November 15, 2018

This was not your average field trip.

Instead of visiting a museum or watching a performance, about 100 students from Seattle's Garfield High School on Tuesday traveled to the Elliott Bay Book Co. Each teenager had a $50 gift card, their money maximized thanks to a 20 percent store discount. They had to follow just one instruction: buy whatever books they wanted.

English teacher Adam Gish believes in the power of reading, telling The Seattle Times it "can humanize us and help us, especially at this age, discover our identities because we discover that other people go through the same thing." While in the classroom several years ago, Gish discovered that many of his students had never been inside a bookstore before. As a special reward, he would take a few every year to Elliot Bay Book Co. and let them choose a book, but it was too expensive for him to take all of his students.

Now, thanks to a private donor, Gish can bring dozens of ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders to the bookstore. Students have to apply by writing a letter, and some shared that their families can't afford books, while others said reading has helped them expand their minds. "A new book is a novelty, a hardcover novel almost unheard of ... it seems surreal and I would be honored to participate in this," one student wrote. This year, Gish let all of the students who wrote letters go on the field trip, where they picked up books like Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. After everyone checked out at the register, about 450 books were bought. Catherine Garcia

1:00 p.m.

Former President Barack Obama isn't happy with all the changes afoot at the United States Postal Service.

In an interview on Friday, Obama urged lawmakers to fight against what he called President Trump's attempt to "actively kneecap the Postal Service," reports NBC News. Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed mail-in voting is unsafe, and on Thursday said he didn't want more funding for the USPS so that universal mail-in voting couldn't be set up before November's election.

Obama said action was necessary, both by members of Congress and citizens, to "protect the integrity" of the presidential election.

"What we've never seen before is a president say, 'I'm going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to encourage voting, and I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it.' That's sort of unheard of, right?" said Obama. He also accused Republicans of trying "to discourage people's votes from counting" with other measures like gerrymandering and voter identification restrictions.

The Trump administration recently installed major Trump donor Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General, and has sued several state's efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic.

"The thing I'm most worried about," said Obama, is "how do we protect the integrity of the election process? How do we make sure that people's votes are counted? How do we police and monitor how state officials are setting up polling places and ensuring that every vote is counted?" He said despite previous Republican efforts to alter voting processes, Trump's attacks on USPS are "unique to modern history." Summer Meza

11:49 a.m.

As reports suggest numerous changes within the United States Postal Service could hinder its ability to process a flood of mail-in ballots this fall, it appears USPS officials created a plan to reduce mail sorting capacity.

Vice News' Motherboard reported Thursday that USPS has removed several mail sorting machines without a clear explanation to postal worker unions. In a follow-up report Friday, Vice reports the removals were part of a larger-scale plan from USPS officials, quite literally titled "Equipment Reduction." The plan proposed removing 15-20 percent of sorting machines across the country, which workers say would reduce processing capacities and force more mail to be hand-sorted, possibly causing consequential delays.

A USPS spokesperson said the Post Office "routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary," and said it was merely "adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes." But Vice writes that the "equipment reduction" plan made no mention of moving machines, just eliminating them. Sources even said "they have personally witnessed the machines, which cost millions of dollars, being destroyed or thrown in the dumpster," says Vice. "This will slow mail processing," one union official said.

After President Trump said he didn't want to give Democrats requested funding that would help expand mail-in voting amid the pandemic, lawmakers are keeping a close eye on USPS changes that could lead to fewer votes being counted in time for the presidential election. A group of senators urged Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to protect ballot processing. "Removing 20 percent of the Postal Service's sorting and processing equipment looks like another part of [Trump's] plan to bulldoze a vital American institution just to cling to power," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). As Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) put it, "this is insane." Read more at Vice News. Summer Meza

11:45 a.m.

Robert Trump, President Trump's younger brother, has been hospitalized in New York, ABC News reports.

The White House on Friday confirmed that Trump's 72-year-old brother is in the hospital, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also saying that the two "have a very good relationship."

Further details were not provided by the White House, though ABC cited sources as saying that Robert Trump is "very ill." He was previously hospitalized in June and spent more than a week in the intensive care unit. At the time, The Daily Beast reported that he was "being treated for a serious condition."

The president is reportedly expected to visit his brother in the hospital on Friday. Brendan Morrow

10:48 a.m.

Should President Trump lose re-election, could Rep. Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) House leadership position be in danger?

A new report in The Washington Post describes how "discontent" with the Republican minority leader is "on the rise" in the House of Representatives, and a "small group of members is discussing whether someone should challenge him for minority leader if Trump is defeated," as Republicans prepare for a potential "intraparty war."

