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The US Postal Service delivered 142.6 billion pieces of mail in 2019

The US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would inject $25bn (£19bn) into the Postal Service (USPS) ahead of November’s election.

The legislation would also block cuts and changes that critics have said will hamper mail-in voting.

Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled lawmakers from the summer recess to vote on the bill, which she said would protect the USPS.

However, it is unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-led Senate.

The White House has also threatened a veto, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has said further cost-cutting measures at the postal service will be suspended until after November’s vote.

A slowdown in mail deliveries amid cost-saving measures at USPS has fuelled fears about how one of the oldest and most trusted institutions in the US can handle an unprecedented influx of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

President Donald Trump strongly opposes mail-in ballots and has repeatedly suggested it could lead to widespread voter fraud despite there being no evidence for this.

The “Delivering for America Act” passed by the House on Saturday includes $25bn of emergency coronavirus funding requested by the USPS’s board of governors.

It would also require the service to treat all official election mail as first-class mail.

The service would be prohibited until January 2021 from implementing or approving any changes to operations or service levels that would “impede prompt, reliable, and efficient service”, including closing or reducing the hours of post offices, removing mail sorting machines and mailboxes, or stopping overtime payments.

“This is not a partisan issue,” Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney, the bill’s author, said before the debate. “It makes absolutely no sense to impose these kinds of dangerous cuts in the middle of a pandemic and just months before the elections in November.”

Ms Pelosi stressed that the USPS was not a business.

“While we always want to subject every federal dollar to the scrutiny of what we’re getting for it, let us remember that it is a service. No business that I can think of would ever be saddled with what we’ve done to the Postal Service,” she added.

Republican political leaders on Friday said Democrats had “sought to spread baseless conspiracy theories about the USPS for political gain” and had “manufactured a crisis to undermine President Trump at the expense of America’s institutions”.

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Democrats and their supporters say the cost-cutting measures will hamper mail-in voting

They also condemned Democrats for pursuing for what they said was “an unnecessary bailout plan that does not fix any of the underlying operational issues”.

On Friday, the postmaster general told a Senate committee there had been “no changes to any policies with regard to election mail” and that the USPS was “fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail fully and on time”.

Mr DeJoy – a top Republican donor and former logistics executive appointed to lead the agency in May – acknowledged that the changes he had instigated had slowed some mail delivery, but insisted that it was “outrageous” to suggest they were intended to help President Trump in November.

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Afghan car bomb kills at least 40 soldiers

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An attacker detonated an explosive packed vehicle in front of a security base in the Deh Yak district of the province.

According to a statement from the Afghan Ministry of Defense, the attacker was confronted by security forces as he tried to enter the base. No group has claimed responsibility yet.

The blast targeted a compound of the public protection force, a wing of the Afghan security forces, local officials told Reuters. It damaged civilian residences around the compound, and there could be more casualties from there, they said.

Interior ministry spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed that there had been a car bomb blast but did not provide further information on the target or possible casualties.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted by Reuters, did not confirm or deny responsibility.

Afghanistan has seen a spate of car bombings over the last few months, despite peace talks being under way between negotiation teams of the insurgent Taliban and the government in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Violence in the country, at war for two decades, remains unacceptably high, foreign governments and institutions say, calling for an immediate ceasefire between the Afghan government and Taliban.
Afghan President orders resumption of offensive operations against the Taliban in blow to Trump's deal

Another bombing on Sunday, in the eastern province of Zabul, targeting a top provincial official, killed at least one person and injured 23, said Gul Islam Syaal, the spokesman for the province’s governor.

Haji Ata Jan Haqbayan, head of the provincial council of Zabul, suffered minor injuries in the attack on his convoy.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack on Haqbayan, an outspoken critic of the Taliban.

The Trump administration’s peace deal with the Taliban was dealt a blow in May as the Afghan government announced it was resuming offensive operations against the insurgent group following a spate of deadly terrorist attacks.

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Incoming GOP congresswoman to take aim at AOC with conservative ‘squad’

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Malliotakis, who frequently attacked Ocasio-Cortez during her campaign against Democratic Rep. Max Rose, took aim again at her New York counterpart when asked about the future of the Republican Party.

“I think one of the reasons why we were so motivated to run is seeing the Democratic women being elected in 2018 that don’t necessarily reflect our values, particularly those who are self-described socialists,” Malliotakis said. “I think there’s just a stark contrast between what we’re offering and what people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are offering. And that’s something that needs to be debated in Washington.”

