The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

5 takeaways from the Postal Service hearing in the Senate

On Aug. 21, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testified before a Senate committee and expressed support for voting by mail. (Video: The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

The head of the Postal Service testified on Friday before a Republican-led Senate panel about the controversial changes he made to mail operations, right as many Americans get ready to vote by mail in a few months. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor who took his post in June, will also testify Monday before a Democratic-led House committee.

Here are five takeaways from Friday’s hearing.

1. DeJoy says it’s ‘an outrageous claim’ that he’s trying to affect how people vote

DeJoy said early on that there have been no changes to how election mail gets handled. He twice said it’s “an outrageous claim” that the changes he’s made to regular mail are designed to have a negative impact on the election. He said he will make sure election mail can be treated like first-class mail without the corresponding stamps.

He also said he plans to vote by mail this November and has done so before.

DeJoy spent significant time defending the recent controversial changes he implemented at the Postal Service. He said everything from cost-cutting measures to a reorganization of leadership, to taking away hundreds of mailboxes and mail-sorting machines, is either routine or necessary to keep the organization financially afloat.

He said he didn’t know about the removal of mailboxes and sorting machines until there was public uproar. “When I found out about it … we looked at the excitement it was creating, so I decided to stop it,” he said.

DeJoy denied he has significantly curtailed overtime pay to postal workers, and he defended limiting extra trips by postal workers to retrieve mail as having no impact on delivery.

“So this isn’t some sort of devious plot on your part,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which held the hearing.

About the Postal Service’s recent warning that 46 states and D.C. might not get their ballots mailed out to voters and back on time, DeJoy said that has been a problem for years and that the Postal Service was trying to warn state election officials that many deadlines for ballot applications aren’t feasible.

“There are times ballots are sent out the day before the election,” DeJoy said. “It’s almost impossible for . . . the ballot to get to the voter, and for the voter to vote and to get it back in time for the election. So this was a very, very well-thought-out effort to safeguard the election, not to get in the way.”

2. He’s considering ‘dramatic changes’ to the Postal Service after the election

He confirmed in broad terms new Washington Post reporting that he is considering big changes — much larger than previously known — to how the Postal Service operates after November. The Post reports these changes “could lead to slower mail delivery in parts of the country and higher prices for some mail services.”

“We are considering dramatic changes to improve services to the American people,” DeJoy said when pressed by Democrats on whether he is considering this.

DeJoy didn’t go into detail, but The Post reports changes, such as requiring ballots to use first-class postage, could affect future elections.

3. DeJoy said that mail delays are a separate issue — and that he won’t put back sorting machines

At a Senate Hearing, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy stated that this action wasn't intended as a political move and instead was to keep up with package volume. (Video: Reuters)

“There was a slowdown in the mail when the production did not meet the schedule,” he said, rather vaguely explaining recent delays in mail delivery that have resulted in thousands of ballots and ballot applications not being delivered during primary elections. He added that employee availability is a “significant issue” because of the pandemic.

Some Democrats and experts want him to put back the nearly 700 mail-sorting machines that have been removed since DeJoy took office. DeJoy said he wouldn’t, because they’re not needed. Mail volume is down, he said, and post offices need to make room for package-sorting equipment.

Democrats were not satisfied with his response about the mail delays. “Frankly, they coincided with the time you took office,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), clearly frustrated. (And he seemed equally frustrated his video feed wasn’t immediately working when it was his turn, resulting in a hot-mic episode in which his stream of obscenities was broadcast live.)

As Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) questioned DeJoy, he acknowledged he didn’t do any studies on how the changes could affect seniors and veterans, who rely on the Postal Service for medication and checks.

4. This comes down to mistrust about the president’s intentions

President Trump on Aug. 12 said that additional aid for mail-in voting was a non-starter in coronavirus relief negotiations with congressional Democrats. (Video: The Washington Post)

There’s a clear before and after in election experts’ concerns about how smoothly mail voting will go. Facing an election that polls show he could lose, President Trump has for months been making false claims degrading voting by mail. But experts’ alarm bells have gone off now that Trump has said he would reject congressional funding to help the Postal Service because he doesn’t want to expand mail voting. (The White House has since backtracked on funding and said it is “certainly open” to the $25 billion Democrats have proposed.)

So while DeJoy can try to assure Congress and Americans that the Postal Service isn’t trying to sabotage the election, many won’t be convinced. He also said he hasn’t talked with the president or the Trump campaign about these changes (though he did have broad discussions with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin). What DeJoy says will do little to assuage concerns about the president exerting influence on this for his own political benefit.

Disinformation campaign stokes fears about mail voting

“We’ve got a president who doesn’t want to have a vote by mail,” Carper said. “We’ve got a president who likes to suppress the vote. We’ve got a president who would like to see the Postal Service also not do well. … And when I see what’s going on with the president who wants to degrade the Postal Service, wants to get rid of vote-by-mail, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’re alarmed when we see the kind of degraded service that we’re seeing across the country.”

5. More election-related funding remains an open question

DeJoy said something Friday that would seem to shock Democrats — that he doesn’t need any extra funding to deal with the election.

“I don’t need anything to deliver mail on the election night,” he said when asked whether he needs money from Congress to do it.

Democrats want to give the Postal Service $25 billion in part to help out with handling election mail. They point out that it’s aid the Postal Service Board of Governors said it needed. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) seemed at ease recently about the state of the Postal Service without any additional funding from Congress. He noted that the administration has loaned the Postal Service $10 billion from a previous coronavirus bill and said, “The Postal Service is going to be just fine.”

With DeJoy’s comments that he doesn’t need election-related funding, it could get harder for Democrats to persuade Republicans to fund the Postal Service in any coming coronavirus relief package.