While the report notes the anti-McCarthy sentiment in the House is certainly "far from unanimous," it describes how some Republicans feel he's too close to Trump and has given the president "too much of a pass," with one House Republican saying McCarthy "does nothing but lick Trump's boots." It isn't clear who could actually challenge McCarthy, though the report says House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) has been eyed.

"[McCarthy] becomes damaged goods [if Trump loses], but it could be offset if he is successful in helping the GOP conference win back a bunch of seats," a senior House Republican told the Post. "But if we lose ... the Republican conference is probably going to be looking for something different in leadership."

A spokesperson for McCarthy downplayed this talk, saying Republicans "are united and singularly focused on working with President Trump to renew the American Dream, restore our way of life, and rebuild the greatest economy ever." Read more at The Washington Post.

Brendan Morrow

9:41 a.m.

Billie Eilish and more stars are headed (virtually) to this year's Democratic convention.

Organizers of the 2020 Democratic National Convention on Friday announced that the event scheduled to begin next week will feature performances from Leon Bridges, The Chicks, Common, Billie Eilish, Jennifer Hudson, John Legend, Billy Porter, Maggie Rogers, Prince Royce, and Stephen Stills.

While the Democratic convention was originally set to take place entirely in person in Wisconsin, it has since been revamped into a primarily virtual event, with even former Vice President Joe Biden himself set to accept the party's nomination for president from Delaware. These artists, too, are expected to deliver their performances remotely, People reports.

As CBS notes, Legend and Hudson previously performed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Most recently, the 2016 convention featured performances from artists including Alicia Keys and Katy Perry. Stephanie Cutter, program executive for the DNC, in a statement said that the stars set to perform this year are "committed to engaging with, registering and mobilizing voters to get us over the finish line in November." The convention is set to begin on Aug. 17. Brendan Morrow

8:28 a.m.

The United States Postal Service has warned that in Pennsylvania, some mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted this November.

In a July letter to Pennsylvania State Secretary Kathy Boockvar, USPS general counsel Thomas Marshall described the "risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws as we understand them," NBC News reports.

The USPS also described Pennsylvania's current deadlines as "incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards," per Axios. Voters in the swing state can request a mail-in ballot up to Oct. 27, and they have to be received by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, according to The Hill.

But officials in the state are looking to extend the deadline to receive mail-in ballots three days, with Boockvar raising concern in a court filing that "voters who apply for mail-in ballots in the last week of the application period and return their completed ballot by mail will, through no fault of their own, likely be disenfranchised," CNN reports.

The warning in Pennsylvania came just after President Trump in an interview cited his desire to prevent universal mail-in voting this November, noting that if the Postal Service doesn't get the funding that Democrats are seeking, "that means you can't have universal mail-in voting, because they're not equipped to have it." Brendan Morrow

8:22 a.m.

Newly installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy met with President Trump in the Oval Office last week, before a contentious meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) about his controversial new policies at the U.S. Postal Service, The Washington Post reports. A few days later, DeJoy removed several top USPS officials, including two that oversaw day-to-day operations, and postal employees are now warning about the unexplained removal of vote-sorting machines.

Trump spokesman Judd Deere told the Post the Oval Office meeting was "congratulatory," because DeJoy took over the post on June 15, though "he declined to offer any other details." The measures enacted by DeJoy, a billionaire donor to Trump and other Republicans with significant financial interests in USPS competitors and contractors, have slowed mail delivery — a temporary "unintended consequences" of his cost-cutting measures, he told postal workers in a letter Thursday. DeJoy is also "in frequent contact with top Republican Party officials," the Post reports.

The reliability of the USPS is now an overtly political issue after Trump directly tied funding for the independent agency to his opposition to mail-in voting during the 2020 election. Democrats, who have insisted at least $10 billion be given to the USPS as part of a COVID-19 deal, "need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump told Fox Business on Thursday morning. "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 later suggested he was using USPS funding as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Pelosi and Schumer.

USPS officials have repeatedly said the post office can handle the expected surge in mail-in ballots, The New York Times notes.

Trump has claimed baselessly and frequently that widespread mail-in voting will lead to significant fraud, and the Republican National Committee and conservative groups are spending tens of millions of dollars to fight mail-in voting expansion, before and after the election, the Post reports. "The president is afraid of the American people," Pelosi argued. "He's been afraid for a while, he knows that on the legit, it'd be hard for him to win, so he wants to put obstacles of participation." Peter Weber

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