Letters From an American

Just Another Friday Night News Dump

Just Another Friday Night News Dump

Photo by De'Nick'nise | Flickr CC 2.0

America’s top news continues to touch on the upcoming election.

The Friday night news dump was about the United States Postal Service. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump loyalist, has recently created new rules for the agency that have dramatically slowed the delivery of mail just as mail-in voting for 2020 has begun. Today, DeJoy overhauled the USPS, releasing a new organizational chart that displaces postal executives with decades of experience and concentrates power in DeJoy himself. Twenty-three executives have been reassigned or fired; five have been moved in from other roles. The seven regions of the nation will become four, and the USPS will have a hiring freeze. DeJoy says the new organization will create “clear lines of authority and accountability.”

There is reason to be suspicious of DeJoy’s motives. Not only have his new regulations slowed mail delivery, but also under him the USPS has told states that ballots will have to carry first-class 55-cent postage rather than the normal 20-cent bulk rate, almost tripling the cost of mailing ballots. This seems to speak to Trump’s wish to make mail-in ballots problematic for states. And DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Wos, whom Trump has nominated to become ambassador to Canada, own between $30.1 million and $75.3 million of assets in competitors to the USPS. This seems to speak to the report issued by the Trump administration shortly after the president took office, calling for the privatization of the USPS.

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called out the policies that slowed the delivery of essential mail, “including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters.” They called for DeJoy’s recent changes to be reversed.

But that was not the only news today that touches on the election. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released a statement saying that the 2020 election is being threatened by foreign actors.

It was a carefully worded statement, obviously trying to say that China, Russia, and Iran were equally involved in affecting the upcoming election. But the assessment simply says that China prefers that Trump not win reelection and has said so, and that Iran will probably spread disinformation and anti-American content online.

Russia, in contrast, is actively at work to help Trump and hurt presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. “For example,” Evanina writes, “pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

Derkach has repeatedly met with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has publicized information Derkach has provided. Derkach “doesn’t seem pro-Russian to me,” Giuliani said. In contrast, Michael Carpenter, a former senior Defense Department official now advising Biden on foreign policy, says Derkach’s trickle-release of tapes purporting to be damaging to Biden are “a KGB-style disinformation operation tied to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine whose chief aim is to make deceptive noise in the U.S. election campaign to advance the interests of their oligarchic backers, the Kremlin, and the faltering Trump campaign.”

Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, who is scrutinizing Joe Biden’s son Hunter and the Ukrainian company on whose board he sat, seems also to be entertaining the idea that Derkach’s tapes show Biden’s corruption. Johnson is working with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Their actions prompted Pelosi and Schumer to ask the FBI to brief all members of Congress about the ongoing Russia disinformation campaign. What they got, apparently, was today’s announcement.

Meanwhile, news dropped today that while Trump has refused to bring up with Putin the reports that Russian operatives paid Taliban-linked fighters to kill American or allied troops, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did so. Pompeo was allegedly “livid’ at the bounty story. It seems likely that Pompeo’s newfound independence has more to do with his political ambitions than with the principle of protecting our troops. Certainly, with the president calling the bounty story a “hoax,” it is unlikely the Russians will pay Pompeo’s anger any attention.

Staunch Trump supporter and evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, Jr. will be taking an “indefinite leave of absence” from the presidency of Liberty University after Falwell posted to Instagram a picture of himself with his pants unzipped and open, with his arm around a young woman similarly undressed. Liberty University is an evangelical college, and was founded by Falwell’s father.

This will not help the president. Evangelical support for Trump has been wavering such that Trump yesterday felt obliged to tell supporters in Ohio that Biden, a staunch Catholic who has been open about his faith, believes in “no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God.”

Last night, a judge ruled that Trump can no longer stall a defamation lawsuit filed by E. Jean Carroll,  an advice columnist who claims Trump raped her twenty years ago. Carroll sued Trump when he called her a liar. Her lawyers will now be able to depose Trump, and to try to get a DNA test from him to compare the results to material on the dress she was wearing when he allegedly attacked her. Today Carroll tweeted at the president: “IT’S ON!! See you in court.”

Talks between Democratic leadership and the White House over a new coronavirus relief bill fell apart today. With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) first refusing to take up the bill the House passed in May and now boycotting the negotiations, the job of writing a new bill has fallen to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The Democrats have proposed a $3.4 trillion bill that extends federal unemployment benefits, provides $915 billion in direct aid to workers, shores up state and local governments, and provides $3.6 billion to enable officials to run the 2020 election. The White House wants a $1 trillion bill that provides significantly less money in direct aid, election protection, and so on. It also does not want to provide aid to schools unless they reopen in person immediately.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of being unwilling to compromise because the cratering economy will hurt Trump’s reelection prospects. Today, the Democrats offered to compromise with a bill that appropriates $2 trillion, but Meadows and Mnuchin rejected it out of hand. “The Speaker made a very fair offer — let’s narrow each — and you should’ve seen the vehemence,” Schumer said. “You should’ve seen their faces, ‘absolutely not.’ I said, ‘you mean you want it to go almost all in your direction or you won’t negotiate?’ and they said, ‘yeah.’”

Tonight, at a press conference at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump said that with the talks falling apart, he will provide money for the programs he wants—including payroll tax cuts that will take money from Social Security– through executive orders. “If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage, I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need,” Trump said. But this action would create a crisis, since the Constitution gives to the House of Representatives sole authority to appropriate money.

The Founders gave the House of Representatives what is known as “the power of the purse” because they wanted to guarantee that the Chief Executive would never be able to dictate laws solely on his own authority.

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