President Biden’s three nominees to the U.S. Postal Service’s governing board faced their first big test on Capitol Hill, where a Senate panel on Thursday pressed them to maintain service levels and rein in parts of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the agency.

Though Ron Stroman, Anton Hajjar and Amber McReynolds emphasized the need to improve mail reliability, they largely steered clear of discussing DeJoy or the turbulence that has engulfed the agency on his watch during their appearance before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. If the panel advances their nominations to the full Senate for confirmation, a vote could come within weeks.

Their ascent would give Democrats and Biden appointees a 5-to-4 majority and a Democratic-leaning bloc control of the board for the first time since 2016. But that coalition may not be in sync when it comes to DeJoy — unseating him is a priority for many congressional Democrats — or the postal chief’s cost-cutting agenda. Board Chairman Ron A. Bloom proclaimed his support for the postal chief as recently as Wednesday, while the board’s other Democrat, Lee Moak, has stayed mum.

The board candidates are steeped in postal experience and have expertise in voting rights and organized labor. Stroman, a Democrat, is the recently retired deputy postmaster general and led the Biden transition’s Postal Service review team. Hajjar is the former general counsel to the American Postal Workers Union and, if confirmed, would be the only governor with experience as a postal worker — he was a substitute letter carrier in high school. McReynolds, a political independent, is the chief executive of the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Vote at Home Institute and a former elections director in Denver.

Each took veiled shots at the Delivering for America plan DeJoy unveiled last month with the board’s support. That proposal aims to erase a projected $160 billion in losses in the next decade by raising prices, slashing administrative costs and steadily moving the agency away from the mail business and toward package shipping.

It features significant investments in parcels that have drawn praise from both parties — including a plan to purchase as many as 165,000 low- or zero-emission mail trucks built to accommodate more packages — but Democrats in particular have criticized proposed delivery slowdowns that would disproportionately affect rural areas.

“Regardless of where Americans live, we must ensure that every single community across the country has prompt, reliable and equitable service,” McReynolds said. DeJoy’s plan would slow service based on the geography of mail senders and recipients.

Stroman said: “The universal service obligation of the Postal Service requires delivering prompt, reliable and efficient service to all Americans all over the country. And it starts, it seems to me, with having a plan to ensure that you have great service.” He added, “That starts from the top of the organization and filters down throughout the organization.”

Under questioning from Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, the committee’s top Republican, all three nominees said they had not been subject to any “outside pressure” to fire DeJoy and had made no commitments to do so.

Earlier this year, 50 House Democrats called on Biden to fire the entire board and start over with a new slate of governors after DeJoy implemented protocols that led to sharp declines in delivery performance. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) was the lone member of the upper chamber to echo that call. But the postal union that helped advance Bloom’s and Moak’s nominations during the Trump administration is urging lawmakers to drop that effort to ensure the panel does not lose governors seen as crucial to its goals.

As a result, there is growing concern among some Democrats that a reconfigured board may not be enough to change the direction of the mail service, according to House and Senate aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations and party strategy.

Democrats wary of Bloom and Moak’s support for DeJoy have in recent days pushed colleagues in Congress to press the governors to increase oversight of the postmaster general and to be open to the possibility of dismissing him as Congress works to pass postal legislation, according to six House and Senate aides. Conversations also are underway with the Biden administration to encourage the president not to nominate Bloom for a second seven-year term, they say. Bloom’s term expired in December, but he is serving in a one-year holdover until his successor is nominated and confirmed.

“There’s a growing number of people who say maybe you don’t need to fire all the board, but you need to be able to create a majority to fire DeJoy,” one House aide said. “And there’s another group saying when we get enough Democrats on the board, that will be enough to maybe slow down some of the things DeJoy is doing.”

“If the White House looks at Bloom,” the aide said, “they’ll see labor is behind him and ask, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ But if they peel back the curtain, they’ll see he’s an enabler.”

Postal Service representatives who field Bloom’s media requests did not respond to questions from The Washington Post.

“I do think there is a movement to name the other people on the board to vote [DeJoy] out,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said last week at a news conference discussing postal banking legislation. “So hopefully he will not be the postmaster general when this bill passes. If he is, Congress will give him lots of instructions on what to do.”

Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said in an emailed statement Wednesday that the agency is grateful to Biden for submitting the nominations and that it is “best served by having Governors who bring diverse insights, unique perspectives, leadership and professional experiences to help inform our decision-making.”

Bloom, during a House hearing in February, said the board believed DeJoy was “in very difficult circumstances [and] is doing a good job.”

In an interview with the Atlantic on Wednesday, he said DeJoy “earned my support, and he will have it until he doesn’t. And I have no particular reason to believe he will lose it.”

Bloom’s support for the postal chief — along with the ambiguity of Moak’s position — has agitated Democrats and animated a conflict between liberal lawmakers and the governing board. Many lawmakers, aides say, are dubious of working with DeJoy to reimagine the Postal Service and are just as skeptical about the board.

Moak bristled at questions about the board’s relationship with DeJoy in January emails with the office of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), one of the board’s fiercest critics. Days earlier, Pascrell had urged Biden to fire the entire panel for cause, becoming the first in Congress to do so.

Moak responded by asking other House and Senate contacts to connect him with Pascrell’s office to discuss the Postal Service’s performance and set up a phone call with the congressman, but the exchange quickly grew acrimonious, according to messages The Post obtained through an open-records request.

Pascrell’s staff sent Moak nine detailed questions about the agency’s finances, its performance during the election and the internal politics of the board. When Moak responded that most of the questions had already been answered, Pascrell’s office suggested that the governor was “not interested in a good faith discussion.”

Moak wrote back to say he was “disappointed” that Pascrell had not consulted with the governors before calling for their removal and instead “took the approach to cherry pick and misrepresent the issues.”

In response, Pascrell’s office wrote: “The Congressman is deeply disconcerted by the destruction and degradation of USPS over the course of the past year by Postmaster General DeJoy and the public silence of the Board of Governors in the face of it. … To that end, an additional question we’d appreciate you clearing up for us tomorrow: will you move to fire Postmaster General DeJoy for his arson, and if not, why not?”

Moak declined to answer. “If you spent more time working to solve problems than create them perhaps we would be further along,” he responded in part. He concluded the message, “Good luck tomorrow — you will need it.”

“Maybe I could have worded it different,” Moak said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m signing it with the idea that we’re going to have the conversation. ‘Good luck tomorrow — you’ll need it,’ meaning you need to be prepared for the questions because I’ve learned more about the Postal Service and have really dove into it in order to help effect change and do the right thing.”

Pascrell said in a statement that rebuilding the Postal Service starts with replacing the “failed leadership” at the top.

“The exchange from this board member only proves my point. The entire board and then Mr. DeJoy should be handed their walking papers. Their unquestioning support for this postmaster general is unacceptable,” he said.

The National Association of Letter Carriers, the Postal Service’s largest union, has stepped in to defend Bloom and Moak. The union’s president, Fredric Rolando, wrote to Pascrell and Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in March to “strongly oppose” their removal from the board. He suggested “a bitter partisan fight” over DeJoy and the governors would undermine the prospects of new postal legislation.

Thursday’s hearing potentially previewed how Biden’s nominees would work with the existing board members. All three emphasized the nonpartisan nature of their work on postal issues, and the hearing was largely devoid of any attacks or even harsh questions. For all the attention Democrats have paid to the Postal Service’s struggles, party leadership had implored members to keep their questions tame and not attempt to extract promises from the nominees on their plans for the agency or DeJoy’s future.

“I think the more you talk about firing Louis DeJoy, the harder it is to get these people confirmed,” one Senate aide said. “Republicans will argue that Democrats just want to get these people confirmed to fire this man who has put forward a reasonable plan to save the Postal Service.”

The board historically has operated by consensus, scripting its staid quarterly open meetings and rarely showing internal discord. During the coronavirus pandemic, with public attendance restricted, governors could be heard on webcasts turning through pages of pre-written remarks. Most business is done in private executive sessions.

Democrats hope Biden’s nominees, if confirmed, change the way the board conducts its business and increase transparency with Congress, the mailing industry oand the public.

“The board makes decisions based on repeated conversations and hashing these things out,” said one Senate aide. “So having these voices in there, they’re focused on public service. They each bring significant different perspectives to the board. Having them in those conversations would change things.”