Editor’s Note: This piece was updated on August, 24, 2020.
The United States Postal Service (USPS), like other agencies and institutions intended to be nonpartisan but increasingly wielded for inappropriate purposes, has become a political flashpoint. Unable to get the pandemic under control, as well as facing a tough reelection fight, President Donald Trump has targeted the USPS over the last several months, while making baseless claims that mail-in voting will lead to widespread voter fraud. Sudden changes in USPS practices and procedures, spearheaded by Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general, have caused deep concern as to whether the U.S. Postal Service is being weaponized for partisan advantage.
Recent events have moved extremely quickly, with changes happening on an hourly basis, but the roots of this problem stretch back much further than the past few weeks. Underpinning the conflict is a struggle between visions of what the Postal Service is supposed to be: Is it a line item in the federal budget or a public good? Are budget savings being used as an excuse to do harm to the Postal Service in the lead up to an historic election taking place during a pandemic?
Below is a timeline of the pivotal events that brought us to today.
January 2017: Trump inherits an empty USPS Board of Governors
After President Barack Obama’s slate of nominees for the USPS Board of Governors was blocked, Trump was able to appoint a Republican majority of his own choosing. Unusually, he inherited an empty Board, which is supposed to have 11 members serving seven-year terms.
Apr. 12, 2018: Trump creates the Task Force on the United States Postal System by executive order
The force is created to develop recommendations for reform in order to achieve “a sustainable business model” for the Postal Service. Items for the task force to examine include USPS’s role in rural communities, its obligation to provide universal service, and its role in private enterprise.
April-May 2018: Trump personally pressures Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which regularly investigatesthe Trump administration and its policies.
Dec. 4, 2018: Task Force on the USPS releases its report.
Some of the major recommendations are:
- Revamping the USPS governance structure
- Narrowing the definition of the universal service requirement (which would allow the Postal Service to charge increased rates for types of mail deemed outside the scope of “essential services”)
- Renegotiating costs to “modernize” the labor force
- Maintaining the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act requirements to prefund pension health benefits
- Exploring new revenue streams.
The report notably rejects the idea of postal banking (an idea popular with progressives as both a revenue source for the agency and a boon to underbanked communities) as “expanding into [a] new sector,” “where the USPS does not have a demonstrated competency or comparative advantage, or where balance sheet risk would be added.” The report-endorsed avenues for expansion include sharing physical retail space, licensing mailbox access, and selling hunting & fishing licenses.
These recommendations resemble efforts, often led by Republicans, to run the Postal Service more like a private business. There is no statutory or constitutional mandate that the Postal Service be revenue-neutral, although it has been profitable for most of its history.
Feb. 5, 2020: The House passes the USPS Fairness Act, which would repeal the controversial requirement that the Postal Service prefund its future retirement health benefits.
This prefunding requirement comes from the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act. It largely accounts for the USPS’ recent string of annual losses.
While it is typical for pension plans to require prefunding of financial benefits, the Postal Service is unique among both private companies and federal agencies in that it also has to prefund health benefits. Both the Government Accountability Office and scholars have identified the prefunding requirement as a major financial burden that hamstrings agency flexibility.
The measure has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.
March 2020: Postal workers report insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and lax safety precautions at work, as the USPS struggles to adjust to the pandemic and procure supplies needed.
Apr. 8, 2020: Trump tweets that mail-in voting has “tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
This claim echoes similar claims made by President Trump in 2016, when he baselessly alleged that millions of voters had voted illegally. Election experts have repeatedly shown that there is no evidence of widespread absentee voter fraud.
Apr. 9, 2020: Postmaster General Brennan testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee that USPS would lose $13 billion in FY2020, and would run out of money before the end of September.
She relays the USPS Board of Governors’ unanimous request for $75 billion in aid: $25 billion in grants to offset COVID-induced losses, $25 billion to fund “shovel-ready” projects to modernize the Postal Service vehicle fleet and infrastructure, and $25 billion in unrestricted borrowing authority from the U.S. Treasury. The current USPS Board of Governors are all Trump appointees.
Apr. 10, 2020: Brennan releases a statement on USPS stimulus needs, announcing that “the sudden drop in mail volumes, our most profitable revenue stream, is steep and may never fully recover.”
