Appearing before angry members of Congress for the first time, the new head of the U.S. Postal Service was forced to personally state the obvious: that the operational changes he recently implemented did, in fact, lead to the serious delivery delays and other issues that have exasperated people nationwide.
But Postmaster General Louis DeJoy insisted on Friday that in no way would his designs on the USPS jeopardize Americans’ reliable access to the mail in a year of a pandemic and a pivotal election.
Against the backdrop of President Trump’s repeated attacks on the USPS and the process of mail-in voting—which will be done in record numbers this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic—DeJoy insisted that “as we head into the election season, I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time.”
DeJoy, who himself declared on Friday morning that he would vote by mail, committed to 95 percent of first-class mail being delivered within three days, and to keeping ballots as first-class mail items. Asked by Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) how the USPS planned to meet delivery standards during the election season, DeJoy flatly said, “I promise you, we are not making any changes until after the election.”
To DeJoy’s critics on the panel, however, many of his assurances strained credulity and fueled doubt about his capacity to run the agency at such a critical time. And an announcement that DeJoy made earlier in the week that proclaimed he was suspending new operational measures until after the election seemed to only raise even more questions.
At one point, DeJoy told Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) that USPS leadership had not analyzed the impact that his proposed operational changes would have on the groups that most depend on the mail, like seniors. And he told the ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), that he had “no intention” to bring back the roughly 10 percent of USPS mail sorting machines that have been taken offline.
“They’re not needed,” said DeJoy.
The Postmaster General also denied that the USPS was curtailing overtime for postal workers, a change that figures to prevent second or third trips later in the day to deliver mail. An internal USPS memo from July, shortly after DeJoy took over, detailed imminent plans to reduce overtime hours, however. “The USPS will no longer use excessive cost to get the basic job done,” the memo read. Overtime, claimed DeJoy on Friday, “has not been curtailed by me or the leadership team.”
Postal workers’ unions, which have been harshly critical of Trump’s handling of the agency, have also bristled at DeJoy’s use of the election as a red line. “We obviously think these policies should be rolled back and reversed permanently,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers’ Union, to The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “What is he saying— after November, he’s gonna go back to messing up the mail again?
The rapid politicization of Postal Service issues was the clear undercurrent of Friday’s hearing. Democrats have raised serious alarm over the Trump administration’s handling of the Postal Service and the prospect that the president and his allies are using changes to suppress the mail-in vote.
Trump has explicitly connected funding for the USPS with Democratic success in the November elections. “They need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said to Fox News on August 12. “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped.”
In response to questions from Democrats, DeJoy—a GOP mega-donor who’s given to Trump’s campaign—said he hadn’t discussed Postal issues with the President other than at an August 3 meeting that was described as merely “congratulatory” by the White House. He said he’s only briefly spoken with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who a former member of the USPS Board of Governors said on Thursday made demands that “would turn the Postal Service into a political tool.”
The insinuation he is politicizing the USPS, said DeJoy, is “quite frankly outrageous.”
Republicans spent much of the Friday hearing arguing this is conspiracy theorizing in the service of politics and that DeJoy is merely trying to implement necessary changes. The chairman of the committee, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), admitted that complaints about mail delays were genuine but also insisted, “I have no doubt that the Democrats are ginning these problems, these issues, into something that it’s not… It’s being done for a political purpose.”
One of the lawmakers to most explicitly note Trump’s revealing statements about the Postal Service was Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT). “I can imagine how frustrating it is to be accused of political motives,” Romney told DeJoy.
“At the same time, you can certainly understand there have been pretty good reasons for people to think you or your colleagues are purposely acting to suppress voting.”