WASHINGTON — In his first appearance before Congress, new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy tried to tamp down concerns that he was making it more difficult for Americans to vote by mail in the upcoming presidential election, which many will do as the coronavirus continues to spread in their communities.
A resident of North Carolina, DeJoy told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee that he votes by mail himself. “I think the American public should be able to vote by mail,” he told the committee. He is expected to testify before the House on Monday, as the furor continues over recent changes he has overseen, including the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines, as well as the curtailment of overtime pay.
Earlier this week, DeJoy informed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that there would be no further changes before the election. She called his assurances “insufficient,” telling members of the chamber to return to Washington to consider ways to prop up the U.S. Postal Service before Election Day.
President Trump helped create the current concern about the fate of the USPS by admitting he wanted to hold up funds for the agency in order to stop universal mail-in voting, which he believes would help Democrats. He has also repeatedly asserted — without offering any meaningful evidence — that voting by mail is subject to fraud. Those accusations come as states try to devise means for people to vote safely during a pandemic that has killed at least 174,000 of their fellow Americans.
There is little debate that the USPS is in a “deteriorating and unsustainable” situation, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO says that the post office “has lost $69 billion over the past 11 fiscal years” as a result of operational inefficiencies and Americans’ changing communication habits, which rely much less on envelopes and stamps than they did in previous generations.
DeJoy arrived at the USPS in June with no government experience, one of many Trump appointees asked to use his private-sector expertise to revive some aspect of the federal bureaucracy. A major donor to President Trump in particular and the Republican Party in general, DeJoy worried some as an overly political and insufficiently experienced pick to serve as the overseer of the nation’s entire mail system.
Little that followed dispelled those concerns among the critics of Trump and DeJoy. In early July, documents published online revealed that DeJoy was seeking to cut overtime by keeping mail carriers from waiting for late-arriving trucks. He has also removed both mailboxes and sorting machines, while purging the Postal Service’s senior leadership ranks.
Friday’s turn before the Senate was meant to reassure Congress, with DeJoy claiming that he was “very, very confident” that the USPS could meet all demand related to the Nov. 3 election. “There’s slack in the system,” he told lawmakers. “The Postal Service stands ready.”
As for the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines, DeJoy depicted those moves as ongoing processes beyond his control. “I haven’t reviewed it,” he said of the mailbox removal initiative. But he also told Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat, that neither the mailboxes nor the sorting machines would be returned. “They’re not needed, sir,” he said.
The committee is chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., an ally of the president. In his remarks, Johnson charged that calls to his legislative offices from constituents complaining about the Postal Service were “highly scripted.”
Johnson accused Democrats of waging a political campaign to foment outrage.
“I have no doubt the Democrats are ginning these issues and these problems up into something that it’s not,” he said as the hearing came to a conclusion.
Johnson similarly tried to downplay the investigation into Russia’s electoral interference in the 2016 election. He visited Moscow in 2018.
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