The sharp drop in mail (a 37.2 percent decrease in Marketing Mail April-June 2020, compared to the same period last year) is the result of the pandemic’s disruption. Brennan estimates that the Postal Service will see a loss of $22 billion over the next 18 months, and a $54 billion loss over the longer term, as a result of COVID-19.
Apr. 11, 2020: Reporting emerges that the Trump administration blocked USPS aid in the CARES Act, threatening a veto if any bailout was included in the bill.
“You can have a loan or you can have nothing at all,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly told lawmakers during negotiations. Before the administration weighed in, Congress had agreed to give USPS a $13 billion grant in the bill; the final version only gave the agency access to a line of credit.
Apr. 24, 2020: Trump threatens to block USPS access to the $10 billion line of credit approved by the CARES Act, conditioning approval of the loan on the Postal Service raising their package prices.
“The Postal Service is a joke,” President Trump said. “The post office should raise the price of a package by approximately four times.”
The comments were the latest escalation in Trump’s rhetoric around the Postal Service, which he argues does not charge companies like Amazon enough for package delivery. Amazon and other vendors often use the Postal Service for last-mile delivery, due to the prohibitive cost of building a private delivery service that can reach every household in the country, as the Postal Service does.
May 4, 2020: USPS announces that David C. Williams has resigned from the USPS Board of Governors effective April 30, 2020.
The resignation took agency stakeholders by surprise. Williams served as the inspector general for five different federal agencies during his career, including as USPS Inspector General from 2006 to 2013.
May 6, 2020: Louis DeJoy is selected by the USPS Board of Governors to be the next Postmaster General, effective June 15, 2020.
DeJoy is not a traditional pick to run the Postal Service, as he is the first postmaster general in over 20 years to not have prior experience working at USPS. DeJoy is also a major funder for GOP candidates, including Trump.
May 24-28, 2020: Trump tweets a series of baseless claims about absentee voting.
Trump’s alleging that absentee ballots would result in “the greatest Rigged Election in history;” that “there is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent;” vote-by-mail “would be a free for all on cheating, forgery, and the theft;” and that “MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE. IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY.”
Trump tweeted all these claims without evidence. Academic research has shown that vote-by-mail does not lead to partisan advantage in either direction.
June 1, 2020: In an interview with New York Times Magazine, Attorney General William Barr casts doubt on the security of absentee ballots against foreign interference.
“We’ve been talking about how, in terms of foreign influence, there are a number of foreign countries that could easily make counterfeit ballots, put names on them, send them in. And it’d be very hard to sort out what’s happening.”
June 14, 2020: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sends a letter to the USPS Board of Governors expressing “serious concerns regarding the selection of DeJoy as the next Postmaster General,” and asking for full transparency regarding the search process.
June 25, 2020: Attorney General William Barr reiterates his claim that absentee ballots are vulnerable to foreign interference in an interview with NPR. When asked if he had evidence for the claim, he replied “No, it’s obvious.” Barr also implied that foreign adversaries would attempt to manipulate vote-by-mail systems: “I think if we do adopt programs of mail-in, that will be an area which they will exploit.”
July 2, 2020: The USPS Board of Governors responds to Schumer’s June 14th letter, “respectfully declin[ing]” to turn over most of the documents related to Postmaster General DeJoy’s appointment, claiming they are confidential. “It is the Postal Service’s long-standing practice to provide confidential information to Members of Congress only when the disclosure fits squarely within the provision of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) concerning the disclosure of information to ‘Congress,’” which would require disclosure pursuant to an official request from a committee or subcommittee, but not to the request of an individual member.
July 10, 2020: The Postal Service begins circulating two internal memos announcing major changes to mail delivery procedures.
The first memo prohibits the use of overtime, as well as places other delivery techniques under scrutiny, saying it is doing so to cut costs. Postal workers often use overtime to ensure that all mail gets sorted and delivered each day.
The second memo directs mail carriers to ensure that all trucks depart on time each day, even if not all of the day’s mail has been loaded for delivery. “One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that – temporarily – we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks, which is not typical,” the memo says.
Taken together, the changes announced in the memos would ensure that many pieces of mail would go undelivered each day. The memos prioritize cost-cutting measures over the timely and regular delivery of mail.
