President Trump on Thursday said he is withholding approval for a coronavirus relief package because Democrats want to include funds for mail-in voting.

The president said Democrats want $25 billion for the U.S. Postal Service, $3.5 billion of which would be used to shore up infrastructure amid logistical challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which is predicted to keep some voters from going to the polls in November.

“They want $3.5 billion for something that will turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. “They want $25 billion, billion, for the post office. Now, they need that money in order to have the 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 they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”

Trump has frequently alluded to what he describes as massive voting-fraud conspiracies affecting millions of votes, but the White House has not provided any evidence to support the claims, and some states already use the process safely. He has cited reports of problems distributing and processing mail-in ballots in local elections, including applications for absentee ballots sent to “dogs” and “dead people.” 

Trump himself has voted absentee by mail from the White House, as have a number of his staffers.

In March, Trump criticized initial Democratic attempts to fund mail-in voting in the first round of pandemic relief legislation, but also admitted what may be his real objection: that increased ballot access would be bad for Republicans. He told Fox News that such expansion would lead to “levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

“You know, there’s nothing wrong with getting out and voting, you get out and vote,” the president said to Bartiromo on Thursday. “They voted during World War I and World War II, and they should have voter ID, because the Democrats scammed the system.”

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“But two of the items are the post office and the $3.5 billion for mail-in voting,” he added. “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.”

President Trump during a news conference at the White House on Wednesday. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blasted Trump’s attack on the Postal Service.

“When the president goes after the Postal Service, he’s going after an all-American, highly approved-by-the-public institution,” Pelosi said. “Motherhood, apple pie, the Postal Service.”

Last month, Trump floated the idea of delaying the election, which is something he does not have the power to do, as the date of the election is decided by Congress. Federal Election Commission head Ellen Weintraub dismissed the proposal.

“No, Mr. President,” wrote Weintraub. “No. You don’t have the power to move the election. Nor should it be moved. States and localities are asking you and Congress for funds so they can properly run the safe and secure elections all Americans want. Why don’t you work on that?”

It is within the power of the Trump campaign and Republican organizations to sue to make mail-in balloting more difficult, a tactic they have employed in advance of November’s election. Tens of thousands of absentee ballots were rejected during primaries in the past few months, including 1 in 5 in New York.

Trump has trailed former Vice President Joe Biden in polling all summer as approval of his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic craters, with more than 166,000 Americans dead from COVID-19. The polling numbers are so poor in some areas that Republicans have expressed concerns about their ability to maintain control of the Senate. 

“This will be the greatest fraud in history,” Trump told Bartiromo, before adding a caveat: “This will be almost as fraudulent as Obama spying on my campaign, but not quite.”

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