President Donald Trump denied Monday that he had done anything to slow mail delivery as accusations grow that he, as well as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, have politicized the U.S. Postal Service and hamstrung the agency's work. Meanwhile, DeJoy agreed to testify before Congress next week on the issue.
Trump told reporters Monday that he had “encouraged everybody to speed up the mail, not slow the mail,” but critics point to policy changes made by DeJoy, a close ally of the president and a Republican fundraiser, as the cause of the holdup.
As a result, Democrats have demanded that Congress return to session during its August recess to address DeJoy’s policies and have him testify in a week about the situation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that members of the House would return as soon as possible to examine the issues surrounding the Postal Service.
House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said that DeJoy had agreed to testify next Monday “about the sweeping operational and organizational changes he has been making to the Postal Service.”
In the other chamber of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell remains quiet on the topic but not all of his colleagues are doing the same. Seven Senate Democrats sent a letter to the USPS Board of Governors urging them “to reverse changes to postal service operations and mail service delays put in place by Trump megadonor turned Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.”
The board has the power to remove DeJoy under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.
During his testimony, DeJoy is likely to be asked about why he banned overtime work and extra routes taken by postal carriers to deliver the mail on time. Questions also surround the removal of blue Postal Service mailboxes, as well as the decommissioning of 671 letter-sorting machines at Postal Service facilities, though those removals likely predate DeJoy’s appointment in May as the postmaster general. The Postal Service said the removals were related to a decrease in letter volume.
Nevertheless, postal workers say it is the personnel policies that have caused the most damage to timely deliveries — now the focus of scrutiny as states were warned that vote-by-mail ballots could be discarded because they won't arrive on time to be counted.
Robert Helmig, president of the Colorado Postal Workers Union, said that a lot of mail is currently backed up on the docks of the Postal Service plants in his state leading to massive delays with little hope of a quick delivery.
“And there's no overtime, so they can't take out extra loads at the stations when the carriers leave for the day,” he said. “They can't come back to grab more packages that may come in later to then take back out and deliver. If there's people that are available that still have time left and not going into overtime, they can take them out. But if not, then it sits there for the next day.”
Some postal workers said they believed it to be pretty clear why these changes are occurring now. Trump hasn’t quibbled about his reasoning, they said.
“How many times has he come out and blatantly said, ‘Don’t bail out the post office because we don't want them to do mail-in ballots,’” Paul McKenna, president of the Milwaukee area American Postal Workers Union, said. “So what other conclusion can you have?”
Maryland’s two Democratic senators, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, stood outside a Postal Service building in Baltimore on Monday demanding the majority leader call back the Senate so they could work to reverse the changes. Both said they had received calls from constituents who said they hadn’t received their medications or Social Security checks. Van Hollen called it a “deliberate effort” by DeJoy to undermine voting by mail.
DeJoy and Trump have both maintained the changes at the Postal Service are made to address the major financial issues faced by the agency.
“I also want to have a post office that runs without losing billions and billions of dollars a year,” Trump told reporters Monday
The Postal Service said earlier this month that it had lost $2.2 billion between April and June, as the cash-strapped federal agency continued to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Between 2007 and 2019, the agency lost about $78 billion because of declining mail volumes and growing personnel costs, according to a Government Accountability Office study.
But the shortfall, according to experts, is partially caused by a 2006 congressional mandate pushed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, that requires the agency to prepay health and retirement benefits for the next 75 years.
"This includes postal service employees who are not yet hired, many of whom are not yet born," said James O’Rourke, professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. "No other federal agency or private corporation has been saddled with that kind of prefunding mandate. It is roughly $6.5 billion a year and it’s growing."
O'Rourke said the Postal Service faces $161 billion of debt, but they could do away with $120 billion by lifting the mandate and authorizing the use of the funds.
Download the NBC News app for alerts and all the latest on the Democratic convention.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration and Congress still cannot find common ground over $25 billion slated to go to aiding the Postal Service as it struggles with COVID-19. Trump has previously threatened to hold up the funding until the pushes for mail-in voting are abandoned but recently walked back his threat of vetoing the funds.
Trump said Thursday that holding up the emergency funding would ensure that the federal agency would be unable to “take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
“Now, if we don't make a deal, that means they don't get the money," he said. "That means they can't have universal mail-in voting. They just can't have it.”
The president has often claimed without evidence that mail-in voting could lead to fraud, though he does not make the same accusation of absentee voting, which is how he has cast his ballot in the past. Trump tweeted another unsupported claim of voter fraud Monday.
Postal workers, meanwhile, say the agency needs the coronavirus aid money now more than ever, but they said their major concern remains DeJoy’s policy to reduce overtime hours and cut the number of trips carriers can take to deliver Americans’ mail.
Anthony Wilson, the state president of the North Carolina Council of the American Postal Workers Union, noted that veterans’ medications, Social Security checks and even the COVID-19 stimulus checks were delivered by mail. He said the Postal Service previously fired workers for delaying the mail, but DeJoy’s actions essentially encourage it and function as “an attempt to suppress our voting rights.”
“The [postmaster general] is purposely delaying the mail, which is against everything the postal service stands for in our job supplying a service to each and every citizen of this Country,” Wilson said in an email.