Post Office Chief Suspends Controversial Changes Until After Election
Updated 7:50 p.m. ET
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has announced he will suspend the controversial changes he instituted to the U.S. Postal Service until after the November election.
"To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded," DeJoy said in a statement.
He said that between now and Election Day, retail hours at post offices will not change, no mail processing facilities will be closed, mail processing equipment and collection boxes will remain in place, and overtime for workers will be approved when needed.
DeJoy also announced he would "engage standby resources" as of Oct. 1 "to satisfy any unforeseen demand."
It's not clear from his statement whether the post office will replace sorting equipment that has already been taken offline or transferred, but DeJoy emphasized that existing processing and collection equipment will not be affected until after the election and that the post office will be able to handle the volume of mail expected as many more Americans cast votes by mail this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
DeJoy's statement comes after the news that he will testify Friday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
According to the committee, the hearing will focus on the "finances and operations of the Postal Service during COVID-19 and upcoming elections."
Ranking member Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., tweeted Tuesday morning about the upcoming hearing, writing DeJoy "must answer urgent questions about @USPS postal delivery delays harming Michiganders & Americans."
🚨BREAKING🚨— Senator Gary Peters (@SenGaryPeters) August 18, 2020
As @HSGAC Ranking Member—I called on Postmaster General DeJoy to testify before our Committee—and am pleased to have secured an oversight hearing with him on Friday. He must answer urgent questions about @USPS postal delivery delays harming Michiganders & Americans. https://t.co/7R8StCl6cj
DeJoy is also scheduled to testify Monday before the House Oversight Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement calling DeJoy's announcement a "necessary but insufficient first step in ending the President's election sabotage campaign."
"This pause only halts a limited number of the Postmaster's changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President this fall," the statement continues.
Pelosi says the House will move ahead with its vote on Saturday on the Delivering for America Act, which would prohibit the Postal Service from implementing any changes to service that it had in place on Jan. 1, 2020.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows commented on the announcement to reporters travelling with the president to Arizona.
"President Trump at no time has instructed or directed the Post Office to cut back on overtime, or any other operational decision that would slow things down," he said.
As for the removal of sorting machines, Meadows said the process had started back in 2011 and DeJoy's statement addresses a "perception issue."
DeJoy, an ally of President Trump and major GOP donor, has come under fire in recent weeks for mail delivery problems that have cropped up all over the country following major operational changes he instituted after taking over the service earlier this summer.
Democrats have been particularly concerned that the delivery delays could lead to thousands of mail-in ballots being rejected this fall.
Those concerns were amplified last week when Trump indicated to Fox Business Network's Maria Bartiromo that he opposed Democrats' proposed boost in funding for the U.S. Postal Service because he wants to make it harder to expand voting by mail.
"They want $25 billion for the post office. Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now, in the meantime, they aren't getting there. But if they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it," Trump said.
He later walked those remarks back, claiming his only goal is to ensure the integrity of the Nov. 3 election, although there is no evidence that mail ballot systems lead to the fraud Trump says he's worried about.
Pressure has been building since DeJoy took command of the Postal Service for him to answer questions about his announcement to "implement an organizational realignment" at the agency, reduce overtime for mail carriers and remove high-speed sorting machines.
DeJoy referenced his long-term plans for the agency in his statement Tuesday afternoon, writing, "I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election."
In a call with press hosted by Democracy Fund, former Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman said that while he applauds DeJoy for attempting to clarify what he envisioned for the agency, his statement actually raises more questions than it answers.
"[DeJoy] says that they're instituting this in an effort to avoid 'even the appearance of a problem'. And I think, you know, it's important to be candid here. As far as we can tell, this is more than just an appearance of a problem. There is delayed mail across the system, and I think it would have been good to be clear about the unintended consequences of implementing some of these actions ahead of the election," Stroman explained.
He also pointed out that DeJoy's statement doesn't make clear whether the policies are being suspended as of the issuance of the statement or will revert back to what they had been prior to DeJoy's intervention.
"The question becomes, have you already changed hours and are those hours then going to be reversed? Or are you saying that you're going to be at status quo for today?" Stroman questioned regarding DeJoy's promise that retail hours for post offices will not change.
Stroman says that questions still remain about the mail processing equipment and that more transparency is needed.
"If you've already dismantled some of the equipment or removed it, the fact that it's remaining as it is doesn't mean that you're going to reassemble that equipment or return it to the extent that it has been removed," he said.
Stroman added he still believes that voting by mail is safe and that people should feel confident doing it, but they should try to do it as early as possible.
In a statement, Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union said the "fight for the public Post Office is far from over."
"In order for postal workers to continue to carry out their vital work and deliver for the people every day, the USPS is in immediate need of $25 billion in Covid-related financial relief. It's time for Congress to deliver," the statement read.
Also on Tuesday, attorneys general from at least 14 states announced a federal lawsuit saying the Trump administration violated procedure when changes were made by the postmaster general, claiming DeJoy acted outside his authority to make service cuts by limiting workers' overtime hours and removing some sorting equipment. The lawsuit says DeJoy should have sought approval from the post office's regulator, the Postal Regulatory Commission.
"For partisan gain, President Trump is attempting to destroy a critical institution that is essential for millions of Americans," Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.
"We rely on the Postal Service for our Social Security benefits, prescriptions — and exercising our right to vote. Our coalition will fight to protect the Postal Service and uphold the rule of law in federal court," Ferguson continued.
On Monday, the AARP, the largest nonpartisan group advocating for Americans 50 and over, also urged DeJoy to suspend any changes to mail delivery operations.
Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, told DeJoy in a letter that her group "has become increasingly concerned that recent changes in mail processing operations may be compromising the health and safety of millions of older Americans and may unduly restrict the ability of all Americans to safely participate in the upcoming elections, whether they choose to vote from home or in-person."
Top Republicans have pointed to the billions of dollars in loans that Congress has already approved for the Postal Service.
But if seniors weigh in with concerns from rural areas — particularly in states with competitive congressional contests — that could force GOP lawmakers to get behind legislation to preserve mail operations.
NPR's Deirdre Walsh and Pam Fessler contributed to this report.
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