With Joe Biden leading in many public polls, and Democrats kicking off their national convention on Monday, President Trump’s drive to create confusion and undermine confidence in the election is accelerating, as he attacks mail-in voting and praises his postmaster general despite criticism over mail service and an investigation opened by the Postal Service’s inspector general.
Mr. Trump spent much of Saturday on the attack against what he called “the mail-in scam,” making charges without evidence that efforts by states to help people vote by mail in the pandemic would lead to widespread voter fraud — a claim that even some Republicans dispute. Mr. Trump has said that higher voter participation would hurt Republican candidates.
Pressure continues to grow on the postmaster, Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and ally of the president, who has said he is modernizing the money-losing agency to make it more efficient. Among his moves have been cuts to overtime for postal workers, restrictions on transportation and the reduction of the quantity and use of mail-processing equipment.
Speaking at a news conference in Bedminster, N.J., Mr. Trump praised Mr. DeJoy. “I can only tell you he’s a very smart man,” he said. “He’ll be a great Postmaster General.”
Protesters in Washington called for Mr. DeJoy’s resignation on Saturday, saying changes under his purview have undercut the Postal Service and threatened the ability of Americans to vote by mail.
About 100 people gathered outside Mr. DeJoy’s apartment complex in Washington. Videos on social media showed them banging spoons on pots, blaring horns and chanting “resign,” with many in the group wearing masks and remaining socially distanced.
The Postal Service’s inspector general, Tammy L. Whitcomb, said Friday she had opened an investigation into complaints that leading Democrats have filed against Mr. DeJoy. Also on Friday, Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, asked his state’s attorney general to open a criminal inquiry into what he called Mr. Trump’s attempts to sabotage the election by undermining the Postal Service.
In letters sent in July to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, told most of them that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.” Mr. Marshall urged those with tight schedules to require that residents request ballots at least 15 days before an election — rather than the shorter periods currently allowed under the laws of many states.
“This mismatch creates a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted,” Mr. Marshall wrote.
Protesters in Washington called for the resignation of the postmaster general over the weekend, saying changes under his purview had undercut the Postal Service and threatened Americans’ ability to vote.
About 100 people gathered in the wealthy residential neighborhood of Kalorama on Saturday outside the apartment complex of the postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a Republican megadonor and ally of President Trump who was appointed in May. Another protest was scheduled for Sunday outside Mr. DeJoy’s Greensboro, N.C., home.
Videos on social media showed them banging spoons on pots, blaring horns and chanting “resign,” with many in the group wearing masks and remaining socially distanced.
The group has made it to the Postmaster General’s house in Northwest DC.
USPS has wanted 46 states they can’t guarantee delayed mail-in ballots will be counted. All this as accusations swirl the President is intentionally blocking funding for USPS. pic.twitter.com/dPWvqBWepm
— Kolbie Satterfield (@KolbieReports) August 15, 2020
Critics say that changes enacted under Mr. DeJoy’s oversight, like cutting overtime pay for postal workers and removing mail-sorting machines, have slowed the delivery of mail and endangered vote-by-mail operations when millions of people are expected to exercise that option because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Postal Service sent letters in July to all 50 states and the District of Columbia cautioning them that it may not be able to meet their deadlines for delivering last-minute mail-in ballots. News reports about the letters on Friday intensified the criticism directed at the Postal Service and Mr. Trump by Democrats and voting rights advocates, who say the president is deliberately stoking unfounded concerns that voting by mail will lead to fraud and miscounts as a way to cast doubt about the outcome of the election.
In the letters, Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, urged states to require that residents request ballots at least 15 days before an election — rather than the shorter periods currently allowed under the laws of many states.
He said 45 states faced the risk that their timetables could leave some voters unable to get their ballots postmarked by Election Day or received by election boards in time to be counted.
In response to the warning letters, some states, including Pennsylvania and Michigan, have called for extensions on counting late-arriving ballots in the November election.
