WASHINGTON — The U.S. House convened a rare weekend session Saturday amid Democratic fears the U.S. Postal Service’s leadership could disrupt mail service and sabotage the November elections. Republicans called those concerns overblown and sensationalized.
The Democratic-led chamber passed a bill 257-150 that would infuse $25 billion into the agency 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.
The changes made by Postmaster General DeJoy are slowing down our mail and affecting the ways Central Virginians access their prescriptions, run their businesses, or pay their bills. I know this because I’ve heard it firsthand from the people of #VA07. It needs to stop. pic.twitter.com/WV0OKCdrIY
— Abigail Spanberger (@SpanbergerVA07) August 22, 2020
The prohibition would remain in effect through January 2021 or for the duration of the coronavirus crisis — whichever is later.
The bill passed largely along party lines, though more than two dozen Republicans joined Democrats in backing the legislation. No Democrats voted against it.
I voted no against @SpeakerPelosi's @USPS wish list. This conspiracy theory-driven bill fails to create reform in the USPS and is an unnecessary money grab. USPS has already been awarded $10 billion in CARES Act funding. I support the USPS but don't support politics over people.
— Congressman Denver Riggleman (@RepRiggleman) August 22, 2020
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not expected to take up the measure. He told his hometown paper Tuesday that he doesn’t think a stand-alone bill funding the postal service would pass the chamber.
The White House threatened Friday to veto the post office boost, calling it “an overreaction to sensationalized media reports that have made evidence-free accusations that USPS has undertaken reforms to achieve political rather than operational objectives.”
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) maintains that the administration is trying to suppress votes as the nation heads into a fraught election season in which the postal service will serve as “election central.”
In addition to undermining the integrity of the elections, the delays are depriving Americans of timely delivery of medicine, paychecks and other essentials, Pelosi said at a press conference Saturday.
Democratic lawmakers made similar allegations on the House floor.
The administration has mounted a “sabotage campaign” to manipulate the vote, Rep. Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, said Saturday morning.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence, (D-Mich.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said the bill would prohibit the postmaster general from making any changes that would undermine the post office. She said the postmaster general has “tried to rip it apart from the inside” and “our democracy is hinging” on delivery of the mail.
For years, my mission has been to protect and improve the US Postal Service.
I will not back down.
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) August 23, 2020
Republicans charged Democrats with ginning up a manufactured crisis intended to deny the president a second term. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said postal problems predate 2020 and the Trump administration.
“Whether President Clinton, Bush, Obama, or Trump, the consistent message has been that in order to ensure financial viability, the USPS needed to continue to reform its operations,” said U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Botetourt. “Speaker Pelosi could have had the support of most Republicans, including myself, if she had left politics out of the bill and focused on improving USPS operations. Unfortunately, House Democrats placed politics above policy and ended up with a bill that has little chance of actually being signed into law.”
GOP Rep. Rob Woodall of Georgia called Saturday’s vote a “punctuation mark” at the close of last week’s Democratic National Convention. This “wasteful partisan exercise” will “go nowhere” in the GOP-controlled Senate and “help no one,” he added.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican from Arizona, echoed the sentiment, calling the controversy “phony political theater.” Pelosi has gone “politically postal,” she said, quoting a recent Wall Street Journal editorial.
The House approved $25 billion for the postal service in a $3 trillion coronavirus relief package approved in May. Pelosi pointed out Saturday that the USPS board of governors — a bipartisan group of members appointed by Trump— backs the funding.
Trump said last week on Fox News that he opposes some funding because he doesn’t want it used for mail-in votes, repeating his claim that it would lead to “fraudulent” election results.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top Trump donor and former logistics executive from North Carolina, has ushered in sweeping changes to the agency since taking the job in June. He acknowledged Friday at an oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate that his overhaul has coincided with a drop in on-time deliveries but called allegations that they were intended to suppress votes “outrageous.”
He said changes to overtime, retail hours and the location of mail processing machines and blue mailboxes were made to save costs and streamline operations but said earlier this week 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, he insisted that secure elections are his “sacred duty” and top priority this fall.
But Pelosi on Saturday called DeJoy’s promise into question, pointing to his decision not to replace mail infrastructure that has already been removed. She also pointed to Trump’s comment earlier this week calling for law enforcement officers at polling places.
“It is all designed to suppress the vote,” Pelosi said.
DeJoy is slated to testify again on Monday in a hearing before the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee, where he is expected to face more withering questioning. Robert Duncan, chair of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, will also appear before the committee.
Mercury Editor Robert Zullo contributed.