Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, pressed by senators over mail delivery disruptions, said Friday he was unaware of changes that sparked a public uproar, but his responses raised fresh questions about how the Postal Service will ensure timely delivery of ballots for the November election.
Mr. DeJoy told senators he has zero plans to restore blue mailboxes and sorting equipment that have been removed, saying they are “not needed.” He did say that election mail would continue to be prioritized for delivery as in years past.
But while Mr. DeJoy distanced himself from President Donald Trump’s complaints about mail-in ballots that are expected to surge in the coronavirus pandemic, he told senators he could not yet provide a detailed plan about how he will ensure on-time election mail delivery.
Mr. DeJoy promised the Postal Service “is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on-time.”
He said that was his “No. 1 priority between now and Election Day.”
“I think the American people should be able to vote by mail,” Mr. DeJoy testified.
The new postmaster general, a Trump donor and ally who took the job in June, has faced a public outcry over changes and delivery delays. Democrats warn his cost-cutting initiatives are causing an upheaval that threatens the election.
They peppered him with questions about the Trump administration’s push to starve the Postal Service of funds to process ballots for November. Mr. Trump had said he wants to block agency funds to make it harder for the Postal Service to handle the expected surge of mail-in ballots during the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr. DeJoy flatly told senators he has had few conversations with White House officials.
He said he had “no idea” equipment was being removed until the public outcry. Democrats asked Mr. DeJoy to explain the rationale behind the changes and pressed him on how, exactly, he would ensure election mail and ballots would arrive on time.
“Do you have a more detailed plan?” demanded Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., asking for it by Sunday.
“I don’t think we’ll have a complete plan by Sunday night,” Mr. DeJoy replied, acknowledging it was just being formed.
Grilled by Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Mr. DeJoy acknowledged he did no studies of how the changes he was making would impact seniors, veterans, and working families.
“Is there any analysis?” she demanded.
He said his analysis showed delivery would be improved.
The top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, said Mr. DeJoy owed the nation an “apology” for the widespread mail disruptions since he took over the service.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, defended the postmaster and dismissed the Democratic claims of election “sabotage.”
“So this isn’t some devious plot on your part,” Mr. Johnson said.
The hearing was held remotely as Congress is on recess and lawmakers have been conducting much of their business during the coronavirus outbreak in virtual settings.
The outcry over mail delays and warnings of political interference have put the Postal Service at the center of the nation’s tumultuous election year, with Americans rallying around one of the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions.
With mounting pressure, Mr. DeJoy abruptly reversed course this week, vowing to postpone any further changes until after the election, saying he wanted to avoid even the “perception” of any interference. Blue mailboxes were being removed, back-of-shop sorting equipment shutdown, and overtime hours kept in check.
Meanwhile, attorneys general in Pennsylvania, California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Washington D.C., filed another lawsuit on Friday, alleging the postmaster bypassed regulators and violated rules requiring that the agency “maintain an efficient system of collection, sorting, and delivery of the mail nationwide.”
House Democrats are pushing ahead with a rare Saturday session to pass legislation that would prohibit the actions and send $25 billion to shore up postal operations. Some 20 states, along with voting rights advocates, have sued to reverse the changes.