Nancy Pelosi is recalling the House from its summer recess to vote on a bill prohibiting the U.S. Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service, as the removal of mailboxes across the country sparks fears that Donald Trump’s appointee running the service is deliberately slowing deliveries.
The president has made postal voting a key pillar of his attack against the Democrats.
Democrats want all American to be able to have the option of voting by mail in November, amid concerns about the coronavirus.
Republicans, encouraged by Trump, argue that it will cause widespread electoral fraud. Trump has already said he may not accept the result of the November election.
The Democrats, in return, accuse the Republicans of trying to disenfranchise poor and under-resourced communities.
CNN reported Thursday that postal management had taken out four sorting machines in Kansas City, two in Springfield, Missouri, and one in Wichita, Kansas, according to union officials in the region.
Barack Obama said on Friday that Trump was ‘actively kneecaping the Postal Service’ to suppress the vote.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that attorneys general from at least six states are discussing potential lawsuits against the administration over cuts to mail service, which have become front page news around the country.
On Sunday the USPS said it would stop removing its mailboxes through mid-November, following complaints from customers and members of Congress that the collection boxes were being taken away.
‘Given the recent customer concerns the Postal Service will postpone removing boxes for a period of 90 days while we evaluate our customers’ concerns,’ said Kimberly Frum, Postal Service spokeswoman.
Mailboxes have been removed across the U.S. – from Oregon to New York City, from Ohio to Indianapolis and Montana.
Jon Tester, Senator for Montana, tweeted on Saturday: ‘I’m glad @USPS listened to my call and stopped the removal of mail collection boxes across Montana, which would potentially cut off Montanans’ access to critical postal services.
‘But it’s not over—Postmaster DeJoy still owes us answers on why they were removed in the first place.’
On August 14 photographs posted online showed mailboxes being removed in Brighton, Boston.
The pictures caused outrage, but the USPS said they were being taken away because they were covered in graffiti, or otherwise in need of replacement.
In a letter to Democratic Congressmen on Sunday evening, Pelosi also called on her colleagues to appear at a post office in their district on Tuesday for a coordinated news event.
‘In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central. Americans should not have to choose between their health and their vote,’ she wrote.
Pelosi said House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer would soon announce the legislative schedule for the coming week.
House Democrats were likely to discuss the schedule on a conference call on Monday and were expected to be in session next Saturday, a senior Democratic aide told AP.
Earlier Sunday, Democratic lawmakers demanded that leaders of the Postal Service testify at an emergency oversight hearing on mail delays scheduled for August 24.
The hearing had been planned for September, but now the House Oversight and Reform Committee said it wants to hear urgently from Louis DeJoy, the new Postmaster General, and from the chair of the Postal Service board of governors, Robert ‘Mike’ Duncan.
DeJoy, 63, a major Republican donor and ally of the president who took control of the agency in June, has pledged to modernize the money-losing agency to make it more efficient.
DeJoy has argued that the changes are necessary to help the Postal Service become financially stable. The service has struggled economically for years, and its financial problems have been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
DeJoy is one of just five postmasters general to come to the post from the private sector since 1971, when the Post Office ceased to be a cabinet department and was reorganized as the Postal Service, an independent federal agency.
He has eliminated most overtime for postal workers, imposed restrictions on transportation and reduced of the quantity and use of mail-processing equipment.
‘The postmaster general and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election,’ congressional Democrats said in a statement announcing the hearing.
The lawmakers included Pelosi of California and New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee chair, along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service.
On Sunday more than a hundred protesters gathered in Greensboro, North Carolina, outside DeJoy’s home.
The source of DeJoy’s wealth, New Breed Logistics, a national logistics and supply-chain services provider, is based in North Carolina.
By 2014, it had nearly 7,000 employees.
He sold the company that year for $615 million to XPO Logistics, The New York Times reported, and founded LDJ Global Strategies, a real estate, investment and consulting company.
DeJoy and his wife, Aldona Wos, have significant investments in companies that do business with or compete with the Postal Service, the paper said.
According to disclosures filed with the Office of Government Ethics, the couple hold between $30.1 million and $75.3 million in such investments, mostly in XPO Logistics, where DeJoy was a director until 2018.
