Democratic leaders announced Sunday they are scheduling an emergency Aug. 24 hearing for top United States Postal Service officials to testify before Congress after the agency sounded the alarm about its ability to handle increased mail-in-voting.
“The president has explicitly stated his intention to manipulate the Postal Service to deny eligible voters access to the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election,” said the statement signed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., among others. “Alarmingly, the Postmaster General — a Trump mega-donor — has acted as an accomplice in the president’s campaign to cheat in the election, as he launches sweeping new operational changes that degrade delivery standards and delay the mail.”
“The Postal Service itself has warned that voters — even if they send in their ballots by state deadlines — may be disenfranchised in 46 states and in Washington, D.C., by continued delays,” the statement continued. “This constitutes a grave threat to the integrity of the election and to our very democracy.”
The Democrats requested that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser and top donor to President Donald Trump who took over the Postal Service in June, and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Michael Duncan, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, testify before the House Oversight Committee next Monday.
That hearing, Democrats said, “will examine the sweeping operational and organizational changes at the Postal Service that experts warn could degrade delivery standards, slow the mail and potentially impair the rights of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming November elections.”
The announcement comes as policy changes that DeJoy, a former logistics executive, recently implemented have slowed the service. The postmaster general instituted a number of new policies, including a crackdown on overtime pay, which have delayed mail delivery of important items like prescription medications.
DeJoy was previously scheduled to appear before Congress next month, with Sunday’s announcement coming after an outcry over Congress not moving more quickly. The House is not set to return until early September, though the hearing can take place without members being called back.
A Postal Service spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.
The Postal Service has been in dire financial straits for years, particularly because of its legal obligation to annually pre-fund retirement benefits. During the course of the coronavirus pandemic, letter volume has dropped significantly while the number of packages handled has soared.
Internal documents reviewed by NBC News showed DeJoy is decommissioning 671 of its letter sorting machines, the absence of which will further contribute to a slowing of the mail, postal workers said. A USPS spokesman, David Partenheimer, told NBC News that the removal amounted to “Normal business adjustments!” and added the Postal Service often moves equipment because of fluctuating mail volume.
Meanwhile, numerous states received recent letters from the Postal Service warning that their vote-by-mail deadlines were too tight to ensure proper delivery. A number of states are expanding vote-by-mail because of the pandemic, seeking to prevent crowded polling places and possible spread of the virus.
Michael Mize, president of the Michigan Postal Workers Union who’s worked in the Postal Service for nearly 23 years, told NBC News that the current turmoil is “the strongest political attack on the Postal Service — my livelihood — that I’ve ever seen.”
“My opinion, the position that I’ve taken, is that the appointment that was made (of DeJoy) and the actions that have followed are a direct internal attack on what we do and it makes me sick and it makes me angry,” he said.
But Mize added he still believes the Postal Service will be able to handle vote-by-mail just fine, even with the changes. As others have pointed to, even a large increase in mail-in-ballots would pale in comparison to the parcel load the Postal Service handles annually at Christmas.
“I work with these people and I know that they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that this gets done,” he said. “They take too much pride in it. They’re not just going to buckle over and say, ‘Oh, well.’ It’s just not going to happen.”
Democrats proposed $25 billion in emergency funding to the Postal Service. Concerns over the Postal Service accelerated late last week after Trump told Fox Business that vote-by-mail would be difficult if that funding, in addition to $3.6 billion in vote-by-mail funding, was blocked.
“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,” Trump said. “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.”
In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Trump has no problem with “no-excuse absentee” voting, but opposes universal mail-in balloting. The president recently requested to vote-by-mail in Florida.
“I’ll give you that guarantee right now,” Meadows said. “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.”
Meadows also suggested Trump is open to a standalone Postal Service funding bill or one coupled with one of the president’s legislative aims.
During a Saturday press conference, Trump said “the Post Office is a catastrophe” and that DeJoy “wants to make the Post Office great again.”
On vote-by-mail, the president said, “Absentee is good; mail-in, universal, is very, very bad.”
Asked about the lack of evidence Sunday, Meadows said, “There’s no evidence that there’s not (fraud), either.”