Mr. DeJoy, who has argued he is modernizing the Postal Service to make it more efficient, has become a target of criticism. Posts on social media showed protesters delivering fake absentee ballots to the entrance of Mr. DeJoy’s building on Saturday, cluttering the glass front doors with folded sheets of paper that read, “Save the post office. Save our democracy.”
The Saturday protest was organized by Shut Down D.C., a group that has previously organized in response to climate change and public health crises. In a statement, the group accused Mr. DeJoy of gutting “the safest and most accessible way to vote” in the United States.
President Trump’s younger brother Robert S. Trump died Saturday night at age 71. The White House did not say what the cause was, but he had been in poor health for some time.
In a statement, the president said Robert Trump was “not just my brother, he was my best friend.”
“He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again,” he said.
President Trump visited his brother at a Manhattan hospital on Friday, and on Saturday, when Robert Trump was not expected to live much longer, the president called into the hospital from his Bedminster, N.J., golf club.
In a statement posted to Twitter on Sunday morning, Joseph R. Biden Jr. expressed his condolences to the president and his family. He wrote, “Mr. President, Jill and I are sad to learn of your younger brother Robert’s passing. I know the tremendous pain of losing a loved one — and I know how important family is in moments like these. I hope you know that our prayers are with you all.”
Robert Trump, who took blood thinners, had experienced brain bleeds after a recent fall, according to a family friend.
He had no children, but he helped raise Christopher Hollister Trump-Retchin, the son of his first wife, Blaine Trump. Besides the president, his survivors include his second wife, Ann Marie Pallan, and his sisters, Maryanne Trump Barry and Elizabeth Trump Grau. His brother Fred Jr. died in 1981.
“You could consider him the quietest of Trumps,” Michael D’Antonio, a Trump biographer, said. “He was glad to stay out of the spotlight.”
The Democratic National Convention kicks off Monday, and the uncertainties around it are legion.
Can a virtual political convention unfolding in the midst of a pandemic be compelling? How will the speakers inject energy into their performances when they have no audience cheering them on? Will the American people tune in, or is everyone sick of their screens?
Here are five questions to consider — around convention logistics and more traditional political issues alike — heading into a critical week for Democrats.
Can the Democrats unite their party — and win over any Republicans? Despite the extraordinary circumstances of this year’s event, more traditional convention imperatives — energizing the party and engaging swing voters — remain, too. Monday will offer a vivid illustration of the broad coalition the Democrats are hoping to assemble.
Michelle Obama, the former first lady, is the headliner, but the lineup also includes both Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s progressive primary rival, and former Gov. John Kasich, Republican of Ohio.
As Mr. Biden seeks to excite skeptical liberals while reaching out to moderates disillusioned with President Trump, Monday will demonstrate how Democrats hope to thread that needle.
Will the technology cooperate? When Mr. Biden held a “virtual town hall” event in March, things did not go exactly as planned. Since then, America has settled in to communicating via video, but the technology risks at the convention are real. Will the satellite feeds hold? Will prominent participants accidentally mute — or unmute — themselves? Will anyone be interrupted while recording at home by well-meaning visitors, “BBC dad”-style?
The remote style of the convention, however, also brings opportunity. Speakers have been encouraged to seek out interesting locations for their backdrops. Who will claim the most iconic spot?
Can the candidates create any drama? Some politicians — Mr. Biden chief among them — thrive off audience reaction. How will he and other speakers build to crescendos and electrify viewers when there is no enthralled crowd cheering them on?
This past week, when Mr. Biden debuted with his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, they had only the cameras and a group of journalists to wave to.
Will any new faces emerge? Conventions offer an unmatched platform for up-and-coming politicians to leave an impression in front of a national audience — just ask Barack Obama, whose keynote address at the 2004 convention was a pivotal moment in his rapid ascent from state senator to U.S. senator to president.
Even in a virtual format, there is still plenty of opportunity to get on people’s radar across the country. Who will make the most of that chance?
How will Trump respond? One thing is certain: The convention will place a lot of attention on a lot of Democratic politicians who are not fond of Mr. Trump. And Mr. Trump is unlikely to be restrained in his commentary next week.
