What's going on with the post office? Here's what we know
WASHINGTON – Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the House members to return to the Capitol to vote on legislation that aims to protect the Postal Service from changes being implemented by the Trump administration, which Democrats described as an effort to "sabotage" the agency ahead of the November election.
Concerns about the administration's actions have mounted since Louis DeJoy – a major donor to President Donald Trump's campaign with large financial interests in the Postal Service's private competitors – became postmaster general in June.
Trump further fueled Democrats' fears after indicating in an interview that he opposed additional funds for the USPS, even though that money would be needed to manage the anticipated surge of mailed-in ballots in the fall election from voters seeking to avoid crowded polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"They need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump said on Fox Business Network, adding, if they don't get the funds, "that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it."
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Trump's comments follow repeated unfounded claims that mail-in ballots will lead to widespread voter fraud. Because of this, critics have looked with alarm at the changes, which include cuts to overtime and a ban on "late" or "extra" delivery trips that could delay the mail.
Pelosi said Sunday that the administration's actions threaten the "lives, livelihoods and the life of our American Democracy."
Here's what we know about what is happening with the U.S. Postal Service:
Delivering for America Act
Pelosi called for an early end to the House recess to push for a vote later this week on Rep. Carolyn Maloney's Delivering for America Act, which prohibits changes to Postal Service operations in place on Jan. 1, 2020.
"At this juncture in our nation’s history, when the number of Americans voting by mail for this Presidential election is expected to more than double from the last, Congress must protect the right of all eligible citizens to have their vote counted," Maloney said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to reconvene the Republican-controlled Senate to act on Maloney's bill.
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Call for DeJoy to testify
Pelosi, Maloney, Schumer and Sen. Gary Peters, the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, issued a joint statement Sunday that called on DeJoy and USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan to testify before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
The Democratic leaders said they wanted explanations for the "sweeping and dangerous operational changes at the Postal Service that are slowing the mail and jeopardizing the integrity of the election."
The statement urged Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to hold DeJoy "accountable for the destructive changes he has directed that are undermining this crucial public service and pillar of democracy that Americans in every corner of our country count on.”
Dems want the FBI to get involved
On Monday, Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., urged FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate whether DeJoy's acts were illegal in light of the "overwhelming evidence" that he "hindered the passage of mail."
In a joint letter, Jeffries and Lieu said that if DeJoy or the Board of Governors were "motivated by personal financial reasons," or to make mailing in ballots more difficult, they may have broken the law.
The White House response
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Sunday that most of the Democrats' concerns were part of a "narrative that's not based on facts."
Meadows said he could "guarantee" that "the president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way, whether it's the post office or anything else."
Contradicting Trump's comment last week, he said that even without additional funding, the Postal Service could handle the rise in mail-in-ballots. He said, "Even if every single voter voted by mail, we're talking about a 1.5% difference."
Problems at the post office
The USPS's financial woes were not brought on by the pandemic, though that has exacerbated them.
The agency reported a loss of nearly $9 billion last year. Some of this comes from years-long decline in first-class mail, and other issues.
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In 2006, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed, requiring the Postal Service to put money aside for future retiree health benefits. The law had a 50-year schedule, and for the first 10 years, USPS was supposed to save $5 billion. However, since 2006, the USPS has seen rising net losses in revenue.
In 2012, the Postal Service started defaulting on the payments.
The USPS became eligible for a $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department as part of the the CARES Act, which Congress passed in March. But due to stipulations put in place by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, including the recruitment of new leadership, that money wasn't made available to the USPS immediately.
The Treasury and USPS finally reached an agreement in principle on aid on July 29.
Fact check: Voters should request ballots 2 weeks early, but mail isn't intentionally slow
Who is Postmaster General Louis DeJoy?
In May, the Postal Service’s board of governors, who are appointed by the president, named Louis DeJoy as the postmaster general.
