There is a growing sense of panic about what is happening to the United States Postal Service, or USPS, as well as the president’s admission that its collapse would aid his election prospects—at least among those praying for President Donald Trump to lose the election. Liberals are understandably frantic about it all; Instagram feeds are replete with posts about buying stamps and calling your member of Congress about saving the post office. The fear has fully penetrated the consciousness of resistance normies all over the nation. Over the weekend, and with her party’s nominating convention looming, Nancy Pelosi addressed the rising alarm by dramatically calling her members back from recess with the intention of passing a bill to prevent any changes to the USPS from its operations.
The urgency and boldness with which Pelosi is approaching this crisis are interesting, especially in comparison to the fading away of any prospect of unemployed Americans keeping the extra $600 in unemployment benefits they received during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic, which had kept millions away from the brink of despair and destitution. The fault for that lies, of course, with Republican legislative leaders, who don’t care if poor people live or die. But in politics, if your opponent does something bad and evil, it is generally good and important to make a fuss about that; and it’s hard to raise this sort of fuss if you abandon your posts for a month. As Politico reported on Monday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer had advocated “for the consideration of an economic package,” but Democrats are nevertheless resolved to “keep the focus on the USPS” for the time being.
If you’ve only been casually following the news in recent days, you might be of the mind that the unemployment relief problem was fixed by President Trump’s executive order last week. You might subsequently surmise that the lack of news about additional talks to extend the benefit in Congress is evidence that everything got sorted out. The executive order supposedly provided for $400 in extra unemployment money for those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but there are some caveats: The added benefit will actually be only $300 for the vast majority of workers, there is no timeframe as to when they’ll receive this largesse, and there’s only enough money for five weeks’ worth of benefits, which means that the program “could end almost as soon as it begins,” according to The New York Times. Trump’s perfunctory order was a cheap red herring, but it did the job of giving Republicans some amount of cover to stop trying to extend the unemployment sweetener or otherwise pass any new coronavirus relief.
Obviously, the Republican president and the Republican Senate are to blame for this situation. It is because of their cruel ideology and complete indifference to the poor and their total intransigence, even in the face of a clearly exceptional circumstance, that people won’t get their money. But the world of things that Democrats could have done to make a bigger deal out of this situation and make it harder for Republicans to inflict this damage on the American people is not limited to just pointing out that House Democrats passed their own bill three months ago.
It would have been easy, for example, to run advertisements on television or social media, blaming Trump and McConnell for taking $600 a week from hardworking Americans in the middle of a pandemic. (According to Facebook’s ad archive, Joe Biden has not run any ads on the site that make mention of the $600 benefit.) Certainly there’s no guarantee that these tactics might have caused Republicans to change their minds, but instead of pinning them to a politically awkward position, we’ve learned an uncomfortable lesson about the Democrats’ priorities and which emergencies can be left unaddressed for the sake of a recess and which will bring them racing back to Washington. Perhaps it is just a coincidence that the issue they’re urgently returning to involves election integrity and their own employment.
Regardless of the futility of this situation engendered by the Senate’s veto power, “Okay, but what do you want me to do about it?” is not very inspiring politics nor is it a hopeful sentiment for a party that’s supposed to represent our rescue from the current nightmare. Democratic leadership was willing to recall its members from recess for a vote on saving the USPS—undoubtedly a noble and urgent cause—despite the fact that they cannot force Mitch McConnell to recall the Senate because they recognize the importance of taking a stand against the threat of Trump undermining the postal service and the 2020 election. They saw the value and urgency of doing something even if it’s for naught. They are making a big fuss about this. It is telling that they don’t feel the same way about direct relief for Americans in need.