House Democrats pummel postmaster over sharp declines in on-time mail delivery

By: - August 24, 2020 2:24 pm

U.S. Postal Service Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Aug. 24, 2020. The held a hearing on “Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots.” Photo by Tom Williams/Pool | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy came under heavy fire Monday for withholding key information about delays in the delivery of mail since he took over the Postal Service just two months ago.

In a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Democrats pressed DeJoy over an internal report made public over the weekend showing steep declines in on-time mail deliveries since July — challenging GOP claims that Democrats manufactured the crisis.

DeJoy did not share findings from the Aug. 12 report last week when senators asked for information about the delays in a Senate oversight hearing on the matter. 

Nor did DeJoy share its findings in response to an Aug. 14 letter Democratic leaders sent him requesting information about the delays by Aug. 21, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the oversight panel.

The internal post office report “unfortunately” came from a separate source, she said. It was posted on the House Oversight website on Saturday.

There is “absolutely no excuse” for withholding the information, Maloney declared. She threatened to subpoena DeJoy if he does not deliver additional information lawmakers have requested by Wednesday.

The hearing came amid Democratic allegations that the Trump administration is trying to suppress votes during a pandemic in which the postal service will serve as “election central” because Americans will be reluctant to vote in person for fear of spreading infection.

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In addition to undermining the integrity of the elections, the delays are depriving Americans of timely delivery of medicine, paychecks and other essentials, Democrats complained.

President Donald Trump told Fox News earlier this month that he opposes some funding for the Postal Service because he doesn’t want it used for mail-in votes, repeating his false claim that it would lead to “fraudulent” results.

Rep. Gerald Connolly, a Virginia Democrat who chairs the panel’s subcommittee on government operations, said Monday that Democrats aimed to save the postal service and preserve “our democratic institutions.”

DeJoy has ushered in sweeping changes to the agency since taking the job 70 days ago, but has called allegations that they were intended to sway the election results “outrageous.”

In testimony Monday, he said there were numerous reasons for delays and characterized them as a temporary service decline rather than a permanent change.

He said he remains “laser-focused” on addressing the delays but said he has no plans to replace mail processing machines that have already been removed — repeating what he said Friday in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Democrats questioned DeJoy’s honesty and motives, as well as the process by which he was appointed to the position.

Robert Duncan, chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, defended the selection process, saying in opening remarks that DeJoy, a logistics executive from North Carolina and top Trump donor, was the “best leader” for the job. The board, whose governors have many ties to the Trump administration and GOP, had asked for a $25 billion injection of cash earlier this year.

Republicans on the committee reiterated charges that Democrats are creating a crisis to deny the president a second term and called their charges against DeJoy character assasination and harassment.

“This is a political stunt,” said Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the committee, at the outset of the hearing.

Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the panel’s government operations subcommittee, called Democratic attempts to politicize the Postal Service “absolutely disgusting.”

He also charged Democrats with trying to fraudulently influence the upcoming elections in their push for universal mail-in ballots, which he said would result in the delivery of ballots to people who have died or moved and interfere with voter identification requirements.

Arizona Republican Paul Gosar said he wanted to clear up some “obvious political disinformation” from Democrats who allege the postal service is “on the verge of collapse.”

“That’s not true,” he said. The agency, he said, has more than $10 billion in the bank and access to $10 billion in credit, which makes you “fiscally viable through August 2021.” DeJoy affirmed the figures, but said they don’t account for significant liabilities and payroll expenses. “Only in Washington, D.C., would that be a good position to be in.”

He added that he wanted to be “very, very clear” that the postal service “will be able to handle all election mail for the 2020 election.”

Gosar questioned whether “rioting” and “anarchy” in Portland, Ore., and other cities had impeded mail delivery. DeJoy could not point to specific measurements on that point but said “any kind of rioting does produce delays with any type of public service.” He also said rising COVID-19 infections have undermined employee availability, especially in urban “hot spots.”

Gosar concluded with a question about the fabled Pony Express to make a larger point that organizational change is often hard, to which DeJoy conceded: “Transitions don’t always go smoothly.”

DeJoy has said changes to overtime, retail hours and the decommissioning of mail processing machines and blue mailboxes were made to save costs and streamline operations.

Last week, DeJoy said he would suspend some of his moves until after the elections to avoid the appearance of impropriety. He also said he wouldn’t close existing mail processing facilities and would use “standby” resources in October to meet mail surges.

On Friday, several states filed a lawsuit against DeJoy, Duncan and the post office over changes made to the agency. Pennsylvania, Maine and North Carolina are parties to the suit.

Monday’s hearing came after a rare weekend House vote on legislation that would infuse $25 billion into the U.S. Postal Service as it prepares for a surge in mail-in ballots and bar it from changing operations or service levels in place at the beginning of the year.

Democrats who control the House say the bill is needed to stop the agency from allegedly disrupting mail service to sway the November elections. More than two dozen Republicans voted in support of the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not expected to take up the Postal Service relief, and the White House threatened Friday to veto it last week.

The House approved $25 billion for the postal service in a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package approved in May. Negotiations with Republicans over a compromise pandemic measure have stalled on Capitol Hill.

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