WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — The U.S. postmaster general returned to Congress Monday to testify before a House panel following backlash over operational changes.
The hearing comes after the House approved legislation Saturday to reverse the changes in U.S. Postal Service operations and send $25 billion to shore up the agency ahead of the November election, when an increase in mail-in ballots is expected due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy refused requests by Democrats to restore mail-sorting machines or mailboxes removed from service.
During his testimony in the Senate Friday, DeJoy said the cuts to mailboxes and sorting equipment were routine responses to changes in mail volume, which has dropped in the pandemic. He said that he didn’t order those changes, which were underway before he took the helm in June.
Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., told DeJoy at the hearing on Capitol Hill Monday that changes imposed this summer have threatened the reliability of mail service in his state and across the country.
Either through “gross incompetence” or “on purpose,” DeJoy is “deliberately dismantling this once-proud institution,” Lynch said.
DeJoy denied any wrongdoing and accused Lynch and other Democrats of spreading misinformation.
DeJoy also disputed published reports that he has eliminated overtime for postal workers and said a Postal Service document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a mid-level manager. DeJoy, who has said his “No. 1 priority” is to ensure election mail arrives on time, said he will authorize expanded use of overtime, extra truck trips and other measures in the weeks before the election to ensure on-time delivery of ballots.
He also warned that voters should request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election to ensure they have enough time to receive their ballot, complete it and mail it back to elections officials on time.
In prepared testimony before the House Oversight Committee, he said voters should mail back their ballots at least seven days prior to the election. DeJoy said the advice on mail-in ballots is similar to previous years, but is even more important this year to ensure that ballots will be delivered on time and counted.
His advice “should in no way be misconstrued to imply that we lack confidence in our ability to deliver those ballots,’’ DeJoy told the House panel in remarks obtained by The Associated Press. “We can, and will, handle the volume of Election Mail we receive.’’
The pre-election warning “has nothing to do with recent operational initiatives or concerns about delayed mail,’’ DeJoy said, and is merely intended to help ensure that ballots will be delivered on time and counted.
“While we will do whatever we can to deliver ballots even when they are mailed at the last second, it should also be obvious to fair-minded election officials that urging voters to mail back their ballot at least a week before the deadline is a simple and straightforward step to ensure that ballots are delivered on time and, most importantly, counted under state law,’’ he said.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chair of the Oversight Committee and author of the House bill, said DeJoy was using the Postal Service’s longstanding fiscal problems as an excuse “to justify sweeping and damaging changes to Postal Service operations. And we have all seen the results: national headlines about delays of days and weeks, veterans desperately waiting for their medications, sorting machines being ripped out and thrown in dumpsters.”
Maloney’s committee on Saturday released internal Postal Service documents warning about steep declines and delays in a range of mail services since early July. Delays have occurred in first-class and marketing mail, periodicals and Priority Mail, the agency said in an Aug. 12 briefing prepared by Postal Service staff for DeJoy.
“These new documents show that the delays we have all heard about are actually far worse than previously reported — and they are across the board,” Maloney said.
DeJoy acknowledged at the Senate hearing there has been a “dip” in service, but disputed reports of widespread problems.
In a statement Sunday, the Postal Service said it greatly appreciates House efforts to assist the agency, but remains concerned that some of the bill’s requirements, “while well meaning, will constrain the ability of the Postal Service to make operational changes that will improve efficiency, reduce costs and ultimately improve service to the American people.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recalled lawmakers to Washington for a rare Saturday session while Trump took to Twitter to call for a no vote.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows dismissed the bill as “going nowhere” and called it a “political statement,” stressing that Trump would consider additional money only as part of a broader coronavirus relief package.
“That bill was not a serious bill,” Meadows said. “And my conversations with a lot of the Democrats on Capitol Hill … is, if you want to be serious about it, this president is willing to put forth money and reforms.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., complained that the Democrats’ legislation would not make the Postal Service fiscally sustainable, nor would it make other reforms to the agency’s bylaws, such as removing a costly requirement that the Postal Service prepay decades of retirees’ health benefits. “Their plan isn’t about ballots, it’s about bailouts,″ McCarthy said of Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been eyeing a $10 billion postal rescue as part of the next COVID-19 relief package.
“Senate Republicans are committed to making sure the Postal Service remains well equipped to fulfill its important duties. But the president has already made it clear he will not sign the speaker’s partisan stunt into law,” McConnell said after passage of the House bill.
There were signs of bipartisan support for the Postal Service. Twenty-six House Republicans broke with their party to back the House bill, which passed 257-150.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.