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DeJoy defends Postal Service reforms in raucous House hearing

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the Postal Service on Capitol Hill, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Washington.  (Tom Williams/AP)
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies during a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on the Postal Service on Capitol Hill, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Washington. (Tom Williams/AP)

WASHINGTON – Postmaster General Louis DeJoy assured House lawmakers Monday the Postal Service will handle election mail the way it has in past years, while trying to correct what he called “many inaccuracies” about the changes that have taken place under his brief tenure as the agency’s chief.

In a partially virtual hearing that was marred by technical difficulties and at times devolved into shouting matches between Democrats and Republicans, a weary-looking DeJoy fielded questions that brought little clarity to the mail delays that have worsened since he began implementing cost-cutting measures in July.

“Transitions don’t always go smoothly,” DeJoy said of his move to cut down on late and additional truck trips, which he conceded has caused delays. “Our recovery process is taking too long. This should have been resolved in a few days, and it’s not.”

The panel’s Democratic majority cast DeJoy as incompetent at best and perhaps seeking to undermine the nation’s mail delivery system in the months before an election in which an unprecedented number of Americans are expected to vote by mail.

“These delays have real impacts on real lives with real consequences,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., told DeJoy. “Most devastatingly, they damage the Postal Service’s credibility in a very brief time. Congratulations, Mr. DeJoy. An esteemed institution that now is in doubt in the American public’s mind.”

DeJoy told the House Oversight and Reform Committee the USPS “will do everything we can to handle and deliver election mail” quickly – including authorizing overtime, extra trips and increased oversight – but encouraged Americans who choose to vote by mail to request and cast their ballots early.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” he said later.

The hearing came two days after the House reconvened early from its summer recess to pass a bill Saturday that would give the insolvent USPS $25 billion in emergency funding and roll back any changes made since the beginning of the year, including decisions that preceded DeJoy taking the reins at the Postal Service in mid-June.

Twenty six GOP lawmakers joined all 231 House Democrats to approve the legislation, but White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows rejected the bill Saturday, calling it a “political statement” and saying President Donald Trump would approve funding for the Postal Service only if it comes as part of another coronavirus relief package, which the parties have so far failed to negotiate.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas, Wash., who was among the Republicans who voted for the bill, called addressing the mail delays “critical” in a video posted to Twitter but lamented that the House was not also voting on pandemic relief legislation.

GOP Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane and Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside, as well as North Idaho Rep. Russ Fulcher, all opposed the bill. A spokeswoman for McMorris Rodgers pointed to the lawmaker’s statement to The Seattle Times editorial board explaining she opposed the bill “because the Postmaster General already announced that changes won’t be happening before the election.”

Facing backlash to changes set in motion before he took office, DeJoy announced Aug. 18 he would suspend the removal of blue collection boxes and mail sorting machines around the country, but the move did not reverse his order to enforce truck departure schedules, which he said Monday was one of several factors behind the delays.

The announcement also froze plans to end outgoing mail processing in Wenatchee, Yakima and Tacoma, a change that would have sent virtually all mail originating east of the Cascades to Spokane.

DeJoy told the committee machines that have already been disconnected would not be replaced, calling them unneeded. But postal workers in Wenatchee and Tacoma reconnected sorting machines last week that had recently been taken offline, following orders from a regional manager in Seattle that were later superseded by national management, according to Ryan Harris, Washington president of the American Postal Workers Union.

Republicans on the committee defended DeJoy’s reform efforts and at times turned their attention to the role of nationwide protests in delaying mail, a factor DeJoy said he hadn’t seen data on.

“It is a fact that not only is the mail delivery delayed when you have anarchists laying siege to cities all over the country, it endangers postal workers,” Alabama GOP Rep. Gary Palmer said while an aide held up a photo of a Minneapolis post office that was burned after the May killing of George Floyd by police in that city.

Some Democrats, meanwhile, chose not to use their time to get answers from the USPS chief. Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat, lobbed a barrage of accusations at DeJoy before asking as his time expired, “What the heck are you doing?”

After Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., implied DeJoy improperly solicited donations for the Trump campaign, the postmaster general said, “That’s an outrageous claim, sir, and I resent it.”

Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, called the hearing “theater” and called for Congress to pass legislation to address the Postal Service’s financial woes.

“We should have hearings about the health and the financial status of the Postal Service,” Roy said. “We should work on legislation to improve it. There are bipartisan efforts to do that. We should actually roll out sleeves up and do that work.”

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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