One of the most powerful speeches of the 2016 Democratic convention came from Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim American soldier who was killed while serving in Iraq. Mr. Khan denounced Mr. Trump’s campaign message, and Mr. Trump proceeded to attack Mr. Khan and his wife, igniting a political firestorm. Will a similar dynamic play out next week?
President Trump and his supporters often argue that his sinking poll numbers don’t tell the whole story — that he will win re-election in November thanks to “hidden” voters who don’t want to admit to pollsters that they like him.
These voters do exist, but both Republican and Democratic pollsters said they thought it unlikely that there were enough of them to sway the outcome of the election.
There is no question that some Trump supporters won’t identify themselves to friends or co-workers. “But I’m still not convinced that not telling your business associate or the people in your Rotary Club or the people in your country club is the same thing as not telling a pollster,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.
If poll respondents really were holding back, said David Winston, a pollster who works with congressional Republicans, they would probably tell pollsters they were undecided, not that they were supporting Mr. Trump’s opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr. — and polls have not shown an unusual number of undecided voters.
The possibility that Americans are hiding their true intentions from pollsters has provided an irresistible sense of intrigue to presidential elections before, even though there are few confirmed examples where it made a difference. Political experts compare such speculation to the quadrennial predictions of a brokered convention, which has not occurred since 1952.
President Trump on Saturday accused Democrats of refusing to fund the United States Postal Service as he faced intense criticism from Democrats who say slowdowns in mail delivery, the removal of sorting machines and other changes are threatening the integrity of the general election.
Speaking at a news conference at his golf resort in Bedminster, N.J., Mr. Trump also continued to rail against mail-in voting, calling it “a catastrophe.” But he did not directly say whether he supported the removal of mail-sorting machines and other changes made under the leadership of his postmaster general, Louis DeJoy.
“I don’t know what he’s doing,” Mr. Trump said. “I can only tell you he’s a very smart man. He’ll be a great Postmaster General.”
Democrats have, in fact, pushed for a total of $10 billion for the Postal Service in talks with Republicans on the coronavirus response bill. That figure, which would include money to help with election mail, was down from a $25 billion plan in a House-passed coronavirus measure.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and House Democratic leadership have begun discussing bringing the chamber back early to address the issues with the Postal Service, a move that would cut short the annual summer recess. While the House is not scheduled to return for votes until Sept. 14, Democratic leaders could call lawmakers back in the next two weeks, two people familiar with the talks said on Saturday.
Among the legislative options under consideration include a measure put forward by Representative Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, that would prohibit agency leadership from enacting any operational changes that were in place before Jan. 1 or once the public health crisis subsides. Such changes would include ending overtime pay or any measures that would delay mail. Lawmakers are also discussing adding language to the bill that would ensure all ballot-related mail is considered First Class Mail and treated as such.
While Democrats have been fighting to include funding for the Postal Service in a coronavirus relief package, it is unlikely that Democrats would act on a standalone funding bill, said the two people, who asked for anonymity in order to disclose details of private discussions, because the current crisis the agency is facing is tied to policy, not funding.
Mr. Trump on Saturday also refused to say that Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential running mate, is eligible for the vice presidency, but insisted he was not stoking a racist conspiracy theory that has taken hold among some of his followers.
“I have not gotten into it in great detail,” Mr. Trump said, when asked if Ms. Harris is eligible for the vice presidency. “If she’s got a problem, you would have thought that she would have been vetted. You would have thought that she would have been vetted by Sleepy Joe.”
In fact, Ms. Harris, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, who was born in 1964 in Oakland, Calif., is eligible to serve as president or vice president. There is no basis for the conspiracy theory.
“I just don’t know about it, but it’s not something that we will be pursuing,” Mr. Trump said.
But he also praised John C. Eastman, a conservative lawyer who wrote a widely discredited op-ed article written in Newsweek that sought to raise questions about Ms. Harris’s eligibility. Mr. Trump called Mr. Eastman “a brilliant lawyer.”
