• Wed. Jan 20th, 2021

Live Updates: DeJoy Spars With Democrats Over Postal Service Changes


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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy testifies on Monday before the House Oversight Committee on cost-cutting measures and delivery delays.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Here’s what you need to know:

DeJoy said he was not trying to sabotage the election.

A defiant Louis DeJoy, under tough questioning from Democrats, defended the cost-cutting measures he put in place as postmaster general and rejected suggestions that the changes were intended to influence the 2020 election by making mail-in voting less reliable.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” an increasingly exasperated Mr. DeJoy told Democrats. “We will do everything in our power and structure to deliver the ballots on time.”

Mr. DeJoy, a megadonor to President Trump, is embroiled in a political firestorm as recent changes aimed at reducing the Postal Service’s costs — including cutting overtime and limiting trips — have led to delays in mail delivery, including medicine, pension checks and bills. That has fueled concerns about whether the service will be able to handle what is expected to be a record number of mail-in ballots for the 2020 election.

Mr. DeJoy, at times shouting over his Democratic questioners, criticized the “false narrative” that he said was being promoted about both his intentions and the changes, which he described as necessary to address the Postal Service’s financial woes but that civil rights groups, state attorneys general and Democrats have derided as an attempt to disenfranchise voters.

Mr. DeJoy told House lawmakers that he did not put in place many of the changes that had caused concern — including the removal of blue mailboxes and mail-sorting machines. He acknowledged that some of the changes he had implemented, such as reducing overtime and limiting trips, had caused delays but said those were necessary and issues that arose from them were being rectified.

“Transitions don’t always go smoothly,” he said, adding that while “we are very concerned with the deterioration in service, we’re seeing a big recovery this week.”

As the hearing wore on, and Mr. DeJoy found himself being asked to tread the same ground again and again, he appeared to grow weary of trying to prove that his intentions were good.

His decision to cut down on late and extra shipments of mail was based on a “fundamental, basic principle: Run your trucks on time.”

“I would not know how to reverse that now,” he said. “Am I to say do not run the trucks on time? Is that the answer that we are trying to get me to say here today?”

Pressed by Representative John Sarbanes, Democrat of Maryland, to put in writing his assurances to get mail service, including mail-in ballots, moving on time, Mr. DeJoy said he would commit to giving the Oversight committee “an update on the improvement of the service” by next Monday.

He had previously demurred or declined to share other analyses or internal documents with Congress.

Democrats sparred with DeJoy over the removal of sorting machines and other changes.

Democrats attacked the postal head for making changes in the midst of a pandemic and so close to the election but Mr. DeJoy insisted the timing was appropriate.

“It was summertime, mail volume was down significantly, we’re getting ready for the peak season and the election is three months away,” he said. “It was a good time to try and start to roll this out.”

Many Democrats were not satisfied with that explanation and the hearing turned testy when Representative Stephen F. Lynch, Democrat of Massachusetts, accused Mr. DeJoy of “incompetence” and asked “how can one person screw this up in just a few weeks?”

After repeatedly asking whether Mr. DeJoy would return the mail sorting machines that have already been removed from post offices, the postal leader barked “I will not.” He then added that Mr. Lynch had spread “misinformation” during his furious monologue.

The postal head grew increasingly agitated under additional questioning from Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, about putting decommissioned sorting machines back in service.

After Mr. DeJoy acknowledged that replacing those decommissioned sorting machines would likely cost less than $1 billion, Mr. Khanna pressed him on why the agency wouldn’t consider replacing those machines before the general election in November to help instill confidence in mail-in voting and the election results.

“If it would cost less than a billion dollars regardless of efficient or not, what is the harm in putting those machines back?” Mr. Khanna asked. “Just for the peace of mind and the confidence of the American people.”

Mr. DeJoy described the question of whether the Postal Service would restore machines if the agency was appropriated $1 billion “a hypothetical” and criticized the ability of Congress to legislate.

“You’re not going to give us $1 billion,” Mr. DeJoy said. “You have no way of getting us $1 billion. We haven’t been funded in 10 years. You can’t pass any legislation.”

When Mr. Khanna did not relent, a visibly exasperated Mr. DeJoy declared “get me the billion and I’ll put the machines in.” Mr. Khanna took that as a “commitment” to replace those machines.

Maloney accused DeJoy of carrying out Trump’s efforts to hobble mail-in voting.

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Credit…Pool photo by Tom Brenner

In searing opening remarks, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and the chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee, took aim at Mr. DeJoy, calling the notion that the changes he implemented at the agency would not cause mail delays “incompetence at best.”

