Postmaster general insists it’s his ‘sacred duty’ to deliver election mail on time

By: - August 21, 2020 12:30 pm

Photo by BassittART | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy mounted a strong defense of his record Friday during a high-profile Senate hearing on recent postal delays, calling claims that the Trump administration is trying to sabotage the elections by deliberately disrupting mail service “outrageous.”

DeJoy acknowledged delays during the pandemic but said the agency is fully capable of delivering election mail on time and said successful elections are his “sacred duty” and main priority this fall. The postmaster general, a former logistics company executive from North Carolina, is a top donor to President Donald Trump who took over the job in June.

Rebutting allegations that he’s acting at Trump’s bidding, DeJoy said he had not spoken to Trump about policy changes he has made since taking the position and has only informed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin of his general intention to improve processes and save costs at the cash-strapped agency.

In May, the U.S. House approved $25 billion for the Postal Service in a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package. Trump said last week on Fox News that he opposes additional funding because he doesn’t want it used for mail-in votes, repeating his false claim that it would lead to “fraudulent” election results.

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DeJoy spoke before the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is chaired by GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Johnson sought to cast DeJoy in a friendly light ahead of a Democratic-led hearing on the issue in the U.S. House on Monday. That House Oversight and Reform hearing will feature DeJoy again, as well as Robert Duncan, chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors.

“I think you should be commended, not condemned,” Johnson said.

In his remarks, Johnson called DeJoy the target of a political hit job by Democrats, whom he charged with “ginning up” controversy for political gain. Johnson accused the media of willingly playing along with a “false narrative” that the GOP is disrupting mail service to suppress Democratic votes. Such a claim has been made in Arizona by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the ranking Democrat on the panel, countered Johnson, saying complaints about mail service delays “are not manufactured.” He held up a chart depicting a significant drop in on-time mail delivery this summer and cited an investigation that has yielded thousands of complaints.

“These are real people,” he said.

Peters said DeJoy owed Americans both an apology and an explanation for delays that have prevented them from timely receipt of medicine, paychecks, benefit statements and more.

Peters concluded at the end of the hearing that he was not satisfied with DeJoy’s responses.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema noted that 85 to 90 percent of Arizona voters are expected to vote by mail this fall. She asked if local postal managers will be authorized to make decisions about processing election mail so they can accommodate the anticipated surge in volume. DeJoy said there would be “aggressive efforts” to ensure mail arrives on time.

She also pressed DeJoy over whether the postal service is planning to modify or reduce capacity at any postal processing facilities before the election.

“Senator, I promise you, we are not making any changes until after the election,” DeJoy told her.

Earlier this week, DeJoy said he would suspend some initiatives to avoid a possible appearance of impropriety. Those changes he’d undertaken involve overtime rules, retail hours at local post offices, and the location of mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes, according to a statement.

He also said he wouldn’t close existing mail processing facilities and would use “standby” resources as of Oct. 1 to meet mail surges.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called his pledge “wholly insufficient” and said it would not reverse damage done.

She said DeJoy won’t replace mail machines that have already been removed and has no plans for “adequate” overtime.

“All of these changes directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of color,” she said in a statement.

DeJoy explained at the hearing that retiring blue boxes and mail sorting machines is routine procedure and said some machines had been removed to account for a recent increase in the volume of package mail. He said he has not eliminated or curtailed overtime pay and noted that he did not direct closures of post offices and has since suspended them.

DeJoy also said in an exchange with Peters that he will not bring back any mail processing machines that have been removed because they’re not needed.

DeJoy’s claims that the changes are routine contradict testimony given Thursday by the former vice chairman of the U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors. David C. Williams, a former Postal Service inspector general who resigned as vice chairman in protest in April, told the Congressional Progressive Caucus that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sought to politicize the USPS, including by selecting DeJoy as postmaster general.

The U.S. House will meet tomorrow in a rare weekend session to vote on a measure providing $25 billion in Postal Service funding and barring the agency from changing operations or service levels in place at the beginning of the year.

The Postal Service generates almost all of its revenue through its operations, but Congress has at times provided some additional appropriations. The Congressional Research Service reported earlier this year that the USPS has continued to incur losses for at least a decade, and its expenses in fiscal 2019 were $80 billion while its revenues were $71 billion. The pandemic has only exacerbated those problems.

***UPDATED: This story was updated to include comments from Kyrsten Sinema.

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