Newsweek apologized on Saturday for publishing the op-ed, saying it was “being used by some as a tool to perpetuate racism and xenophobia.”
President Trump will travel to the battleground state of Pennsylvania on Thursday to deliver remarks attacking Joseph R. Biden Jr. just a few miles from the former vice president’s childhood home, a few hours before Mr. Biden is scheduled to take the stage at the Democratic National Convention.
The Trump campaign said Saturday that Mr. Trump will discuss “Joe Biden’s record of failure” in remarks he will deliver in Old Forge, Pa., roughly six miles southwest of Scranton, Pa., where Mr. Biden grew up. He will offer his comments around 3 p.m. on Thursday, the campaign said.
A spokesman for Mr. Biden on Saturday called Mr. Trump’s event a “sideshow” and “a pathetic attempt to distract from the fact that Trump’s presidency stands for nothing but crises, lies and division.”
Mr. Biden is scheduled to accept the Democratic nomination on the last day of the party’s online convention and deliver his own speech Thursday night around 10 p.m.
Mr. Trump’s planned stop in Pennsylvania on Thursday will cap a week in which he is scheduled to swing through Minnesota, Wisconsin and Arizona — all states that could also be potentially up for grabs in the fall — and attack Mr. Biden on the economy and immigration during a key week for Democrats.
Vice President Mike Pence is also scheduled to travel to Wisconsin on Wednesday, where the Trump campaign said he will criticize Mr. Biden over his record on taxes and trade.
In addition to featuring remarks by Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California, the Democratic National Convention will feature prime-time keynote speeches by Michelle Obama on Monday, Jill Biden on Tuesday and Barack Obama on Wednesday.
The Trump campaign is launching an aggressive four-day digital advertising campaign that will take over some of the internet’s most conspicuous real estate during the three marquee days of the Democratic National Convention — a nearly all-digital event.
Adhering to the president’s penchant for focusing attention on himself during major Democratic events, the Trump campaign will be taking over the banner of YouTube for 96 hours starting on Tuesday, the second day of the convention, an expensive and far-reaching digital gambit.
The campaign will also blanket the home pages of The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and FoxNews.com with Trump campaign ads. Even non-convention programming will be inundated with Trump ads, as the campaign has bought premium, or “unskippable,” ads on sites like Hulu.
The campaign amounts to “high-seven figures,” a significant sum to spend online in such a short period of time, and could top $10 million (a few digital ads are sometimes charged extra based on engagement). The takeover of the YouTube banner and the news sites’ home pages are national buys, while the spending for Hulu and others will be in swing states.
Trump campaign officials said they were able to grab the digital slots because the Democrats, who moved their original convention date, had not purchased the time for the original week in July, nor for the new one beginning on Monday.
A Democratic congressman from New Jersey is asking the state’s attorney general to open a criminal inquiry into what he calls President Trump’s attempts to sabotage the election by undermining the United States Postal Service.
In a letter on Friday, the congressman, Bill Pascrell Jr., pointed to slowdowns in mail delivery, the removal of mail-sorting machines and Mr. Trump’s statement this week that he opposed Democratic demands for additional funding for the Postal Service and election security because of his opposition to mail-in voting.
Mr. Trump’s actions threaten the plans, announced Friday by New Jersey’s governor, Philip D. Murphy, to conduct the upcoming general election almost entirely with mail-in ballots to protect poll workers and voters from the coronavirus, Mr. Pascrell wrote in the letter to New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal.
“I call upon you to open a wide-ranging investigation of Trump’s actions to interfere in our elections and to empanel a grand jury for the purpose of considering criminal indictments for Donald Trump, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, members of the United States Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors, and any other officials in the Trump government that are participating in or have participated in the subversion of New Jersey state elections,” Mr. Pascrell wrote.
A spokesman for Mr. Grewal, a Democrat, said that the attorney general was “deeply concerned by recent reports of potential political interference in the operations of the U.S. Postal Service.”
“As is our standard practice, we are neither going to confirm nor deny a grand jury investigation,” said the spokesman, Steven Barnes.