• Wed. Oct 28th, 2020

Postal Service to Tap Republican Lobbyist to Quell Mounting Scrutiny

WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, moving to defend himself and top postal officials against suggestions that they are trying to help President Trump win re-election by sabotaging mail-in voting, told colleagues on Wednesday that he planned to hire a veteran Republican lobbyist to work with Congress.

Facing calls for his ouster by Democrats and a flurry of investigations on Capitol Hill, Mr. DeJoy informed postal officials that he had selected Peter Pastre, a former Republican congressional aide and insurance lobbyist, to act as a liaison for the agency with Congress and state and local governments, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The move came as the Postal Service was facing mounting political and operational crises. Mr. Trump has raised concerns about the security of voting by mail, and the independent quasi-governmental agency has struggled to overcome a delivery slowdown and a dire financial forecast — all while Democrats accuse Mr. DeJoy and the agency’s Republican-majority governing board of doing the president’s bidding.

Mr. Pastre, who worked in the 1980s as an aide to the Republican former Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming and made his reputation in Washington as a politically active government relations executive for the insurance industry, was chosen in part because he was seen by Postal Service management as someone who could reach out to Democrats, according to people familiar with the selection process. Mr. Pastre worked for 16 years at MetLife, where he directed the company’s federal political action committee, which has donated more to Republicans in recent years.

The offer came as the Postal Service was working to reassure voters and state government officials that it was prepared to handle an expected surge in voting by mail as a result of the pandemic. The agency has reached out to political party and campaign officials in all 50 states and designated more than 400 “political and election mail coordinators,” according to an internal document. And it has begun an advertising campaign, including a mailer to households across the country and a television spot. Mr. DeJoy is scheduled to meet next week with secretaries of state from across the country to offer guidance on voting-by-mail deadlines.

The Postal Service recently warned states that it might not be able to process all last-minute ballots, opening the possibility that hundreds of thousands could arrive too late to be counted.

Mr. Trump has railed against mail-in voting, claiming that it will rig the election against him and asserting with no evidence that it is fraudulent. At least one Republican member of the board of governors installed by Mr. Trump has said he is also concerned about mail-in ballot fraud, citing a news report promoted by the president’s re-election campaign.

On Wednesday, Democratic leaders emphasized their concerns about Mr. DeJoy’s stewardship of the Postal Service in a letter to lawmakers instructing them to urge their constituents to vote early, especially if they planned to do so by mail.

“Democrats need to convey a loud, clear message to voters about how to overcome these concerns: To prevent Donald Trump from stealing this election, VOTE,” wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader. “Americans must vote as early as they can — especially if you plan to vote by mail.”

Senate Democrats also released a report Wednesday documenting a significant slowdown in the delivery of prescription drugs that followed operational changes overseen by Mr. DeJoy and intended partly to save money, confirming reports from across the country this summer.

According to five of the country’s largest pharmacies and pharmacy benefit managers, the delivery of drugs by mail slowed as much as 32 percent during the summer, causing patients to wait on average one or two days more to receive their prescription drugs.

In some cases, delivery times had begun to slow before Mr. DeJoy took office in June — likely because the spread of the coronavirus and supply chain interruptions — but the data indicated that the delays were exacerbated in July after Mr. DeJoy, a Republican megadonor, made the changes.

“Since DeJoy came in, the delivery times for prescription drugs have dropped measurably, and the consequences of this is both a threat to the health of people who rely on receiving their drugs by mail,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who compiled the information with Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“It’s driving up costs for the providers,” she added.

The Postal Service said mail performance was beginning to improve after suffering declines during Mr. DeJoy’s first months on the job, when he implemented a more regimented schedule for running mail trucks at specified times.

“Our work force like many others have been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, which has resulted in certain service disruptions,” said David A. Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman. “We are aggressively working to ensure full service coverage across the network, including increasing hiring based on local needs and improving process flows.”

The Postal Service released documents last week that showed an improvement in delivery times, but not a full return to the level of service provided before Mr. DeJoy implemented his changes.

Mr. Partenheimer did not respond to questions about whether Mr. Pastre had accepted the Postal Service’s offer, how much the job would pay or when he might start. Mr. Pastre also did not respond to requests for comment.

After inquiries from The New York Times, Mr. Pastre deleted his account on Twitter, where he had previously posted messages supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mr. Trump long assailed, and which his administration later renegotiated.

Mr. Pastre has not donated to Mr. Trump, although during the Trump presidency, he has contributed to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader. He also donated in 2003 to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign, though the majority of his federal donations were to the MetLife PAC.

A listing for the position offered to Mr. Pastre — vice president for government affairs and public policy — indicates that the holder of the job will represent the Postal Service in dealings with state and local officials, as well as the federal executive branch and Congress. In addition to questions about voting by mail, among the issues confronting the Postal Service on Capitol Hill is a fight between Democrats and Republicans over additional financial relief for the agency.

Ultimately, Mr. DeJoy had the final say in Mr. Pastre’s selection, announcing the decision to extend the job offer at a meeting on Wednesday of the Postal Service’s board of governors, according to people familiar with the situation.

Mr. DeJoy has been under fire from Democrats for months, most recently over allegations that he cultivated an environment at his former North Carolina company in which some employees felt pressured to donate to Republican candidates, and rewarded them with bonuses for doing so. Common Cause North Carolina filed a complaint on Wednesday with the State Board of Elections, and Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general, is seeking an investigation into the allegations.

The added pressure on Mr. DeJoy came as the Postal Inspection Service, the agency’s federal law enforcement and security arm, said it was investigating another concern: reports of mail-dumping in Glendale, Calif., last week. Piles of mail were reportedly dumped in two locations in the city, including one incident in which a rental truck was caught on surveillance video dumping bags of unopened letters and packages in the parking lot of a medical spa.