US President Donald Trump has admitted he opposes giving the US Postal Service extra funding because he doesn't want to facilitate an increase in mail voting ahead of November's presidential election.
Negotiations over a new coronavirus stimulus package have stalled in Congress. One of the things Trump's democratic political opponents are pushing for is $US25 billion ($38 billion) in additional funding for the cash-strapped Postal Service.
They also want US$3.6 billion ($5.51 billion) to be provided to state and local governments to help them deal with the difficulties associated with holding an election during the pandemic.
That includes money to provide more mail-in ballots to Americans, which would allow them to vote without lining up in public spaces and risking exposure to the virus.
But Trump believes a rise in mail voting will lead to widespread fraud.
"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," Trump told Fox Business today.
"They want $25 billion for the Post Office. 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.
"If they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting, because you – they're not equipped to have it."
The President added: "There's nothing wrong with getting out and voting."
He said: "They voted during World War I and World War II."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the most senior Democrat in Congress, responded to Trump during an interview with MSNBC.
"In the legislation we have $25 billion. That is the number that is recommended by the board of governors of the US Postal Service," Pelosi said.
"They recommended $25 billion."
That board of governors is bipartisan. Trump appointed each of its current members.
Senior Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein called the President's stance "unacceptable".
"In the middle of a global pandemic, the safest way for voters to cast their ballots is through the mail. It's unbelievable that an American president wants to defund the Postal Service to prevent individuals from exercising their constitutional right to vote," Feinstein said.
"As we approach a momentous election where more Americans are expected to vote by mail than ever before, it's critical that the Postal Service is able to deliver ballots on time.
"Funding the Postal Service and allowing voters to safely cast their ballots shouldn't be a partisan issue."
Trump's election opponent, Joe Biden, briefly addressed the President's remarks on his way into a coronavirus briefing with health experts.
"President Trump today said that he opposes funding for the Postal Service, tying it to mail-in voting. What do you think of that?" CNN reporter Arlette Saenz asked him.
"Pure Trump. He doesn't want an election," Biden replied.
A short time later, the Biden campaign released a longer statement on the matter.
"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," spokesman Andrew Bates said.
"Even Donald Trump's own campaign has endorsed voting by mail, and his own administration has conclusively refuted his wild-eyed conspiracy theories about the most secure form of voting.
"This is an assault on our democracy and economy by a desperate man who is terrified that the American people will force him to confront what he's done everything in his power to escape for months – responsibility for his own actions."
Trump got a chance to defend himself during today's White House media briefing, where he engaged in a lengthy discussion with CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins.
"This morning you said that you do not want to fund the US Postal Service because Democrats are trying to expand voting by mail. So I've got two questions for you," Collins said.
"One, are you threatening to veto any legislation that includes funding for the Post Office?"
"No. Not at all, no," Trump relied.
"So you would sign something that does include funding?" she pressed.
"Sure. A separate thing, I would do it. But one of the reasons the Post Office needs that much money is all of these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere, and nobody knows from where, and where they're going," the President said.
"You saw what happened, Kaitlan, in Virginia. It was 500,000 applications coming in, going all over the state. Nobody even knows where they came from."
The ballot applications in question came from an organisation called the Centre for Voter Information. About 580,000 applications bearing inaccurate information were sent to voters – they included prepaid return envelopes addressed to the wrong registrar's office.
The organisation has blamed the mistake on a printing error.
Trump went on to cite two other examples, in New York and New Jersey.
He pointed out that the funding for the Postal Service was part of a much larger negotiation between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
"Post Office is part of it. Another part of it is they want $3.5 billion just for the ballots themselves. Why it's so much, I don't know, but that's what the Democrats want," Trump said.
"But if the bill isn't going to get done, that would mean the Post Office isn't going to get funded, and that would also mean that the $3.5 billion isn't going to be taken care of. So I don't know how you could possibly use these ballots, mail-in ballots.
"Absentee ballots, by the way, are fine. But the universal mail-ins that are just sent all over the place, where people can grab them and grab stacks of them and sign them and do whatever you want, that's the thing we're against."
