MONTPELIER — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Friday was sharply critical of President Donald Trump for slowing down the United States Poostal Service with the express intent of preventing voting by mail in the upcoming presidential election.
"I think this is unfortunate, when you try to squelch the voices of Americans and squelch their opportunity to vote," Scott said Friday during his regular COVID-19 briefing. "I think during these times, we should be doing all we can to make sure everyone is counted and has their voices heard through the ballot box."
Meanwhile, members of the state's Congressional delegation said they were working to solve the crisis at the Postal Service.
Trump has insisted, without evidence, that a vote by mail election would invite fraud. Thursday, he said that he opposed Democrats' request for $25 billion in aid for the United States Postal Service, and another $400 million for the election specifically.
"They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump said Thursday in an interview on the Fox Business cable network. "If they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it."
Trump and his wife Melania registered vote by mail ballots in Florida on Wednesday.
Scott said the slowdown has yet to be discussed among members of the National Governor's Association, but he expects that it will be.
"Especially during these times when we're asking people to stay home more and not interact, utilizing mail services [such as the Postal Service and private carriers] has been helpful," Scott said. "This is the wrong time to be pulling back."
Despite sharing the same political party, Scott has rarely hid his distaste for Trump. He said he would not vote for him in the 2016 election, and after Trump was acquitted along party lines in his impeachment trial, Scott said Trump "abused his position of power," and that "he shouldn't be in office."
Scott was asked about the postal slowdown after he hailed the success of Vermont's early voting program, in which voters were asked to request and return ballots by mail or drop them off at secure ballot boxes to lower the risk of COVID transmission on primary day. The result was turnout of more than 155,000 voters, which unofficially smashed the existing record of more than 120,000 voters for a Vermont primary.
Scott said he was "thrilled" with the turnout, calling it a step in the right direction for voter participation in Vermont, and extended credit to Secretary of State Jim Condos and the state's town and city clerks for their efforts.
Condos' office plans to send vote-by-mail ballots to every registered voter in the state, in a plan approved by the Legislature and allowed by Scott to become law without his signature. He has been a vocal advocate of voting by mail, citing studies showing fraud is highly unlikely.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a former supply-chain CEO and a major donor to Trump and other Republicans, has pushed cost-cutting measures to eliminate overtime pay and hold mail until the next day if postal distribution centers are running late. Recently there have been substantial mail delivery delays.
The state's Congressional delegation has been calling for the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate to pass the Heroes Act, a second coronavirus relief bill, that would include funds for the Postal Service and for election security. It has been held up by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
"The President's actions and intentions have made this an increasingly urgent situation. Week after week and month after month, Leader McConnell has refused to begin the debate we have demanded and that we need to remedy the USPS shortfall. His `wait and see' attitude has wasted valuable time, and the public has seen the high cost of this stalling," U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Friday. "We will continue to use every available tool to protect the Postal Service's vital role in the lives of every community and every household, and in the upcoming election that is taking place during an unprecedented pandemic."
Leahy is further attaching his name to a letter written by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., seeking answers from DeJoy on the Postal Service slowdown.
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., also supports passage of the Heroes Act, and has also signed a letter asking DeJoy for answers. On July 23, he held a press conference with postal workers emphasizing the need to pass the Heroes Act. Most recently, he was a co-signor on a letter to DeJoy demanding that he reverse policies which are accelerating the crisis at the post office. And the Government Oversight Committee, of which Welch is a member, is holding a hearing on September 17 with DeJoy as an invited witness.
The National Association of Letter Carriers, one of several unions representing Postal Service workers, endorsed Trump's opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, on Friday. The American Postal Workers Union previously endorsed Biden in June.
Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.