“Maybe Mr. DeJoy was warned that his changes would cause delays, but he disregarded those warnings,” Ms. Maloney said. “Or, perhaps there is a far simpler explanation. Perhaps Mr. DeJoy is just doing exactly what President Trump said he wanted on national television — using the blocking of funds to justify sweeping changes to hobble mail-in voting.”

“All of these options are bad,” she concluded.

Republicans framed DeJoy as a victim of ‘cancel culture.’

In his introduction of Mr. DeJoy, Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina, accused Democrats of trying to “cancel” Mr. DeJoy for purely partisan reasons.

“How sad is it when the cancel culture has reached the halls of congress,” Mr. Walker said. “The man sitting before this committee today is not who the Democrats have villainized him to be. He’s here today because he supported President Trump.”

Other Republicans on the committee struck a similar tone. Representative James R. Comer of Kentucky, the top Republican on the committee, used his opening remarks to chastise Democrats for spreading a “baseless conspiracy theory about the Postal Service” and hastily moving over the weekend to pass legislation that would block some service changes and send the beleaguered agency $25 billion.

He said Mr. DeJoy was taking good-faith steps to cut costs and noted that he took responsibility for the delays — what Mr. Comer called “temporary growing pains.”

He pointed out that the recent removal of blue mailboxes and mail sorting machines were long planned and consistent with actions taken under Mr. DeJoy’s predecessor.

“I am disappointed in the hysterical frenzy being whipped up by the Democrats and their friends in the media,” Mr. Comer said, adding that the Postal Service “has more than adequate capacity to handle the vote by mail.”

Representative Jody Hice, Republican of Georgia, blamed the mail delays on the pandemic, saying “there are thousands of U.S.P.S. workers who are not showing up for work due to Covid-19” adding that “the postmaster general has nothing to do with Covid-19.”

Mr. DeJoy, under questioning from Representative Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that 83 Postal Service employees had died from the coronavirus. He agreed to provide a breakdown of the number of Postal Service employees impacted by the pandemic to Congress by Friday.

Credit…Kyle Grillot/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Trump continues to suggest ‘fraud’ in 2020 mail-in voting.

Mr. Trump weighed in during the hearing, reiterating claims he has previously made — without evidence — that mail-in voting will lead to fraud.

“All the Radical Left Democrats are trying to do with the Post Office hearings is blame the Republicans for the FRAUD that will occur because of the 51 Million Ballots that are being sent to people who have not even requested them,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are setting the table for a BIG MESS!”

Mr. Trump has stoked concerns about the validity of mail-in voting ahead of the 2020 election, saying last week that allowing universal voting by mail would lead to people fraudulently casting multiple ballots — a practice that experts say has been exceedingly rare in places where mail-in voting has been common for many years.

Mr. DeJoy acknowledged on Monday that he did not find those comments helpful.

“I have put word around to different people that this is not helpful,” he said, in response to a question from Mr. Connolly about whether he had been in contact with the administration or Mr. Trump about his attacks.

Democrats grill DeJoy over his qualifications.

Democrats pressed Mr. DeJoy, a logistics executive whose name was not on an initial list of candidates provided to the Postal Service’s board of governors, about how he was selected to run the Postal Service.

As The Times reported on Saturday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was a key player in selecting the board members who hired Mr. DeJoy and in pushing the agenda that he has pursued.

[Read more about Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s role in the selection process.]

In a fiery exchange with Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, Mr. DeJoy insisted that Mr. Mnuchin “had nothing to do with my selection” and that he only met with the Treasury secretary after he was offered the position.

Mr. DeJoy also defended his background as a logistics executive and insisted that he was properly vetted for the position of postmaster general. However, when asked if he would share the file from his background check, he rebuffed the notion.

“No, why would I release a background check,” Mr. DeJoy said incredulously.

Late last week, David C. Williams, the former vice chairman of the board of governors, who was appointed by Mr. Trump as a Democratic member of the panel, told House Democrats in scathing testimony that Mr. DeJoy was the least qualified candidate the board interviewed for the job, and that Robert M. Duncan, the chairman of the Postal Service board of governors, had suggested him to the panel.

Mr. Williams also accused Mr. Mnuchin of politicizing the Postal Service, an independent agency whose leader has been walled off from the White House since 1970.

When he resigned from the board in protest on the eve of Mr. DeJoy’s selection, Mr. Williams said that no serious background investigation into the candidate had been conducted — despite his request for one — and that a brief review by the agency’s inspector general had surfaced potential concerns about contract work Mr. DeJoy’s logistics firm had done for the Postal Service.

Duncan acknowledged DeJoy was not on the initial candidate list.

Credit…Pool photo by Tom Brenner

Mr. Duncan, the chairman of the Postal Service’s board of governors who also appeared before the committee, acknowledged that Mr. DeJoy was not included in a list of candidates provided by a search firm.