House Republicans more than doubled the number of women in their conference in November, bringing the number to at least 28 from 13. Democrats, who added a record number of women to their ranks during the 2018 election, have at least 89.

A number of House races still remain uncalled, including New York Republican Claudia Tenney’s challenge against Rep. Anthony Brindisi; Tenney’s lead has narrowed significantly to just 13 votes as of Friday.

Malliotakis, who will be the only Republican to represent New York City in Congress, credited House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Liz Cheney for their efforts in recruiting “qualified women who have something to share with the American people” for the gains.

“What we stand for are freedom, liberty. We love this nation. We want to see it prevail. We want to see it remain the land of opportunity, what has, in essence, attracted millions of immigrants from around the world, to pursue that American dream,” Malliontakis said. “Somebody like me, daughter of a Cuban refuge, I want to be there to be a part of the discussion, debate and provide a counterview.”

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Boris Johnson Will Relax Some Coronavirus Tiers Before Christmas As He Tries To Head Off A Tory Rebellion

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Boris Johnson has written to Tory rebels after they threatened to vote down his new coronavirus tier system (PA)

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Boris Johnson has caved in to Tory rebels and agreed to relax some of the tiered coronavirus restrictions before Christmas as more than 70 MPs are set to vote against the measures.

The Prime Minister said in a letter to backbenchers that the whole system has a “sunset of 3 February” next year.

It comes after the announcement that more than 40% of England would leave the second lockdown this week, only to enter the toughest level of constraints, sparked fury among Conservatives.

The number of his own MPs threatening to reject the plans when they are debated in the Commons on Tuesday meant Mr Johnson could be forced to rely on Labour votes to see it passed.

In an attempt to quell the rebellion the PM has confirmed that if there is “robust evidence” Covid-19 is in sustained decline in a particular area by the time of the first review of the measures on 16 December he would move it down a tier.

Any changes would come into effect on 19 December, allowing for a potential relaxation on household mixing and rules around hospitality ahead of the festive period.

The government will continue to review the tier allocation every fortnight, and then bring the regulations before Parliament for another vote after the fourth review on January 27, which will determine whether the tier system stays in place until the end of March, or end a week later.

And in a further olive branch to MPs they have agreed to publish documents outlining what circumstances need to change for an area to move down a tier, as well as cost/benefit analysis of the health, economic and social impacts of the entire system.

But Mr Johnson has also warned there will be “disastrous consequences” for the NHS if the restrictions are voted down and do not come into force when the national lockdown ends on Wednesday.

Writing in the Mail on Sunday he stressed it was too early to relax things, but said he believed Easter would mark a “real chance to return to something like life as normal”.

He said: “We can’t blow it now. We can’t just throw it all away – not when freedom is in sight. We have worked too hard, lost too many, sacrificed too much, just to see our efforts incinerated in another volcanic eruption of the virus…

“We are so nearly out of our captivity. We can see the sunlit upland pastures ahead. But if we try to jump the fence now, we will simply tangle ourselves in the last barbed wire, with disastrous consequences for the NHS.”

This was echoed by the foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who told Sky News coronavirus cases would rise exponentially if restrictions were not applied on a wider level, such as across counties.

“Where you’ve got low levels in a particular area but it’s surrounded by areas others with higher levels,” he said.

“If you don’t apply on a wider levels – which is why we’re using the countywide basis – the same restrictions, all that happens is the virus in those lower levels… goes up exponentially.”

The Cabinet minister added: “The reality is that we want to come out of national lockdown and stay out of it.

“There is hope and there is light at the end of the tunnel at the prospect of regulatory approval of the vaccine being ready to be in place and distributed by the spring, which will allow a real step-change back to life resembling normal.

“The two things we need between now and then are this tiered approach so that we target the virus where it is the most dangerous.

“We are starting with a more restrictive approach than previously with the localised approach, but that allows us to ease up when we are confident the virus is going down and stabilised – there’s a review every two weeks.

“The second thing is the testing and what we’ve seen, we’ve had 12 million people tested and we’ve seen in Liverpool with the community-wide testing… that really helps us to bear down on the virus.

“Those two things are the crucial bridge to that light at the end of the tunnel in the spring.”

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