Trump says he is holding up coronavirus aid to block Democrats’ bid for election funding

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump touts administration efforts to curb federal regulations during an event on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Funding for the U.S. Postal Service and to shore up election infrastructure is the main sticking point in talks between the White House and top congressional Democrats over a fresh round of coronavirus relief, President Donald Trump said on Thursday.

Trump said his negotiators have resisted Democrats’ calls for additional money to help U.S. election officials prepare for a presidential contest during a pandemic that has killed more than 165,000 Americans and presented severe logistical challenges to organizing large events like the Nov. 3 election.

“The items are the post office and the $3.5 billion for mail-in voting,” Trump told Fox Business Network, saying Democrats want to give the post office $25 billion. “If we don’t make the deal, that means they can’t have the money, that means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. It just can’t happen.”

Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that mail-in voting, a way to allow citizens to take part in the election without creating crowding that raises the risk of transmitting COVID-19, is likely to be rife with fraud. Experts who study elections say there is little proof that this is the case.

The White House negotiating team of Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has not met with House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in six days.

When the two sides last met Friday, they were some $2 trillion apart in their negotiating positions. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed that Americans blame both parties for the standoff, which has led to the expiration of a $600 per week lifeline to unemployed people.

New Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who has donated $2.7 million to Trump and his fellow Republicans since 2017, has ordered operational changes and a clampdown on overtime in a bid to fix the financially troubled Postal Service, which reported a net loss of $2.2 billion in the last quarter.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone, Catherine Evans and Steve Orlofsky)

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