This summer has shaken America's faith in the U.S. Postal Service — whether that faith can be restored remains to be seen. In August, reports surfaced that mail sorting machines from postal facilities around the country were being shut down. The Postal Service put 46 states on notice that it could not guarantee that ballots mailed before Election Day would arrive in time to be counted. This was not helped, of course, by President Donald Trump, who flat-out told Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo that he was trying to make it more difficult for the post office to get the funding needed to facilitate mail-in voting.
DeJoy played innocent again in his testimony Friday in front of the Senate. We should not take this statement at face value, and neither should Congress.
In the face of massive backlash, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced that he was "suspending" the "operational initiatives" that had created such an uproar and put an entire presidential election in jeopardy. DeJoy played innocent again in his testimony Friday in front of a Senate committee. But we should not take his statements at face value, and neither should Congress.
DeJoy says it is simply a matter of numbers. So far, Republicans seem to have mostly bought this argument. "Postmaster General DeJoy has nothing to be ashamed of," Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said in a statement. "He rightfully took action to improve its efficiency and operations to better serve the American people."
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But Trump's comments strongly suggest that there is lot more at play. This potential abuse of power — and executive overreach — is why we are supposed to have three co-equal branches of government. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening right now — and Friday's hearing is a good example of why.
Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., sent a letter to DeJoy — signed by 173 House Democrats — expressing their concerns about the "implementing of polices that accelerate the crisis at the Postal Service." After initially having scheduled a hearing for Sept. 17, House Democratic leaders announced Sunday that they were moving the "urgent" hearing up to next Monday.
I hope this acceleration of activity is a sign that Democrats finally recognize that traditional oversight tactics and timelines, like sending a letter of concern to the Trump administration, are a complete waste of time. Trump is engaged in a deliberate effort to sabotage the November election, and he seems to be enlisting members of his administration to help.
The GOP does not seem quite as concerned. It is no accident that Republicans in the Senate announced their own hearing with DeJoy for Friday in a transparent effort to undermine the House hearing Monday and allow the postmaster general to "tell his side of the story, " as Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, put it.
The gamesmanship from Senate Republicans heightens the importance for Democrats in Congress to meet this moment.
So now, Republicans are not only running interference for DeJoy — they are also giving Trump cover as he pretends he did not say what we all heard him say very clearly.
The gamesmanship from Senate Republicans heightens the importance for Democrats in Congress to meet this moment with a level of force and aggression that speaks to what is at stake. As pictures of the removal of blue letter collection boxes go viral, Congress needs to retool its oversight arsenal to ensure maximum efficiency and results. Instead of letters, send subpoenas. Take action on reforms put forward by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., that would expand Congress' oversight enforcement powers so tools like contempt of Congress have consequence beyond symbolism.
Since congressional hearings are the most effective means of accountability Democrats have at their disposal, they need to ensure that these hearings have maximum impact. This requires a change in how they are conducted. The back-and-forth format, alternating between majority and minority members, may seem fair, but it is self-defeating and makes it hard to question effectively. The rules can and should be changed so that each side controls a continuous block of time, say 60 minutes, which it could use to ask questions while maintaining a certain level of continuity. It would also make it harder for witnesses to stall for time. The purpose of hearings is to get answers. They should be structured as such.
What is happening right now at the Postal Service could very well be the most consequential variable that determines this election. More than running mates. More than palace intrigue stories about campaign power structures or who gets along with whom. Even more than the fall debate showdowns. Because all of that does not matter if Trump is allowed to prevent millions — or even tens of thousands — of votes from counting.
This is the ultimate stress test for Congress. If we allow ourselves to become complacent or distracted, 2020's election may not be free and fair. And then what happens in 2024? The experiment that is the United States of America will suffer a massive setback. And no one will be able to say we did not see it coming.