July 22, 2020: USPS claims the memos are not official USPS policy.
USPS General Counsel Thomas Marshall writes a letter to House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney, asserting that the new memos did not “originate from Postal Service Headquarters,” and thus “should not be treated as official statements of Postal Service policy.” Marshall argues that the Postal Service is on firm legal footing in pursuing changes designed to “enhance operational efficiency and reduce costs,” and is “committed to delivering Election Mail in a timely manner.”
July 25, 2020: The Postal Service initiates an Expedited to Street/Afternoon Sortation pilot initiative, which requires mail trucks to leave at their scheduled times and mail sorting to stop at the scheduled end of the work day, even if the day’s mail is not completely sorted or loaded.
These changes are allegedly made to increase efficiency and cut costs, in an effort to maintain solvency.
July 29, 2020: The Treasury Department and the Postal Service agree on terms for a $10 billion loan, as authorized by the CARES Act.
USPS agrees to provide Treasury with copies of its 10 largest negotiated service agreements with third parties, such as Amazon, as a condition of the loan authorization. The terms also require USPS to “provide to Treasury other historical and projected business, financial, operational, contractual, and planning data that Treasury may determine is necessary to evaluate USPS’s current and future financial condition.” Treasury Secretary Mnuchin had pushed for even more operational control of the Postal Service in exchange for the loan, “including provisions that would allow the Trump administration to approve senior postal personnel decisions, service contracts with third-party shippers, collective bargaining negotiation strategies and high package prices.”
July 29–July 31, 2020: The Postal Service sends letters to 46 states and the District of Columbia warning that “certain deadlines for requesting and casting mail-in ballots may be incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”
The letters, signed by Postal Service General Counsel Marshall, suggest that any state that allows absentee ballots to be requested less than 15 days before Election Day or does not encourage voters to mail their ballots back at least a week before Election Day is at risk of inadvertently disenfranchising voters. “The Postal Service,” Marshall warns, “cannot adjust its delivery standards to accommodate the requirements of state election law.”
The need to adjust some states’ guidelines has been evident for quite some time, according to election experts. The language the letter used, however, seemed to some state officials to be less focused on solutions and more focused on managing expectations and dodging responsibility. “I didn’t see how it was helpful. This is not something that’s new to us. It’s something we’ve been working on for years, and I think we’ve been ahead of it. For USPS to send something out at the end of July – we’re in the silly season of politics,” said Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.
Aug 7, 2020: A group of Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate, led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), writes to Postal Service Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb asking her to investigate DeJoy’s recent changes to service and procedures, as well as any potential financial conflicts of interest arising from DeJoy’s “$30.1 million to $75.3 million in assets in Postal Service competitors or contractors”.
Aug. 7, 2020: DeJoy announces an agency restructuring when addressing the USPS Board of Governors.
Some observers call the reorganization a “Friday Night Massacre,” likening it to President Richard Nixon’s purge of Justice Department officials. Slides from the presentation obtained by Motherboard indicate a large-scale reorganization into a simpler structure, which was perceived by many outside the Postal Service to be a consolidation of power under DeJoy.
Workers within the Postal Service “are worried not so much by what is being done as they are the speed with which it is occurring, especially when it’s implemented by a postmaster general with questionable motives, who has been on the job for less than two months.”
Aug. 11, 2020: USPS says it is in a “financially unsustainable position.”
USPS General Counsel Marshall responds to House Oversight Chair Maloney’s August 6th letter to DeJoy. Marshall’s letter asserts that “[t]he Postal Service is in a financially unsustainable position, stemming from substantial declines in mail volume, and a statutorily imposed business model that is broken.” His letter states that the Postal Service is “currently unable to balance our costs with available funding sources to fulfill both our universal service mission and other legal obligations.”
Marshall also defends the new efficiency measures, saying that the changes are necessary to the Postal Service’s “long-term viability.” Marshall also says the decommissioning of sorting machines improves efficiency in light of decreased volume, and that “there have been no edicts to delay the mail or eliminate overtime.” “[W]e are working towards meeting our current operational plans in a manner that improves efficiency and service, and does not slow down the mail.”
Aug. 11, 2020: House Oversight Chair Maloney introduces the Delivering for America Act, which would “prohibit the Postal Service from implementing or approving any changes to the operations or service levels in effect on January 1, 2020, that would impede prompt, reliable, and efficient service” for the duration of the pandemic or until January 2021.
