California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Tuesday that he will join a multistate coalition of attorneys general, led by Pennsylvania, in a lawsuit to challenge the Trump administration’s over cutbacks at the United States Postal Service (USPS) that they say will affect mail-in voting and the election in November.
A statement issued by the attorney general’s office argues that by “failing to seek regulatory approval on policy changes that have a nationwide impact … Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — through several internal memos issued just months ahead of the election — unlawfully and unilaterally implemented a series of revisions to the postal service’s protocols and procedures that threaten to undermine the timely delivery of millions of mail-in ballots across the country.”
According to news reports, these changes have resulted in multiple-day delays in the delivery of mail, limited overtime for employees, letter carriers instructed to leave mail behind, removing mailbox locations, and decommissioning mail-sorting machines. As states expand mail-in voting in response to the pandemic, USPS warned 46 states and the District of Columbia that it could no longer guarantee timely compliance with all state election deadlines and delivery of all ballots cast by mail for the presidential election
“Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy,” said AG Becerra. “That means relying on our postal service more than ever during this pandemic. Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t stop President Trump from attacking our mail and lying about the facts no matter who gets hurt. To him, even when it comes to delivering your paycheck or medication, it’s a joke. Our right to vote, your paycheck, your prescription medicines, you can’t get more serious than that. So, for the 96th time, we’re taking President Trump to court. No Americans should fear their vote won’t count simply because Donald Trump fears a free and fair election.”
Amid the lawsuits and national outcry, DeJoy — a major Trump donor with no previous government experience who previously worked in business logistics — announced Tuesday that he is suspending any policy or operational changes until after the election. “In the meantime, there are some longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service — that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic. To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
He said that retail hours at the post office will not change, mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will not be removed, no mail processing facilities will be closed, and overtime will continue to be approved as necessary.
Questions arose Wednesday over whether changes already in place would be reversed when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she spoke with DeJoy. “The Postmaster General frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works,” she said
DeJoy has also agreed to testify before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Friday, and the House Oversight Committee next Monday alongside Chairman of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors Robert M. Duncan. Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said in a statement that she was “pleased” DeJoy will testify voluntarily about the operational and organizational changes at the USPS. “I also look forward to receiving his production of documents and other information by this Friday in response to the detailed request I made last week with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, Chairperson Lofgren, and Senate Ranking Members Peters and Klobuchar,” she said.
Aside from changes under DeJoy, President Trump has said he opposes funding the agency. During an interview with Fox News last Thursday, Aug. 13, Trump said he opposed funding for the USPS because he does not want it used for mail-in voting for the November election. “They want three and a half billion dollars for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically. They want three and a half billion dollars for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said.
The president has made repeated baseless claims that widespread mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud. According to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, voter fraud in the U.S. is exceedingly rare. The study found voter fraud rates were between 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.
Walking back his opposition to USPS funding, Trump said Friday he will approve funding for the USPS as part of a coronavirus relief packages if Democrats make certain concessions. As scrutiny increased Monday, the president then told reporters that he “encouraged everybody to speed up the mail, not slow the mail.”
To address concerns, Speaker Pelosi announced Monday that the House would return from its August recess on Saturday to vote on legislation providing $25 billion for the USPS.
Update Aug. 21 at 2:23 p.m.
DeJoy testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Friday to defend his leadership of the USPS.
During the two-hour hearing, DeJoy committed to handling election mail as first class mail, regardless of postage used, and said the USPS “is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail fully and on time,” though he was unable to provide a detailed plan as it is reportedly still being drafted. He told Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) that Americans will receive a letter next month explaining how ballot will be securely delivered.
He did, however, say he has “no intention” to bring back mail-sorting machines as there is “no need.”
DeJoy also denied having spoken to President Trump about the USPS “other than to congratulate me when I accepted the position.”
In response to a line of questioning from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nevada), DeJoy admitted he did not perform any specific analysis on how his policy changes would impact senior citizens, veterans, deployed service members and working-class families. DeJoy said the analysis he did showed that changes would improve service to every constituent but refused to commit to provide the data to the senate committee. He eventually agreed to provide “the analysis that designed the truck schedule that I directed.”
Though he reiterated that cost-cutting measures will be postponed until after the election, DeJoy plans to enact them once voting is done.
Asked about the need for a federal bailout to deliver the mail on time by election day by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), DeJoy said the USPS does not need one but conceded that legislative reform, freedom from retirement benefit obligations (the USPS is required by law to prefund its retirement benefits) and reimbursements for costs are needed.
President of the American Postal Workers Union Mark Dimondstein told MSNB’s Craig Melvin that while he was pleased to hear DeJoy’s commitments around mail-in ballots, “words have to become deeds.” Furthermore, Dimondstein says DeJoy’s statements were general and “do not comport to the facts on the ground.” Dimondstein also took issue with Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) characterizing complaints as having been orchestrated.
In response to DeJoy’s assertion that removed mail-sorting machines are not needed by the post office, Dimondstein said it’s and “ill-timed” choice and that the change is particular concerning in conjunction with reductions in staffing and overtime that’s causing mail backups.
DeJoy will testify before the House on Monday.
This is a developing story.