Louis DeJoy

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, left, is escorted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on July 5 in Washington. DeJoy is expected to testify on Aug. 24, along with Robert Duncan, chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

 

The U.S. Postal Service remained gripped in a partisan battle Monday as Democrats pushed for an emergency hearing and funding while Republicans accused them of stoking a conspiracy theory ahead of a November election in which millions of votes will be cast by mail.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy agreed to testify next week before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform about the sweeping operational changes that have led to mail delivery delays across the country and raised concerns among elected officials and voters, the committee announced Monday.

DeJoy, a top donor and fundraiser for President Trump who took the Postal Service position in June, has come under increasing criticism for the changes, which he has said would increase efficiency and reduce costs.

Trump, who defended DeJoy, did not hesitate to opine on the partisan considerations that have shaped the debate over the Postal Service – adding to the sense that the battle over an iconic American institution had been reduced to a political fight for power.

“Why is Congress scheduled to meet (on Post Office) next Monday, during the Republican Convention, rather than now, while the Dems are having their Convention,” the president wrote Monday on Twitter. “They are always playing games. GET TOUGH REPUBLICANS!!!”

The president doubled down on his effort to overhaul the Postal Service less than three months before the election, tweeting “MAKE THE POST OFFICE GREAT AGAIN” and “SAVE THE POST OFFICE!”

But the abrupt changes that have already been made in the Postal Service – and the president’s public railing against mail-in voting along with his baseless claim of widespread fraud – have raised suspicions that the recent disruptions affecting various types of mail are part of a plot to undermine the electoral system.

“Alarmingly, across the nation, we see the devastating effects of the president’s campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to Democrats on Sunday night.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told lawmakers Monday that the House will hold a rare Saturday session to vote on a bill that would block Postal Service changes during the pandemic.

The Postal Service is removing 671 high-speed mail-sorting machines nationwide this month, a process that will eliminate 21.4 million items per hour’s worth of processing capability from the agency’s inventory. DeJoy has banned postal workers from making extra trips to ensure on-time mail delivery and cracked down on overtime hours.

Democrats also are calling for emergency funding to ensure the Postal Service will be fully equipped to handle an expected record surge of mail-in votes ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Republicans dismissed such concerns Monday, saying the Postal Service was fully equipped to fulfill its mission and that Democrats were the ones playing politics.

“The Democrats’ wild and baseless conspiracy theory about the United States Postal Service is irresponsible and only undermines the American people’s faith in the integrity of the election and our institutions,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

Speaking on Fox Business Network, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., called the controversy a “fabricated crisis” orchestrated by Pelosi.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., downplayed concerns about the Postal Service, saying it would be “just fine” while also distancing himself from some of Trump’s pointed complaints about mail-in voting.

“We’re going to make sure that the ability to function going into the election is not adversely affected,” McConnell said during an event in Kentucky. “I don’t share the concern, the president’s concern … and, in fact, [Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin], in discussions with [Pelosi], had already indicated the administration is prepared to spend up to $10 billion just to make sure the post office is on good terms going into the November election.”

DeJoy is expected to testify on Aug. 24, along with Robert Duncan, chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors and former chairman of the Republican National Committee. The Board of Governors appoints and directs the postmaster general and the operations and spending of the agency.

Top Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, wrote a letter Monday urging the board to undo DeJoy’s actions.

Lawmakers have also urged DeJoy to provide detailed answers on why he enacted operational changes to the agency and issues voters might face in casting their ballots, amid an anticipated influx of mail-in voting because of the novel coronavirus.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the Oversight Committee, said in a statement that she, along with several other Senate and House Democratic leaders, had given DeJoy a one-week deadline to produce documents relating to the postal changes and delays.

A customer moves large parcel boxes from a postal office to a car in Los Angeles on Monday. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has banned postal workers from making extra trips to ensure on-time mail delivery. Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

“The American people want their mail, medicines, and mail-in ballots delivered in a timely way, and they certainly do not want drastic changes and delays in the midst of a global pandemic just months before the election,” she said.

Trump has continued to decry mail-in voting, saying repeatedly and without evidence that broad adoption of the practice would lead to voter fraud.

As concern over potential delays in mail delivery has caused some voting rights advocates to advise people to deposit their absentee ballots in drop boxes, Trump raised the specter that the well-established practice was also prone to fraud.

“Some states use ‘drop boxes’ for the collection of Universal Mail-In Ballots,” Trump tweeted Monday. “So who is going to ‘collect’ the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation? A Rigged Election? So bad for our Country. Only Absentee Ballots acceptable!”

But Florida – the state Trump regularly touts as a model for absentee voting – is among several states where drop boxes have been used without incident for years, allowing voters to submit their ballots without using the Postal Service.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on Monday dismissed the notion that the Postal Service is in dire need of funding, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that “a lot of the headlines are not indicative of what’s actually taking place.”

“I know the post office really well,” Meadows said en route to a Trump event in Minnesota. “It’s not an issue of money. They’ve got over $10 billion cash on hand; they’ve got another line of credit.”

In the spring, Democrats had rallied to the Postal Service’s defense when early pandemic financial projections said that it sat on the brink of insolvency. Postal officials warned that declines in mail volume could have led the agency to run out of money in October.

As Congress agreed to a $13 billion emergency grant for the Postal Service in an early round of coronavirus relief spending, Trump threatened to veto the bill – worth $2 trillion and full of money for unemployment benefits, small businesses and national security industries – if it included any direct funding for the Postal Service.

The White House agreed only to lend the Postal Service $10 billion, which Mnuchin leveraged to try to bring the Postal Service more heavily under the administration’s control.

In his exchange with reporters on Monday, Meadows confirmed that $10 billion remains the administration’s offer, and he argued that short-term funding for the agency is not needed.

“It’s not only unrealistic, it’s unnecessary,” he said, adding: “This is not a funding issue as much as it is a long-term reform issue.”

Trump, who has spent much of his time in office criticizing the Postal Service, has a newfound interest in overhauling it just months ahead of an election in which it is likely to play a significant role.

“The U.S. Post Office (System) has been failing for many decades,” Trump wrote Monday on Twitter. “We simply want to MAKE THE POST OFFICE GREAT AGAIN, while at the same time saving billions of dollars a year for American Taxpayers. Dems don’t have a clue!”

Trump told Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” on Monday that he supported efforts to make in-person voting safer during the pandemic.

But the president has opposed election funding requested by Democrats and has not put forward a plan for how to safely hold an election at a time when the virus continues to circulate, killing hundreds of Americans each day.

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