The bill would also allocate $25 billion in emergency funding, require the Post Office to treat all official election mail as First-Class mail no matter what, and prohibit the removal of mailboxes or mail sorting machines. As of August 19th, the bill had over 200 sponsors in the House.
Aug. 11, 2020: Schumer decries Postmaster General DeJoy’s suggestion that election mail, including absentee ballots, be sent First Class in order to avoid delays, given historical practice of prioritizing election mail regardless of its rate classification.
Election mail is often sent via marketing mail, which comes with a cheaper rate of 20 cents per piece, compared to 55 cents for First Class; however, postal officials pushed back on Schumer’s assumption that election mail could always be processed as First-Class mail, even if the agency strove to do so as a courtesy to election administrators. Justin Glass, USPS director of political election mail, at a meeting earlier in August, said: “Just because we put an official election mail logo on a piece, it doesn’t automatically upgrade that to an expedited level of service. That’s not something that the Postal Service can guarantee.”
The Postal Service has historically (if unofficially) processed all election mail as First Class mail regardless of postage paid. But this year, the Postal Service is hinting that it may cease this practice.
Aug. 12, 2020: Financial disclosures reveal that DeJoy still maintains at least $30 million worth of stock in his former company and Postal Service competitor, XPO Logistics.
Ethics experts raise red flags at the conflict of interest: “If you have a $30 million interest in a company, of course it’s going to impact you. I would assume that there is a problem here. It certainly doesn’t pass the smell test,” said former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub.
DeJoy continues to benefit substantially from these holdings, receiving $1.2 million to $7 million in income last year.
Aug. 12, 2020: During a telephone rally, Trump encourages North Carolina voters to vote absentee. “Absentee voting is a secure process. It’s initiated by the voter — you request it — and every voter is verified. Every vote is verified. It’s the exact opposite of the Democrats’ voter fraud scheme. They want to mail ballots to every eligible voter all over the state.”
Trump’s comments continued a trend of encouraging supporters to vote-by-mail in battleground states while casting doubt on voting by mail generally, especially when implemented by Democratic officials. This strategy has also been used by other Republican groups in North Carolina.
Trump’s comments in these swing states are widely seen as in response to absentee ballot request numbers that are lopsided in favor of Democratic voters. An August 13 Pew Research study found that 58 percent of Biden supporters said they would prefer to vote by mail in November, whereas 60 percent of Trump supporters said they would prefer to vote in person. Both voting rights advocates and partisan operatives from both parties are concerned that in-person voting will be difficult, due to concerns of long lines and precinct consolidations due to a lack of polling sites suitable for social distancing, as well as a lack of poll workers, who tend to be elderly.
Aug. 13, 2020: Trump explicitly connects his opposition to Postal Service funding to the expansion of vote-by-mail, in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on the Fox Business network. The interview confirmed that Trump opposes absentee ballots for political advantage.
“They need that money in order to make the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. “If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped.”
Aug. 13, 2020: A group of 31 Democratic Senators write to DeJoy expressing concern that “recent operational changes you ordered are needlessly delaying veterans’ access to life-saving prescriptions, when the health and lives of Americans are already at high risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Aug. 13, 2020: Reports break that the Postal Service is deactivating sorting machines.
Motherboard reports that at least 19 machines in five different processing facilities around the country “either have already been removed or are scheduled to be in the near future.”
Most of the decommissioned machines were identified as delivery bar code sorters (DBCS), a type of machine used to sort 30,000-35,000 pieces of letter-sized mail an hour.
Postal union workers indicated that reconfiguring capacity across the Postal Service could make sense, given the steep reduction in marketing mail this year.
“A lot of the machines they are taking out…a lot of them haven’t been used in a while anyways,” said Paul Hogrogian, national president for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. “Maybe they are jumping the gun, maybe they are not.”
But many were concerned that the machines were simply being mothballed instead of being reallocated. “I’m not sure you’re going to find an answer for why it makes sense, because we haven’t figured that out either,” said Iowa Postal Workers Union President Kimberly Karol. “When you take out one of the machines, it takes away our ability to respond to unforeseen things that may happen.”
