President Donald Trump’s Postal Service chief tried to neutralize complaints by suspending his operational changes, but he failed to silence accusations that he is hampering the agency’s ability to handle voting by mail.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s retreat followed mounting pressure from Democrats, including an Aug. 5 exchange with top lawmakers that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described as “heated.” Congress scheduled two hearings with DeJoy — a Senate panel on Friday and a House panel on Monday — and the House plans to vote on a postal funding measure on Saturday.
Trump criticized the timing of the hearings, asking on Twitter why Republicans are “allowing the Democrats to have ridiculous Post Office hearings” before and during the Republican convention, which begins Monday. He tagged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has no authority over decisions by House committees.
At heart are concerns that Trump, running behind Democrat Joe Biden in polls, is mounting a politically driven campaign to hobble the Postal Service. The president has repeatedly claimed — without evidence — that widespread mail-in voting leads to fraud; diminished capacity to deliver ballots could complicate vote-counting. Trump has also said the agency in effect subsidizes deliveries for Amazon.com Inc., a longtime target of the president’s ire.
DeJoy said Tuesday that he was suspending removals of mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes in various cities, moves that had been billed as overdue cost-cutting. He pledged that retail hours wouldn’t change, mail-processing facilities wouldn’t be shut and equipment would remain where it was. “Overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed,” he said.
But it remains unclear if any of his recent moves would be reversed.
“There are unanswered questions that certainly need to be clarified,” said former Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman, who was appointed in 2011 and resigned earlier this year. “You don’t want to reduce your flexibility ahead of a national election where you will have an exponential increase in the amount of absentee ballots,” he said on a call with reporters hosted by the Democracy Fund, where he is a senior fellow.
Besides clearing up the issue about what “as needed” overtime might mean and whether changes already made will be reversed, Stroman urged a commitment to processing and delivering all the ballots it receives each day.
Democratic lawmakers were even more vocal, setting the stage for what might be a rocky pair of hearings in the coming days. DeJoy appears at the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Friday and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Monday.
“We want to roll it back,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of the proposed changes during an interview with Politico’s Playbook Tuesday. She said the House will proceed with a vote Saturday on a $25 billion special funding package for the Postal Service and prohibits any overhaul of operations or the level of service compared with what was in place on Jan. 1, 2020.
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“DeJoy cannot put the genie back in the bottle,” said Representative Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who has helped lead the House’s oversight of the post office as a subcommittee chief.
Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the panel hosting DeJoy Friday, asked whether DeJoy will ensure the return of sorting machines already removed, and pressed for details of changes already made.
DeJoy was selected by governors appointed by Trump, including Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
DeJoy’s links to Trump — he contributed to the 2016 campaign and gave $100,000 to the inaugural committee — have highlighted the concerns. Republicans frame DeJoy’s motives as consistent with efforts back in the Obama administration to put the Postal Service on a more sustainable financial footing.
“This is totally a perception issue that the postmaster general is addressing” by suspending his reforms, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday. “President Trump at no time has instructed or directed the post office to cut back on overtime, or any other operational decision that would slow things down.”
DeJoy in a statement Tuesday assured: “We will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards.” This will be “our number one priority between now and Election Day,” he said.
“It’s shameful that Democrats continue to manufacture baseless and wildly irresponsible conspiracy theories,” said James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee.
Michael Plunkett, president of the Association for Postal Commerce, a trade group for businesses that deal with the Postal Service including FedEx Corp. and United Parcel Service Inc., said, “I don’t see why” DeJoy’s reforms would affect mail-in voting.
“The post office should have capacity to handle events,” said Plunkett, a former Postal Service executive.
A number of Democratic attorneys general spanning the country aren’t taking that for granted. Those for Washington and Pennsylvania outlined plans for separate, multistate lawsuits that would seek to halt operational changes.
More than a dozen other states had signed onto the effort, including California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada. No Republican attorney general has participated.
“By interfering with the Postal Service, President Trump is putting both our democracy and people’s health at risk,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement Tuesday. “We are suing to ensure the integrity of our electoral process and to make sure each and every vote is counted during this election.”
Beyond the election, there are deeper concerns that the Postal Service, the authorization of which was enshrined in the Constitution, could pare back its presence in rural areas — where private companies can be less likely to reach.
“The service commitment to rural America was already diminished,” said former Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. “The post office is a high-ranking infrastructure concern of rural voters.”
Lee Moak, a member of the postal service’s board of governors, in a blog post said he had received almost 40,000 emails since Friday. Moak said he appreciates “how devastating it can be when vital governmental infrastructure struggles to support its citizens.”
The National Grange, an organization that represents rural interests, thanked DeJoy for suspending the changes.
“Postmaster DeJoy heard the outcry of people from all across the country and political spectrum,” Grange President Betsy Huber said in an emailed statement. “The nation needs to move forward through the pandemic and this election cycle with certainty.”