DeJoy’s gated home is next to the Greensboro Country Club golf course. Protesters gathered on the neighborhood streets by his home for about two hours, holding signs, chanting, and listening to speakers.
Trump attended a high-dollar fundraiser in 2017 at the 15,000-square-foot home, known locally as the Castle. The residence features a tower, a gilded staircase, a swimming pool and a pool house.
Since 2016, DeJoy has donated $1.2 million to Trump’s campaign funds and nearly $1.3 million to the Republican Party.
The previous day they had protested outside his Washington DC residence.
About 100 people gathered in the wealthy residential neighborhood of Kalorama on Saturday, outside the apartment complex.
Videos on social media showed them banging spoons on pots, blaring horns and chanting ‘resign,’ with many in the group wearing masks and remaining socially distanced.
In letters sent in July to all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Thomas J. Marshall, the general counsel for the Postal Service, told most of them that ‘certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots are incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.’
Trump said last week that he was blocking a $25 billion emergency injection sought by the Postal Service, as well as a Democratic proposal to provide $3.6 billion in additional election money to the states.
The Republican president worries that mail-in voting could cost him reelection.
The money for the post office is intended to help with processing an expected surge of mail-in ballots. Both funding requests have been tied up in congressional negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package.
On Saturday, Trump tried to massage his message, saying he supports increasing money for the Postal Service.
He said he was refusing to capitulate to Democrats on other parts of the relief package, including funding for states weighed down by debt accumulated before the pandemic.
But the president’s critics were not appeased, contending that Trump has made the calculation that a lower voter turnout would improve his chances of winning a second term.
‘What you are witnessing is a president of the United States who is doing everything he can to suppress the vote, make it harder for people to engage in mail-in balloting at a time when people will be putting their lives on the line by having to go out to a polling station and vote,’ said Bernie Sanders.
Trump acknowledged in a Fox Business interview on Thursday that he was starving the agency of money to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots.
Trump, who spent the weekend at his New Jersey golf club, derided universal mail-in voting as a ‘scam’ and defended DeJoy as the right person to ‘streamline the post office and make it great again.’
‘Louis he is working very hard,’ Trump said at a news conference Saturday.
‘But as you know, the Democrats aren’t approving proper funding for postal, and they’re not approving the proper funding for this ridiculous thing they want to do which is all mail-in voting.’
His chief of staff tried on Sunday to counter criticism that Trump was trying to stifle turnout with national and battleground state polls showing him facing a difficult path to reelection against Democrat Joe Biden.
‘I’ll give you that guarantee right now: The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way, whether it’s the post office or anything else,’ Mark Meadows said.
Social media users were unimpressed, posting photos of mailboxes being removed in Boston and New Jersey.
Mikie Sherrill, a congresswoman for New Jersey and former prosecutor, tweeted in response to the scenes: ‘My office will be investigating. I’m not going to sit by while the USPS — an essential service — is systematically dismantled here in NJ and around the country.’
Democrats said changes made by DeJoy constitute ‘a grave threat to the integrity of the election and to our very democracy.’
They asserted that DeJoy ‘has acted as an accomplice in the president’s campaign to cheat in the election, as he launches sweeping new operational changes that degrade delivery standards and delay the mail.’
The agency in the meantime is now seeking a short-term end-of-the-year rate increase, according to a notice filed Friday with the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The reasons: increased expenses, heightened demand for online packages due to the coronavirus pandemic and an expected increase in holiday mail volume.
The plan would raise prices on commercial domestic competitive parcels, including Priority Mail Express, Priority Mail, first-class package Service, Parcel Select and Parcel Return Service. No change is expected for first-class letters.
Most of the proposed increases would be less than 10 per cent.
They range from 24 cents for Parcel Select Service, which starts at $3.05, to a $1.50 increase for Priority Mail Express Commercial, which starts at $22.75. The regulatory commission is expected to decide on the proposals next month.
The Postal Service is the country’s most popular government agency with 91 per cent of Americans having a favorable opinion of the service, according to a Pew Research Center Survey published in April.
‘What concerns me is an all-out attack – they’re not even hiding it – by the president of the United States to undermine the United States Postal Service, to underfund it, to allow a mega-donor leading it to overtly do things to slow down the mail,’ said Cory Booker, Democrat senator for New Jersey.