Aug. 14, 2020: A group of lawmakers, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), write a letter to DeJoy, asking for additional information on “your policies and practices, the specific changes you are proposing, the rationale for those changes, and the potential impacts of those changes.”
The letter inquires:
- Whether election mail will be treated as First-Class mail, regardless of what class of mail was used to send it, as it has been in the past according to the USPS inspector general
- What measures will be taken to “ensure timely delivery of absentee applications and absentee ballots”
- What specific changes are being made to the Postal Service overtime policy
- What considerations and planning went into restricting the number of trips mail carriers can make in a day, causing mail to be left behind in processing centers
- Whether USPS considered the impacts of service changes in the context of the pandemic and the upcoming election
Aug. 14, 2020: After sparking outrage, the Postal Service suspends the removal of collection boxes nationwide.
Aug. 14, 2020: Multiple news agencies report that DeJoy is planning to decommission 671 letter sorting machines, 20 percent of its sorting capacity, according to internal USPS documents dating to May.
When reached for comment, USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer described the changes as “Normal business adjustments!”
“Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations for our customers,” Partenheimer said.
Aug. 14, 2020: The USPS Inspector General and Senator Elizabeth Warren both confirm that the inspector general is reviewing the policy changes implemented under DeJoy’s tenure, as well as his compliance with federal ethics rules.
The status of the investigation is unclear.
Aug. 16, 2020: Trump aides spar over unverified and false claims about voting-by-mail on Sunday news shows.
Meadows painted reports of decommissioned mail-sorting machines as part of a “narrative not based in facts” and as “something my Democrat friends are trying to do to stoke fear out there.” Meadows argued that “[a] sorting machine to handle 100 million ballots, it’s like a gnat on an elephant’s back. It’s not going to matter with 8.6 billion pieces of mail going through the Postal Service every year.” Meadows instead asserted that the removals were part of an “already scheduled reallocation,” and that the plan to decommission machines was “not a new initiative by this Postmaster General.”
When Tapper noted that there is very little evidence of widespread voter fraud, Meadows pushed back by saying “There’s no evidence that there’s not, either. That’s the definition of fraud, Jake.”
Meadows struggled to articulate a distinction between vote-by-mail in Florida, where Trump had expressed support for the absentee voting system, and Pennsylvania, where the Republican National Committee is litigating against the expansion of vote-by-mail.
Meadows also alleged that voter rolls were too inaccurate for states to rely on them for universal vote-by-mail. “Do you realize how inaccurate the voter rolls are with people just moving around — let alone the people who die off — but sending out ballots just based on a voter roll registration? Any time you move, you will change your driver’s license, but you don’t call up and say, hey by the way, I’m re-registering.”
States have extensive obligations for maintaining accurate voter registration rolls under the National Voter Registration Act, including updating rolls when they become aware a voter has moved.
Despite the overall defensive tone of the interview, Meadows said the White House would be open to passing a standalone Postal Service relief bill. “If we can agree on postal, let’s do it,” Meadows said.
However, he expressed more interest in combining a postal bill with core Republican proposals for economic stimulus, such as stimulus checks, a liability shield for businesses, and an extension of expanded unemployment at a lower weekly rate. “We will pass it tomorrow. The president will sign it. And this will all go away, because what we’re seeing is Democrats trying to use this to their political advantage,” said Meadows. Republicans have consistently pushed for a more limited economic relief package than Democrats have proposed.
Miller, a senior adviser with the Trump campaign, argued that states were trying to rapidly implement predominantly vote-by-mail systems that take years to do properly. “The fact of the matter is, it takes time,” Miller said. “It takes a long time for states to be able to put this together safely and securely. And to go and rush this through, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
Kushner relied on Dr. Anthony Fauci’s assertion that people could safely vote in person if proper guidelines were followed. Kushner also echoed Meadows’ claims about the inaccuracy of voter rolls, recounting a story of a friend in New Jersey who got married and received two ballots, “one in her old name and one in her new name.”
The scenario described by Kushner’s anecdote is possible, but states have systems for verifying that voters do not vote more than once, in addition to the list maintenance duties required by the National Voter Registration Act.