Mr. Duncan said he raised Mr. DeJoy’s name as a candidate after the search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, provided the board with an initial list of 53 names that did not include Mr. DeJoy, confirming a report in The New York Times. He said he offered Mr. DeJoy’s name and others in an effort to expand the search pool in order to arrive at the best candidate.

“It was during that period of time that Mr. DeJoy’s interest or availability became known to me,” Mr. Duncan said under questioning from Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat. “I submitted that name as I had many others.”

Mr. Krishnamoorthi asserted that Mr. DeJoy was included in the selection process “not by merit,” but “by his connections. It would be the same as an N.C.A.A. team not making the round of 64, but then swooping into the round of the sweet 16. And that’s what happened here.”

Mr. Duncan defended selecting Mr. DeJoy to helm the agency, citing his “deep knowledge” of the Postal Service from his work in the private sector and casting the changes he had implemented as crucial to transforming a flagging institution.

Mr. Krishnamoorthi also asked Mr. Duncan, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a board member for Republican super PACs, to account for past statements in which he accused Democrats of trying to steal elections.

Mr. Krishnamoorthi quoted a 2008 fund-raising mailer signed by Mr. Duncan, then the R.N.C. chairman, asserting “the Obama-Biden Democrats and their liberal special interest allies are trying to steal these election victories from Republicans.”

Mr. Duncan said he did not recall that letter. But he distanced himself from its message and from Mr. Trump’s claims — and perhaps implicitly from Democratic claims about Mr. Trump’s intervention in postal affairs — explaining, “I don’t believe anyone at this point who is a nominee of the major parties is trying to steal an election.”

DeJoy’s ties to Trump provide ammunition for Democrats.

Mr. DeJoy’s political donations to Trump and his ties to the president became a prominent line of attack for Democrats during the hearing.

Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont, detailed Mr. DeJoy’s campaign contributions to Republicans, including Mr. Trump, and noted he gave no money to Democrats.

“Yes, I am a Republican, sir,” Mr. DeJoy said. “I give a lot of money to Republicans.”

Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, pointedly — and at times without evidence or explanation — insinuated Mr. DeJoy may be responsible for a pattern of illegality in service of Mr. Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting.

He suggested that Mr. DeJoy’s orders for mail trucks to run on time, even if they were empty, could be considered a felony for delaying the mail. He asserted that Mr. DeJoy’s continued financial stake in a company that does business with the Postal Service was a conflict of interest. He asked, without providing any evidence or background for his claim, whether Mr. DeJoy had facilitated campaign contributions to the Trump campaign in a manner that would violate so-called straw donation prohibitions and then asserted that his operational changes at the Postal Service amounted to an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign because of the delays they had caused in the run-up to a major election.

“Do your mail delays help Trump campaign goals of hurting the post office as stated in his tweets,” Mr. Cooper asked. “Are your mail delays implicit contributions?”

Mr. DeJoy was furious. He said he was not above the law, maintained he was fully complaint with ethics requirements, and called questions about illegal campaign donations “outrageous” and false.

“I’m not answering these types of questions,” he said near the end of the exchange. “I’m here to represent the Postal Service. All my actions have to do with improvements to the Postal Service. Am I the only one in this room who understand that we have a $10 billion a year loss? Am I the only one in this room who has looked at the O.I.G. reports that have stacked up?”

Mr. Cooper said he was only asking questions about potential campaign finance violations. But he pressed on, drawing moans from Republicans in the hearing room: “Is your backup plan to be pardoned like Roger Stone?”

Mr. DeJoy laughed. “I have no comment on that,” he said. “It’s not worth the comment.”

Lawmakers question DeJoy over conflicts of interest

Mr. DeJoy’s ongoing financial ties to companies that contract with the Postal Service also came under scrutiny from Democrats.

Mr. DeJoy continues to hold $25 million to $50 million in XPO Logistics, a $16 billion transportation company where he served as the chief executive of its supply chain business until 2015 and was a board member until 2018. And he continues to earn millions of dollars more in rental payments from XPO through leasing agreements at buildings that he owns, according to his financial disclosure forms.

XPO assists the Postal Service during busy shipping periods, such as around the holidays, moving bulk shipments of packages from fulfillment centers and taking them to local Postal Service centers so mail carriers can deliver them to residences.

Mr. DeJoy defended his continued investment in XPO Logistics.

“I have a significant investment in XPO logistics, which I vetted before with the ethics department of the Postal Service and I was given specific types of guidelines that I needed to adhere to,” he told Mr. Raskin. “It’s a very, very small part of the Postal Service business I have nothing to do with. I comply with all ethical requirements and we have an OIG investigation. I guess they’ll get to everything that you’re interested in and we will see what will happen.”