US postmaster-general Louis DeJoy in Washington, US on August 21 2020. Picture: OFFICIAL HANDOUT
US postmaster-general Louis DeJoy in Washington, US on August 21 2020. Picture: OFFICIAL HANDOUT

Washington — US postmaster-general Louis DeJoy said there’s been no attempt by President Donald Trump or his administration to interfere with Postal Service operations to thwart voting by mail, as he defended his management of the agency.

DeJoy called allegations that cutbacks at the post office are aimed at having an effect on the November election an “outrageous claim”. He said he’s voted by mail for years and that everyone should be able to do so.

“The American people can feel comfortable that the postal service will deliver on this election,” DeJoy said Friday at a Senate homeland security committee hearing.

The postal service is at the centre of political clash between Democrats and Trump over voting and the integrity of the November election. Trump, who is trailing Democratic candidate Joe Biden in pre-election polls, has repeatedly decried the increase in voting by mail and claimed, without evidence, that it’s ripe for fraud.

Democrats have questioned whether recent slowdowns and cutbacks at the post office may be part of an effort to suppress voting. Former Postal Service Board of Governors vice-chair David Williams said at an informal hearing organised by progressive Democrats on Thursday that Trump sought to turn the postal service into a “political tool”. He said that effort was being led by treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Under questioning from Democrats on the panel, DeJoy said he never discussed post office operations with Trump or specific policy changes with Mnuchin.

“I can imagine how frustrating it is to be accused of political motives in your management responsibilities,” Utah GOP senator Mitt Romney said.

But Romney added that, “Any surprise at such concerns has to be tempered by the fact that the president has made repeated claims that mail-in voting will be fraudulent and that he doesn’t want to get more money to the post office because without more money you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”

Republicans as well as Democrats raised complaints they’ve heard about delayed mail deliveries.

“I am concerned about the delays we’ve seen in Ohio and other places,” Ohio Republican senator Rob Portman said, telling the story of a Vietnam veteran with a lung disease who didn’t receive an inhaler on time.

The postal service has decommissioned sorting machines and removed some mailboxes as part of broader cutbacks. In addition, the post office has warned 46 states that it couldn’t guarantee that ballots mailed before election day would arrive in time to be counted because of deadlines they’ve set.

Dejoy, who suspended operational changes before the election under pressure from Democrats, said that since he took over as postmaster, the agency had removed 700 collection boxes as part of a regular reallocation.“ This is a normal process that’s been around 50 years,” he said.

The dismantling of postal sorting machines, which was cited by Democrats on the committee, is the result of changes in the mix of letters and packages, Dejoy said. The changes are being made to accommodate the growing number of packages in proportion to regular mail.

Under questioning, DeJoy said the decommissioned sorting machines won’t be put back into service. “They are not needed,” he said.

DeJoy said Congress was at fault for the agency’s dire financial situation because legislators hadn’t enacted changes that would allow it to get on a sustainable path.

Republicans have been mounting a defence of the Postal Service and of DeJoy, dismissing Democratic alarm over its operations and the possible effect on the November vote that will decide control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.

DeJoy “has already been subjected to character assassination as Democrats have put him in the crosshairs of another hyperbolic false narrative perpetrated to gain political advantage,” senator Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who leads the homeland security Committee, said in his opening remarks.

Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the panel’s top Democrat, said DeJoy had “undermined one of our nation’s most trusted institutions and wreaked havoc on families, veterans, seniors, rural communities and people across our country”. Peters said the damage to the institution should be “quickly reversed.”

The House oversight committee is scheduled to question DeJoy on Monday. Postal Service Board of Governors chair Robert Duncan is to join DeJoy at that hearing.

The Democratic-controlled House is set to vote on Saturday on legislation that would bar the post office from making any changes to its operations amid the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also would give the agency $25bn in additional financing. Senate majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that there were no plans to take up the legislation in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority.

DeJoy was selected in May by the Postal Service Board of Governors, which is controlled by Trump appointees, and took over in June. He is a major Republican donor who once played host to Trump at his North Carolina home. He served as national finance chair for the Republican National Convention, which was scheduled to be held in his home state’s biggest city, Charlotte.

Since 2009, DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Z Wos, have given $2.6m to Republicans, Federal Election Commission records show.

DeJoy was an executive with Connecticut-based supply chain company XPO Logistics and served on its board of directors until 2018, according to the Postal Service. Wos was nominated in February to be the US ambassador to Canada.


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