Kushner also argued that vote-by-mail simply could not be achieved in an acceptable format between now and November: “I think what President Trump wants is a fair election. If you have a tried and true system where they’ve been doing it like absentee ballots, where there’s some security measures built in, that’s totally acceptable. That’s a great thing to do. But you can’t have a new system being tried where there’s not the right time to do it and expect them to get it right and then expect that Americans will have confidence in the elections.”
Every state has security measures built in to their absentee voting process. The most common systems are signature verification technology or requiring one or more witnesses when filling out the ballot.
Aug. 16, 2020: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) calls the House back to D.C., commits to vote on Delivering for America Act by the end of the week.
“In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central. Americans should not have to choose between their health and their vote,” wrote Pelosi in a Dear Colleague letter.
Aug. 17, 2020: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses the state of the Postal Service in a press conference in Western Kentucky. “We’re gonna make sure that the ability to function going into the election is not adversely affected,” McConnell said.
McConnell also indicates that Mnuchin and the Trump administration are willing to support up to $10 billion in Postal Service aid to “make sure that the Postal Service is on good firm footing going into the November election.”
Aug. 17, 2020: White House Chief of Staff Meadows tells reporters on Air Force One that the Postal Service is not in dire need of funds.
“I know the post office really well,” Meadows said. “It’s not an issue of money. They’ve got $10 billion cash on hand; they’ve got another line of credit.”
Aug. 17, 2020: The National Postal Mail Handlers Union issues a press releasedecrying DeJoy’s actions to remove processing equipment and leave behind mail each day to ensure trucks leave on schedule. “Employees of the USPS are ready, willing, and able to handle the expected surge of vote by mail materials,” the press release reads. “If permitted, we will get the mail out, like we do every single holiday season; just let us do our jobs.”
Aug. 17, 2020: DeJoy and Chairman of the USPS Board of Governors Robert Duncan agree to appear before the House Oversight Committee on Monday, August 24.
Aug. 18, 2020: Trump casts an absentee ballot in the Florida primary election.
Trump casts his ballot by giving it to a designated third party to return, which is legal under Florida election law. Trump has decried this practice before, pejoratively referring to it as “ballot harvesting” and “rampant with fraud.”
Aug. 18, 2020: Republicans begin circulating an updated version of their skinny COVID-19 relief bill. It includes no new funding for USPS, but would forgive the $10 billion loan made to the Postal Service as part of the CARES Act.
This $10 billion is likely what McConnell was referring to on August 17, when he said that Mnuchin and the Trump administration had committed to up to $10 billion in funding for the agency.
McConnell also casts doubt on the House’s Postal Service bill: “I don’t think we’ll pass, in the Senate, a postal-only bill.”
McConnell instead characterizes the House bill as an opening to negotiate a more limited stimulus package. McConnell says the House bill “could open the opportunity for discussion about something smaller than what the speaker and the Democratic Senate leader were insisting upon at the point of impasse.” Limiting the size of any new stimulus bill has been a priority for congressional Republicans in negotiations.
Aug. 18, 2020: Over 20 states announce plans to sue over USPS changes.
A coalition of 14 states, led by Washington, file a federal lawsuit against DeJoy, alleging that DeJoy’s changes to Postal Service operations were outside the bounds of his statutory authority.
In a press release announcing the suit, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said: “For partisan gain, President Trump is attempting to destroy a critical institution that is essential for millions of Americans. We rely on the Postal Service for our Social Security benefits, prescriptions – and exercising our right to vote. Our coalition will fight to protect the Postal Service and uphold the rule of law in federal court.”
A separate group of states, led by Pennsylvania, announce their intention to file suitagainst DeJoy along similar grounds. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says, “With this imminent filing, we are putting the Administration on notice: immediately roll back these operational changes at the US Postal Service and allow postal workers to carry out their vital mission without interference – or lose to us in court.” California, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, and North Carolina will join the case as well.
The announcement comes around the same time as DeJoy’s announcement that the recent changes would be suspended until after the election. Attorney General Shapiro indicated that Pennsylvania’s lawsuit would still move forward: “We need more than a statement, we need binding agreements. Therefore, we’ll continue to press our case through the legal process and hold DeJoy accountable going forward beyond the election.”
Aug. 18, 2020: DeJoy announces that all changes to Postal Service procedures will be halted until after the election.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” DeJoy says in a statement. DeJoy guarantees that post office hours would not change, mail processing equipment and collection boxes would “remain where they are,” no facilities would be closed, and overtime would be approved “as needed.”
