During ongoing controversy over United States Postal Service slowdowns and mail-in voting in August 2020, historian Heather Cox Richardson posted a status update to Facebook quoting United States President Donald Trump as saying that withholding USPS funding meant “they can’t have universal mail-in voting”:
The post began:
August 13, 2020 (Thursday)
Today was another one for the history books.
This morning, in an interview with Fox Business Network’s Maria Bartiromo, Trump came out and said it: he wants to starve the United States Postal Service to destroy mail-in voting. Claiming that mail-in voting favors Democrats, he said: “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots… Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
It was fairly easy to determine the veracity of the quote; myriad news outlets in the United States and abroad covered the interview between Trump and Bartiromo on August 13 2020. A clip of the comments also circulated on Twitter:
Trump this morning why he won’t fund US Postal Service. “Now they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots … But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.” pic.twitter.com/73NBmSnoNC
— The Recount (@therecount) August 13, 2020
That video clip started with Trump saying “they want,” with no previous context about the “they” he referenced. Those comments appeared after memes began circulating, warning voters to avoid using USPS to submit ballots in November 2020:
Both controversies occurred against the backdrop of comments made by Trump in March 2020, in which he appeared to express disapproval of broader access to voting:
Trump openly admitting if we made voting easier in America, Republicans wouldn't win elections
Trump: "The things they had in there were crazy. They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again." pic.twitter.com/x5HmX6uogo
— Lis Power (@LisPower1) March 30, 2020
With respect to the August 13 2020 Bartiromo interview on Fox Business, most clips and transcripts started with “they,” making it not entirely clear which “they” Trump referenced. However, Slate published a partial transcript of the portion of the video about USPS funding and mail-in voting. Bartiromo asked what specifically Democrats were seeking that was “causing a breakdown in any deals”:
Bartiromo: What specifically are they pushing for that is causing a breakdown in any deals? Nancy Pelosi said that the Democrats and the White House are still miles apart on any stimulus.
Trump responded, indicating “they” were congressional Democrats:
Trump: Well they’re right. And it’s their fault. They want $3.5 billion for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent. That’s election money, basically. They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion—billion—for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren’t getting there. By the way, those are just two items. But if you don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting. Because they’re not equipped to have it. And you see how bad it’s been with this Carolyn Maloney scam. She scammed her way into an election she probably lost. But they said mail-in ballots, its all mixed up. Paterson, New Jersey, same thing. Yesterday Virginia, 500,000 applications for ballots got sent to everybody, nobody even knows. Got sent to dogs. Got sent to dead people. Nobody has no idea what happened. They said, Oh we made a mistake, I’m sorry. Five hundred thousand ballots sent in Virginia. How do you feel about Virginia going in there when you have 500,000 phony ballot applicants? And this is all over.
Bartiromo asked about whether quibbling over USPS funding and infrastructure for mail-in voting was “holding up money for the American people,” referring to stimulus payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In his second response, Trump confirmed that funding for mail-in voting was at issue in broader negotiations:
Bartiromo: This is what’s holding up money for the American people? They want mail-in voting and they want money for the post office? This is one of the sticking points that’s holding back stimulus for Americans during this coronavirus?
Trump: That’s one of them.
Trump: That’s one of them. That’s right. Maria, how would you like to have $3.5 billion for mail-in voting. Billion! You know how much that is? Nobody has any idea, you people, Oh, you know, 3½ billion. They want $25 billion for the post office, because the post office is going to have to go to town to get these ridiculous ballots in. You know, there’s nothing wrong with getting out and voting. They voted during World War I and World War II. And they should have voter ID, because the Democrats scam the system. But two of the items are the post office, and $3.5 billion dollars for mail-in voting. Now, if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it. So, you know.
As such, the comments Heather Cox Richardson shared were accurate; Trump said Democrats sought money in order to have the post office functioning “so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” and “if we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” and “they can’t have universal mail-in voting … they just can’t have it.” The commentary occurred across exchanges with Bartiromo, in the same short section of an interview on Fox Business. The segment in its entirety can be viewed here.