In practice, there isn't a lot of difference between absentee and mail-in ballots.
Each of America's 50 states has its own rules. Some of them require voters to actually be absent from their homes in order to be eligible for an absentee ballot, whereas eligibility for mail-in ballots is broader.
The policy Trump is particularly worked up about, called "universal mail-in" voting, involves the government automatically sending every registered voter a mail-in ballot, without requiring them to request one.
Some states already do this, and Democrats have pushed for others to follow suit. Ultimately, it's a decision each state will make on its own.
"But isn't that precisely the problem?" Collins followed up.
"You're saying you do not want to give the Post Office this funding in this coronavirus legislation. They say they need it so they can be prepared, so if the pandemic is still going on in November when the election happens, and people don't feel safe to go vote in person, they can vote by mail, and it can be safe and it can be secure."
"I can understand the Post Office. And if we can agree to a bill, the whole bill, which is obviously a much bigger number than just the Post Office, that would be fine. But they (the Democrats) have the Post Office as one of their requests. It's their request," Trump said.
"Mr President, this morning you said you were against it, didn't you?" Collins interjected.
"I'm only against – what I'm against, I'm against doing anything where the people aren't taken care of. And the people aren't being taken care of properly," he said.
"We want people to get money. It wasn't their fault that they got shut down."
That was a reference to the broader stimulus negotiations.
The Republicans and Democrats have been arguing about how much money to give people (among other things), which is why Trump tried to take matters into his own hands by signing some executive orders earlier this week.
"These are two points within a very big deal," Trump continued.
"The thing they want more than anything else, Kaitlan, and you know this, is bailout money for the states and cities that are in trouble. Which, for the most part, are Democrat-run states and cities."
"I'm just confused," Collins said, jumping in again.
"Because this morning you said, 'They need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all these millions and millions of ballots.' And you said that would be fraudulent. So it sounded like you said –"
"I said it would end up being fraudulent," said Trump.
"Because if you look at what's happened over the last few weeks – just look at the few instances where this has happened. It's turned out to be fraudulent.
"If you look at New York it was fraudulent. If you look at Paterson, New Jersey, it was fraudulent.
"We have to have an honest election. And if it's not going to be an honest election, I guess people have to sit down and think really long and hard about it."
The New York election Trump referred to was a Democratic primary held in the state's 12th congressional district.
No fraud is known to have taken place, but there was a six-week delay before a result was declared, because election officials were overwhelmed by the number of absentee ballots.
The New Jersey case is more problematic. Four men, including a city councilman, have been charged with fraud in the wake of a local council election in Paterson back in May.
About 19 per cent of mail-in ballots – a little over 3000 – were rejected by election officials. Trump has repeatedly claimed all those votes were fraudulent or "corrupted". Local officials say many were rejected for more mundane and routine reasons, such as minor errors by voters. We don't actually know how many were tainted by fraud.
"Kaitlan, I'm not saying anything (is) wrong with voting. I want them to vote. But that would mean that they would have to go to a voting booth, like they used to, and vote," Trump continued.
"Even if they don't feel safe voting in person? People want to vote by mail because –" started Collins.
"Well they're going to have to feel safe, and they will feel safe, and we will make sure that they're safe," Trump told her.
"I just want an accurate vote. So does everybody else."
One of Collins' fellow reporters followed up on the exchange later in the briefing.
"You said you do want an accurate vote. Would you direct the Postmaster General to reverse some of the policy changes that have occurred there in order to prevent delays?" she asked.
"No, I wouldn't do that at all. No," Trump answered.
"I want the Post Office to run properly. Which makes sense – they would need a lot more money, if they're going to be taking in tens of millions of ballots that just come out of the sky from nowhere. And so they need additional financial help.
"(Democrats) want a trillion dollars to go to states that are run by governors who happen to be Democrats, who have not done a good job for many, many years.
"And the $3.5 billion they want for the votes themselves. Which sounds like a lot of money, they're looking for – $3.5 billion. Think of that; $3.5 billion to have mail-in ballots.
"Again, absentee good. Universal mail-in, very bad."