Shortly before the vote, Trump tweeted: “Vote NO to the Pelosi/ Schumer money wasting HOAX which is taking place now.” Twenty-six Republicans broke ranks with Trump and the GOP leadership and joined Democrats in backing the bill.
The House, which had not planned to return to Washington until Sept. 14, was holding a rare Saturday session to debate and vote on the bill. In addition to the infusion of money for the cash-strapped agency, the legislation would ban the removal of mail-sorting machines and public mailboxes, reverse any operational changes that could delay service and mandate that all official election mail be considered “first class.”
Democrats cast the vote as an imperative to deal with widespread constituent complaints about delayed delivery of medication, checks and overdue bills and even mail-order animals, as well as to address a crisis ahead of the Nov. 3 election. Nearly 180 million Americans are eligible to vote by mail, an alternative to in-person voting that many will choose amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said earlier this month that he opposed election aid for states and an emergency bailout for the Postal Service because he wants to restrict how many Americans can vote by mail. The president, who has voted by mail, has repeatedly made the baseless claim that mail-in ballots can lead to widespread fraud while criticizing the Postal Service in recent months, calling it a “joke.”
“Don’t pay any attention to what the president is saying because it is all designed to suppress the vote,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Saturday at a Capitol Hill news conference.
The House vote makes clear that embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, an ally of Trump and a major Republican donor, has failed to mollify members of Congress with his assurances that the agency will deliver “the nation’s election mail fully and on time,” as he promised Friday.
During an at-times-tense House debate, Republicans derided “mailbox myths” from the Democrats while insisting that the Postal Service has enough money until 2021.
“The Postal Service is not incapacitated. It is still fully capable of delivering the mail,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who dismissed warnings of voter suppression.
“Like the Russia hoax and impeachment sham, the Democrats have manufactured another scandal for political purposes,” said Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Countering the GOP, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said the “sabotage continues,” with “an ongoing and concerted effort to disrupt the timeliness of mail delivery and to erode public confidence in the Postal Service.” He warned that the nation was facing the “largest voter suppression in American history since Jim Crow.”
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, released internal Postal Service documents Saturday that show steeper declines in on-time deliveries than lawmakers had previously been told about. The drop in service standards since early July is across all categories of mail, including priority mail, periodicals, marketing and first class, the documents show.
Maloney lashed out at Republicans who questioned why the House was voting on the bill.
“Why are we here? Because the president of the United States says he’s going to defund the Postal Service,” Maloney said.
The Republican-controlled Board of Governors of the Postal Service had requested an emergency appropriation of $25 billion earlier this year.
Moments after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement calling the House bill “the Speaker’s partisan stunt” and said “the Senate will absolutely not pass stand-alone legislation for the Postal Service while American families continue to go without more relief.”
While DeJoy announced this past week that he was suspending cost-cutting operational changes before Election Day, Pelosi called the moves “wholly insufficient” and said the pause “does not reverse damage already wreaked.”
Pelosi, who spoke to DeJoy, said he “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.”
DeJoy testified to a Senate panel Friday that the agency will continue to prioritize ballots over other mail, as it has in past elections, and expressed support for the practice of voting by mail.
But DeJoy is also considering a massive overhaul of the agency after the election, The Washington Post reported Thursday, in which the Postal Service would implement geographic pricing, reduce mail-delivery standards and increase prices.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) led 23 Democrats in writing to DeJoy and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Friday calling for an investigation after the deaths of thousands of mail-order chicks.
“One hatchery recently reported that a shipment of 4,800 chicks arrived in New England with 100 percent mortality losses,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are deeply concerned that the recent issues with live chick deliveries may have been significantly exacerbated by recent changes to USPS service that have led to mail delays and staffing challenges.”
DeJoy is scheduled to testify Monday before the House Oversight Committee.
In bringing the House back to vote, Pelosi faced pressure from an increasing number of her Democratic colleagues to also consider legislation to restore unemployment benefits that expired last month. Congressional Democratic leaders and the White House failed to reach an agreement on a new aid package before lawmakers left Washington.
“It has been 19 days since the weekly $600 enhanced unemployment benefits expired, leaving 30 million Americans in a lurch. We owe it to people waiting to get back to work across the country not only to extend unemployment benefits to help them pay their bills, but to tie these benefits to economic conditions so workers are not held hostage by another cliff like this one,” more than half of the Democratic caucus wrote in a letter to Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
Democrats have sought a $3.4 trillion bill to provide more economic relief, while Republicans have sought a much narrower package. Among the issues in dispute are aid to states and localities hard hit by the twin economic and health crises, the amount of unemployment assistance and funds for schools.
As House members considered the postal bill, the debate over whether to do more raged behind the scenes. Moderates and centrist Democrats had been imploring Pelosi all week to use Saturday’s session to pass another coronavirus economic relief package, after talks between the speaker and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows broke down in early August.
Pelosi, however, has refused, noting that the House passed its own version of a stimulus in May — 99 days ago, as of Saturday — and that the Senate has yet to act. But her moderate members still want the speaker to either kick-start talks with the White House and McConnell, or at least pass a series of messaging bills to give them political cover with voters back home.
“All three legs of the stool need to get themselves back to the table and get over some of the concerns they have about perception and just get back to the negotiating table,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who is facing a tough reelection bid in a district Trump won in 2016.
Meanwhile, Meadows sought to use unease among moderate Democrats to try to push Pelosi into accepting a smaller relief bill than that passed by the House. As he exited McCarthy’s office Saturday, Meadows said he was continuing to talk with centrist Democrats.
“I don’t know that Speaker Pelosi is willing to entertain a targeted relief package yet, but I do think there is . . . a growing consensus that if we want to do something on postal, we ought to do something on other small businesses and enhanced unemployment — at least pick the things that we think we can agree upon and put that bill on the floor,” Meadows said. “You know, if it’s urgent enough to come back on a Saturday, you know, hurting small businesses and people that are hurt without jobs is certainly a priority, as well.”