Democrats characterizes the announcement as an encouraging sign, but not enough. “Our fight against them is working. It shows that the public pressure we are putting on them is working,” said Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
Pelosi releases a statement, calling the announcement “a necessary but insufficient first step in ending the President’s election sabotage campaign. This pause only halts a limited number of the Postmaster’s changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President this fall.”
DeJoy also agrees to appear before the Senate on Friday, August 21.
Aug. 19, 2020: Pelosi meets with DeJoy to talk about the pause in operational changes at the Postal Service. Pelosi releases a statement after the meeting, saying DeJoy’s “alleged pause is wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked.”
Pelosi continued: “The Postmaster General frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works. All of these changes directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of color. At the same time, we are highly concerned that the slowdown of the delivery of medicines to veterans is not being sufficiently addressed.” Pelosi says the House will vote on the Delivering for America Act on Saturday.
Aug. 19, 2020: Schumer writes to the USPS Board of Governors, asking that Russell Reynolds Associates, the national search firm who identified DeJoy, be released from its non-disclosure agreement.
Schumer says that when he sought the firm’s cooperation in advance of the August 21 Senate hearing with DeJoy, his office was told that the Board of Governors “was not willing to waive its non-disclosure agreement so that Congress could satisfy its oversight obligations to better understand the selection of Mr. DeJoy.”
Aug. 19, 2020: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany expresses White House openness to $25 billion in aid for the Postal Service, depending on the other relief in the bill.
“We’re certainly open to looking at the $25 billion. But we want included in there relief for the American people that thus far Speaker Pelosi has been entirely uninterested in,” McEnany says.
Aug. 19, 2020: The Postal Service is prohibiting employees from serving as witnesses for absentee ballots, the Anchorage Daily News reports.
In response to a letter from Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai, product management specialist for the Postal Service Daniel Bentley said “Postal Employees are prohibited from serving as witnesses in their official capacity while on duty, due in part to the potential operational impacts. The Postal Service does not prohibit an employee from serving as a witness in their personal capacity off-duty, if they so choose.”
Many states explicitly name postal workers as authorized witnesses for an absentee ballot in their state election laws, in a mark of the rule’s unprecedented nature. Finding a witness for an absentee ballot will be particularly difficult while observing social distancing measures.
This change is a national one, which had gone unnoticed until now, according to James Boxrud, a spokesperson for the Postal Service in the western United States: “My understanding is this is a national thing that went out. It’s not just Alaska.”
Capitol Forum reports that the Postal Service is considering a proposal from JPMorgan Chase to rent space to provide banking services in post offices around the country. JPMorgan Chase spokesperson Patricia Wexler characterized the proposal as an opportunity “to better serve some historically underserved communities,” while progressives viewed the move as an attempt to box out more robust postal banking offerings.
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who has introduced a postal banking bill of his own in the Senate, said the initiative “looks like another attempt for big banks and corporations to privatize our public infrastructure so their shareholders gain while working families suffer.”
Aug. 19, 2020: Reports emerge of postal machines being dismantled in Grand Rapids, MI, in apparent contradiction with DeJoy’s order.
Aug. 19, 2020: KUOW reports that 40 percent of letter sorting machines in Seattle area had already been dismantled by the time of DeJoy’s stand-down order.
“When asked how many machines had already been decommissioned and whether they would be put back in service, Postal Service spokesperson David Partenheimer declined to comment.”
Aug. 20, 2020: Motherboard reports that “USPS instructed all maintenance managers around the country not to reconnect or reinstall any mail sorting machines they had already disconnected,” despite Postmaster General DeJoy’s statement that all changes would be halted until after the election.
The emails obtained by Motherboard reinforce claims that DeJoy’s statement was not enough, and highlights that many machines had already been pulled out of service at the time of DeJoy’s commitment to leave all machines where they were.
Aug. 20, 2020: David C. Williams, ex-member of the USPS Board of Governors, testifies before the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Williams resigned from the Board of Governors in April because “I was convinced that its independent role had been marginalized and that representations regarding an independent postal service for the nation were no longer truthful.”