DeJoy is a North Carolina businessman and major Republican and Trump donor, who, according to several reports, had significant investments in companies that compete or do business with the USPS.
Prior to his appointment, DeJoy was a fundraiser for the Republican National Convention and has given about $360,000 to Trump Victory, a super PAC supporting Trump’s reelection, according to federal filings.
DeJoy, 63, is the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who is not a career postal employee.
Trump on Wednesday called him, " the new man — who is a great person, a great businessman — he just got there a little while ago."
Changes at the agency since DeJoy
Since he was appointed, DeJoy has eliminated overtime for hundreds of thousands of post office employees and mandated that mail is kept until the next day if distribution centers are running behind.
In a memo to employees, DeJoy wrote that as a result, “if we cannot deliver all the mail due to call offs or shortage of people and you have no other help, the mail will not go out."
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This, and other changes, are said to have been implemented to cut costs.
Philip Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina A&T University and a former letter carrier, told USA TODAY in regards to these changes, "The USPS is not a trucking firm. The $200 million transportation cost savings that DeJoy claims will result from his policies will be minimal, and they will come at the expense of universal service, which is what the USPS does."
DeJoy also dramatically restructured the organization, removing or reassigning nearly two dozen agency leaders, including displacing the two top executives who oversaw day-to-day operations.
He also banned employees from making extra trips to deliver mail, implemented a hiring freeze and requested "early retirement authority" for nonunion employees.
It was also reported this week that the USPS is removing some mail sorting machines from its facilities around the country without any official explanation.
These are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting mail-in ballots.
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These changes have resulted in delivery delays in places, prompting fears that some ballots may not reach election offices in time if the issues aren't corrected before the election in November.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told NPR that "postal workers in general – are absolutely opposed to any policies that just slow down the mail in the name of whatever the name is – cost-cutting, in this case. It's about service. It's not the United States postal business. It's the United States Postal Service."
Despite calls for his resignation, DeJoy has pledged more sweeping changes.
Response to the changes
Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in ballots heading toward November, calling them unsafe and untrustworthy, as COVID-19 forces many Americans to stay home and vote by mail.
He has also been highly critical of the post office, once calling it a "joke."
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At a fundraiser Wednesday evening, Biden accused the president of trying to defund the post office to stop mail-in voting, calling it “a bunch of malarkey!”
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Discussions for the next round of coronavirus relief funding have remained entangled in disagreements over election money, with the issue of mail-in voting causing lingering contention between the Trump administration and Democrats.
Last week, Trump suggested a deal isn't going to happen and pointed a finger at Democrats for demanding $3.5 billion for mail-in voting, which he argued would perpetuate voter fraud, and for pushing for an additional $25 billion for the Postal Service.
But Meadows said Sunday that Trump would be open to approving the $25 billion for the Postal Service as part of a deal.
"If my Democrat friends are all upset about this, come back to Washington, D.C., where the president and I am right now," Meadows said. "Let's go ahead and get a stimulus check out to Americans. Let's make sure that small businesses are protected with an extended PPP program and put the postal funding in there."
"We will pass it tomorrow. The president will sign it. And this will all go away," he said.
He said he was also open to a stand-alone bill to fund the USPS and claimed "Pelosi is the one who says that she won't do anything unless it's a big deal"
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Professor Rubio said the massiveness of mail-in voting that could occur this year, and the changes within the USPS may impact that.
"With up to 76% of eligible voters having the option to vote by mail this year, and at minimum 50% expected to vote by mail or vote early, this could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters if their ballots are not mailed out or returned in time," he said.
Trump's "previous attacks on the USPS and mail-in voting already suggested his deliberate sabotage of the democratic process and the USPS at the same time, but this was a stunning, candid admission that his intent was to starve the USPS of much-needed bailout funds and therefore compromise overall service as well as democracy," Rubio said.
Contributing: Associated Press; Ella Lee, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Postal Service: What's going on with the post office? What we know