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Carl Bernstein: Challenges facing the USPS are a 'national emergency'

"This is a national emergency caused by a despotic president who's unique in our history," Carl Bernstein says, and the press should cover it accordingly. Bernstein says "we need history in our journalism" to put Trump's conduct, like undermining the postal service, in context.

Posted: Aug 17, 2020 7:10 PM
Updated: Aug 17, 2020 7:10 PM

There is growing concern among legislators, voters and postal workers over financial strain and policy changes at the United States Postal Service — and legendary journalist Carl Bernstein said the issue should also be top of mind for journalists, calling it "a national emergency."

If the Postal Service is unable to function properly, it could "undermine the very electoral system, the most important element of our democracy," Bernstein told CNN's Brian Stelter on "Reliable Sources" Sunday.

Postal union leaders and lawmakers from both parties have sounded alarms over controversial policy changes recently imposed under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, including eliminating overtime and slowing some mail delivery. Democrats have claimed he is intentionally undermining postal service operations to sabotage mail-in voting in the November election — a charge he denies.

On Friday, the internal watchdog at the USPS said it will review those policy changes, at the request of Senator Elizabeth Warren. And on Sunday, House Democrats said they are "ramping up" an investigation of the Postal Service, and called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and Chairman of the Postal Service Board of Governors Robert Duncan to testify in a hearing on August 24.

"The hearing will examine the sweeping operational and organizational changes at the Postal Service that experts warn could degrade delivery standards, slow the mail and potentially impair the rights of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming November elections," House Democratic leaders said in a Sunday statement.

The stakes are high in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election — more people are expected to vote by mail versus in polling places because of the risk of coronavirus, and some states have adjusted voting laws to make it easier to do so. Although the USPS has repeatedly tried to reassure voters they can handle the influx of mail-in ballots, it has sent warnings to nearly every state that slowdowns in delivery could cause ballots to show up late and not be counted.

CNN and other news organizations reported that in the last week, the USPS has removed letter collection boxes in at least four states, though the Postal Service said Sunday it will stop removing boxes through late November.

Tensions over the issue flared after President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he opposes much-needed USPS funding because he doesn't want to see it used for mail-in voting this November. Trump has tried to restrict voting-by-mail because he claims it is rife with fraud and abuse, claims that CNN has fact-checked multiple times and are largely without merit.

Bernstein on Sunday railed on Trump's comments as an effort, in his mind, to undermine Americans' ability to vote.

"We've never had a President of the United States who has tried to undermine our most basic institutions," Bernstein said. "We've never had a President of the United States who is, in public, even admittedly trying to hijack an election by excluding people from voting."

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pushed back on such characterizations in a Sunday interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, saying, "the President doesn't have an issue with anybody voting by mail."

"What he opposes is universal mail-in ballots, where you send millions of ballots out to registered voters across the country, even those that don't request it," Meadows said.

For the press, Bernstein said the challenges facing the Postal Service should be a "story that we do not let go of for a moment, that we're on the air and online with it every moment."

In particular, Bernstein said he hopes reporters will remind readers of the history of the Post Office.

"Remember, the Postal Service was started by Benjamin Franklin, he was the first Postmaster General, to be an element of our democracy in 1775," Bernstein said. "Now we have a President committed, in essence, to shutting down the ability of the Post Office to help Americans vote ... This is an unprecedented crisis, we've never seen anything like this."

Bernstein continued, calling out Fox News specifically, and saying it has an obligation to continue dedicating coverage on the issue.

"And particularly over at Fox News, where there are real patriotic journalists, reporters," he said, "Fox News has an unusual obligation here to be patriotic and point out the history of the Postal Service, the history of our free elections and how this President is undermining them."

--CNN's Kevin Bohn, Marshall Cohen and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.

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