Reminder: Williams served as inspector general in five different federal agencies and has a long history as an advocate for good governance.
Williams testifies that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin sought wide-ranging control over Postal Service operations in exchange for the loan, including control over postal pricing, labor agreements, and service agreements. Williams also testifies that Mnuchin ignored concerns raised by the USPS general counsel that his proposed terms were illegal.
Williams believed Treasury’s desired terms for the $10 billion CARES Act loan “would turn the Postal Service into a political tool.”
Williams alleges that Postmaster General DeJoy was not among the initial candidates vetted for the position. Instead, he alleges that DeJoy was put forth for the position by John Barger, a member of the USPS Board of Governors who is also a Republican donor. Williams also alleges that DeJoy did not undergo a background check, and performed poorly in two interviews with the Board of Governors. “He didn’t strike me as a serious candidate,” Williams says.
“The appointment of Mr. Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General was highly irregular and we are concerned that his candidacy may have been influenced by political motivations,” said Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.).
Aug. 20, 2020: According to internal memos obtained by Motherboard, The Postal Service is warning employees not to speak to the press, or to answer too many questions from one person, for fear that they will turn out to be a member of the press.
Aug. 21, 2020: The Treasury Department puts out a fact sheet contesting David Williams’ testimony. The fact sheet claims that Secretary Mnuchin played no role “in recruiting or suggesting Louis DeJoy to serve as Postmaster General.
Aug. 21, 2020: DeJoy testifies before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Key takeaways:
DeJoy refuses to order mail sorting machines reinstalled, calling them “unnecessary.” DeJoy claims that these changes were set in motion by his predecessors.
DeJoy says USPS will “deploy processes and procedures that advance any election mail, in some cases ahead of First-Class mail.” DeJoy also commits to “scour[ing] every plant each night leading up to Election Day” for ballots and releasing plans next month for successful ballot delivery.
DeJoy asks for the ability to make more sweeping changes, including rate increases and reduced rural service. “I would like to be liberated on pricing,” DeJoy says. DeJoy also calls for the repeal of the requirement that USPS prefund health retirement benefits.
DeJoy agrees with Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.) that operational changes “have delayed the mail, and that has hurt people.”
Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) pushes DeJoy to release the analyses that justified operational changes; DeJoy refuses to commit to doing so.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) asks for guarantees that ballots sent close to Election Day will be counted. Romney says there are “pretty good reasons for people to think that you or your colleagues are purposefully acting to suppress voting or that you are going to purposely prevent ballots from being counted.”
Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) calls the outcry a “false narrative being ginned up” by Democrats for political advantage. Johnson also suggests that the complaints his office has received were “very highly scripted like this could be a very well organized effort,” adding that such an effort “wouldn’t surprise him in the least.”
Aug. 22, 2020: The New York Times reports that Mnuchin played a key role in making DeJoy’s appointment as postmaster general possible. Mnuchin met with two Republican members of the Board of Governors, Robert Duncan and John Barger, in early February 2020. “Mnuchin had made clear before the meeting that he wanted the governors to find someone who would push through the kind of cost-cutting and price increases that President Trump had publicly called for and that Treasury had recommended in a December 2018 report as a way to stem years of multibillion-dollar losses,” the Times reports.
The Times reporting also asserts that Duncan, not Berger, first submitted DeJoy’s name for Postmaster General, though both were at the meeting.
Aug. 22, 2020: Postal workers in Washington State reinstall mail sorting machines, in defiance of orders not to do so, Forbes reports.
Aug. 22, 2020: In floor debate, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduces an internal memo prepared for DeJoy showing steep declines in on-time delivery rate since the beginning of July. The memo, dated August 12th, appears to undercut DeJoy’s testimony that there was only a “dip” in on-time delivery rates.
“After being confronted on Friday with first-hand reports of delays across the country, the Postmaster General finally acknowledged a ‘dip’ in service, but he has never publicly disclosed the full extent of the alarming nationwide delays caused by his actions and described in these new documents,” Representative Maloney said in a statement.
Aug. 22, 2020: House passes the Delivering for America Act, which would provide $25 billion in aid to the Postal Service and ban service changes until 2021.
The vote split mostly on party lines after a tense debate.
Image: The headquarters of the United States Postal Service (USPS) is seen in Washington, DC, August 18, 2020. Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images