo said yesterday that he wished he had pushed for Linick’s firing even sooner, but he did not offer any explanation for why he had wanted him gone.

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Linick was reportedly investigating whether Pompeo had used government resources to pay for personal expenses, as well as the Trump administration’s decision to defy Congress in selling arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

An NBC News investigation released this week found that Pompeo had held about two dozen private dinner parties on the federal government’s dime, convening chief executives, political operatives, Supreme Court justices and diplomats. State Department officials have reportedly raised concerns internally about whether the events, referred to as “Madison Dinners,” had more to do with Pompeo’s political ambitions than with department business.

The department’s Foreign Affairs Manual prohibits the “use, or allowing use, of U.S. government funds, property or other resources for unofficial proposes or for private benefit.”

On the brink: Coronavirus and the economy

Join us today at 11 a.m. as we discuss how, from retailers to oil drillers to gyms, the economic toll from the Covid-19 crisis is forcing companies across sectors into restructuring mode or outright bankruptcy. And industries bound for consolidation will test the limits of antitrust regulations. What’s the outlook for distressed companies and their workers? How will the corporate landscape be remade? We’ll field these questions.

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Special guests are Sapna Maheshwari, a business reporter covering retail; and Michael de la Merced, a DealBook reporter covering Wall Street and finance. The hosts are Andrew Ross Sorkin, the DealBook founder; and Jason Karaian, the DealBook editor.

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