Updated at 1:48 p.m. ET
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended his management of the U.S. Postal Service to the House on Monday amid concerns that his cost-cutting measures have jeopardized the agency’s ability to serve Americans.
The hearing of the House Oversight Committee is underway now. Watch the hearing live.
Mail service has slowed across the country, according to internal documents obtained by the Oversight Committee, but DeJoy denies that is part of any attempt to reduce throughput to complicate voting by mail this year.
In fact, he said in his prepared opening statement, DeJoy expects the Postal Service to be able to accommodate all the mailed ballots that Americans send this year.
The postmaster general encouraged voters to request ballots early and return them early but said he is confident that the Postal Service can handle any surge in traffic, which would amount to less than one day’s worth of volume.
DeJoy also said as much on Friday when he testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Those were his first public remarks since agreeing to postpone a number of controversial changes to the way the agency would run, such as reducing employee overtime hours and eliminating hundreds of postal-sorting machines.
DeJoy acknowledged the problems caused by the initiatives but said he expects the Postal Service to work out the kinks and get through the backlogs and dips in service it has experienced.
“Transitions don’t always go smoothly; you need a recovery process … our recovery process should have been resolved in a few days. There are a lot of things that are impacting our service … we should have cleared it up quicker. We have to focus on it now and we’ll recover quite rapidly.”
The internal changes to the Postal Service have proved contentious to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Democrats accused DeJoy, an ally of President Trump and a Republican megadonor, of scheming to kneecap mail-in voting, which is expected to surge this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
DeJoy calls those allegations outrageous.
More broadly, Democrats charged that DeJoy has damaged a legendary and widely popular institution in American life. Critics repeated anecdotes about medicines not being delivered or trucks departing for deliveries empty or without their normal loads of mail.
DeJoy says he imposed a new schedule for truck deliveries that he hopes will result in efficiencies; Democrats say he betrayed his office.
“You have ended a once-proud tradition,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass.
Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., also complained about what she called a lack of responsiveness from the Postal Service following questions about DeJoy’s changes and their effect on the mail.
Some Republicans have also criticized the changes, which they say hurt constituents in rural parts of the country who rely on the Postal Service. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said she and her husband have personally “endured some very poor performance on the part of the Postal Service.”
GOP claims “political stunt”
But Republicans’ political position on Monday was to scoff at the notion that DeJoy is some kind of factotum for Trump who is hurting mail service in support of Trump’s years-long and unfounded claims about fraud in elections.
“This is a political stunt,” said ranking member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky. “I am disappointed by the hysterical frenzy whipped up by our colleagues and their friends in the media.”
He and other Republicans pointed to legislation passed on Saturday in the House to infuse $25 billion into the Postal Service.
The bill also would block the Postal Service from making any service or operations changes through at least January and would require the agency to prioritize delivery of all election-related mail.
Though 26 House Republicans sided with Democrats to approve the legislation, the White House has threatened a veto, and the bill is not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate.
Moreover, as Comer observed, action on the bill took place before the hearing convened on Monday — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the majority had acted ahead of their own ostensible fact-finding process for the sake of headlines, he said, as opposed to truly wishing to govern.
“Meaningful reform is going to take bipartisanship — something we have seen precious little of in the past few days,” Comer said.
The chairwoman rejected the idea that now is the time for a wholesale restructuring of the Postal Service. That can only come after the ongoing emergency, she argued.
“After the pandemic we can revisit and have other statements and work can go forward — but let’s not dismantle these services to the American people; veterans and seniors deserve to get their mail in a timely way,” Maloney said.
The facts on the ground within the postal system also govern its capacity, DeJoy said. He discussed the removal of sorting machines with several members of Congress, including those who asked whether he might restore them now as part of his pledge to suspend his operational changes until Election Day.
No, DeJoy said — but the machines were idle anyway, which is why they were removed.
Republicans’ and Democrats’ acid partisan commentary intensified over the course of the hearing.
Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., asked DeJoy whether he was expecting a pardon from Trump. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., apologized to DeJoy for the tone of the questioning over the course of the day and told the postmaster general he shouldn’t appear at future hearings unless he gets a formal subpoena.
Democrats’ suspicions originate in years’ worth of remarks by Trump, who has complained about plans to boost mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic. That follows earlier claims by the president, which are meritless, about what he calls widespread fraud in U.S. elections.
Trump himself cast a mail ballot in Florida last week.
Republicans meanwhile, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, linked what they called the groundless fears about the Postal Service to other political attacks by Democrats over the Ukraine affair and the Russia imbroglio — hoaxes, as Jordan called them, intended to hurt a president whom Democrats believe they cannot dislodge through an honest election.