The Postmaster General just backed down, but Democrats must keep up pressure
Washington, August 18, 2020
Opinion by Greg Sargent
Because the crush of President Trump’s corruption and wrongdoing has been so relentless, it often can seem like media scrutiny and congressional oversight have been reduced to nothing more than dead letters.
But in the case of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, the scrutiny might actually be having a real impact:
The U.S. Postal Service will halt its controversial cost-cutting initiatives until after the election — canceling service reductions, reinstating overtime hours and ceasing the removal of mail-sorting machines and public collection boxes, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced in a statement Tuesday.
The declaration comes as lawmakers prepared to question DeJoy and USPS board of governors Chairman Robert M. Duncan in a Friday hearing in the Senate and at a Monday hearing in the House on those policy changes, which have caused mail slowdowns and threatened to jeopardize ballot collection during the November election.
This is to no small degree a good development. The statement from DeJoy looks like a real climb-down, one that was brought about by relentless media and public pressure.
“The very fact that he felt he had to issue it is a testament to the enormous blowback he’s getting,” Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee, told me.
But as Connolly noted, there are still a host of unanswered questions, and those will require continued pressure from Democrats and the public alike — for several key reasons.
First, that pressure will be required to fully understand exactly what DeJoy’s suspension of the changes really amounts to.
So what we need to know now is what exactly DeJoy means by his statement. It says that DeJoy is “suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” and adds that he wants to “assure Americans of the following”:
* Retail hours at Post Offices will not change.
* Mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are.
* No mail processing facilities will be closed.
* And we reassert that overtime has, and will continue to be, approved as needed.
As Connolly told me, it’s not clear whether this means a full restoration of the state of things before the changes began. It’s also not clear to what degree DeJoy intends to reinstate overtime hours, given that it will be “approved as needed.”
Does that mean “approved as needed” to deliver all mail ballots on time?
DeJoy is scheduled to testify at a House hearing next week, and a senior Democratic aide tells me this hearing will proceed on schedule.
Connolly noted that this hearing will be crucial in pinning DeJoy down on all these matters. “Are you saying you will go no further, or are you returning to the status quo ante?” Connolly said, framing the question DeJoy should answer.
A second reason for continued pressure will be to pin down DeJoy on the true nature of his plans to ensure that mail ballots actually are delivered on time, especially amid a massive upsurge in demand for vote-by-mail amid pandemic conditions.
DeJoy’s statement is unequivocal in making this promise:
The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall. Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards. The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day.
Connolly noted that DeJoy must be pressed at the hearing to detail what plan he will put in place to ensure that this happens, with as much operational specificity as possible.
“How are you going to help us restore the credibility of the Postal Service and ensure the integrity of the election?” is how Connolly framed that question.
On still another front, an aide confirms that House Democrats will proceed with a vote this Saturday on a bill that would explicitly reverse DeJoy’s initial changes, prohibit other changes that would substantially impact service and require USPS to treat all election mail as First Class, reducing the possibility of delays.
Which theoretically should pose a challenge to Trump and Senate Republicans. After all, Trump has retweeted numerous claims that dismissed the idea that he’s trying to corrupt the mail through these delays as a Democratic conspiracy theory.
So will they support the House Democratic effort to codify these protections in law?
“DeJoy, Senate Republicans and Trump could show good faith by supporting this legislation,” Vanita Gupta, the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, told me.
Remember, Trump has already telegraphed that he’s counting on these delays to help him in the election. He has explicitly said mail balloting will inevitably mean a rigged outcome, and hasn’t bothered to conceal his intention to dismiss ballots arriving after Election Day as illegitimate, even as GOP lawyers are working to keep in place laws that would invalidate those ballots.
Yes, getting DeJoy to back down to this degree shows that sustained scrutiny and pressure can work. But given all we’ve seen, it’s also a reason to continue intensifying both going forward.