WASHINGTON D.C. (NBC News)- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday she is calling lawmakers back to session this week to vote on a bill that would bar changes to the U.S. Postal Service amid fears over delayed ballots.
In a letter to Democrats, Pelosi, D-Calif., cited President Donald Trump’s “campaign to sabotage the election,” saying he was manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters.
Pelosi said she is calling on House members to return from their August recess this week and vote on the bill, called the Delivering for America Act. The bill, introduced by Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., would prohibit officials from implementing changes at the Postal Service until next year, Pelosi said.
Democratic leaders said they were scheduling an emergency hearing this month for top Postal Service officials to testify before Congress after the agency sounded the alarm about its ability to handle increased mail-in voting.
“Alarmingly, the Postmaster General — a Trump mega-donor — has acted as an accomplice in the president’s campaign to cheat in the election, as he launches sweeping new operational changes that degrade delivery standards and delay the mail,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement earlier.
“The Postal Service itself has warned that voters — even if they send in their ballots by state deadlines — may be disenfranchised in 46 states and in Washington, D.C., by continued delays,” the statement continued. “This constitutes a grave threat to the integrity of the election and to our very democracy.”
The Democrats requested that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser and top donor to Trump who took over the Postal Service in June, and Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Michael Duncan, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, testify before the House Oversight Committee on Aug. 24.
The hearing, Democrats said, “will examine the sweeping operational and organizational changes at the Postal Service that experts warn could degrade delivery standards, slow the mail and potentially impair the rights of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming November elections.”
DeJoy, a former logistics executive, recently implemented policy changes, including a crackdown on overtime pay, that have delayed mail delivery of important materials like prescription medications.
DeJoy had been scheduled to appear before Congress next month, with Sunday’s announcement coming after an outcry that Congress was not moving more quickly. The House is not set to return until early September, although the hearing can take place without members’ being called back.
In a separate statement, Schumer called on the Senate to hold similar hearings and to legislate to undo recent changes.
“If Mr. DeJoy refuses to appear before Congress and the American people to testify, he should be stamped ‘Return to Sender,'” Schumer said. “He shouldn’t be allowed to be the postmaster general.”
A Postal Service spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Postal Service has been in dire financial straits for years, particularly because of its legal obligation to annually prefund retirement benefits. During the coronavirus pandemic, letter volume has dropped significantly, while the number of packages handled has soared.
Internal documents reviewed by NBC News showed that DeJoy is decommissioning 671 letter sorting machines, the absence of which will further contribute to slowing the mail, postal workers said. A Postal Service spokesman, David Partenheimer, said the removal amounted to “normal business adjustments!” and added that the Postal Service often moves equipment because of fluctuating mail volume.
Meanwhile, numerous states recently received letters from the Postal Service warning that their vote-by-mail deadlines were too tight to ensure proper delivery. A number of states are expanding voting by mail because of the pandemic, seeking to prevent crowded polling places and possible spread of the coronavirus.
Michael Mize, president of the Michigan Postal Workers Union, who has worked in the Postal Service for nearly 23 years, said the turmoil is “the strongest political attack on the Postal Service — my livelihood — that I’ve ever seen.”
“My opinion, the position that I’ve taken, is that the appointment that was made [of DeJoy] and the actions that have followed are a direct internal attack on what we do, and it makes me sick, and it makes me angry,” he said.
But Mize said he still believes the Postal Service will be able to handle voting by mail just fine, even with the changes. As others have said, even a large increase in mail-in ballots would pale in comparison to the parcel load the Postal Service handles annually at Christmas.
“I work with these people, and I know that they’re going to do everything they can to make sure that this gets done,” he said. “They take too much pride in it. They’re not just going to buckle over and say, ‘Oh, well.’ It’s just not going to happen.”
Democrats proposed $25 billion in emergency funding for the Postal Service. Concerns over the Postal Service accelerated late last week after Trump told Fox Business that voting by mail would be difficult if the emergency funding, in addition to $3.6 billion in vote-by-mail funding, was blocked.
“Now, they need that money in order to have the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said. “But if they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting, because they’re not equipped to have it.”
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows said Trump has no problem with “no-excuse absentee” voting but opposes universal mail-in balloting. The president recently asked to vote by mail in Florida.
“I’ll give you that guarantee right now,” Meadows said. “The president of the United States is not going to interfere with anybody casting their vote in a legitimate way, whether it’s the post office or anything else.”
Meadows also suggested that Trump is open to a standalone Postal Service funding bill or one coupled with one of the president’s legislative aims.
At a news conference Saturday, Trump said that “the post office is a catastrophe” and that DeJoy “wants to make the post office great again.”
Of voting by mail, the president said, “Absentee is good; mail-in, universal, is very, very bad.”
Asked about the lack of evidence Sunday, Meadows said, “There’s no evidence that there’s not [fraud], either.”