August 24, 2020 5:30 PM, EDT

DeJoy Says Trump Attacks on Mail-in Ballots ‘Not Helpful’

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is sworn inLouis DeJoy is sworn in before a House Oversight and Reform Committee meeting Aug. 24. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)

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WASHINGTON — Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told lawmakers Aug. 24 that he has warned allies of President Donald Trump that the president’s repeated attacks on mail-in ballots are “not helpful,” but denied that recent changes at the Postal Service are linked to the November elections.

DeJoy was testifying for a second day on Capitol Hill, facing tense questions from lawmakers over an uproar in mail delivery delays since he took the helm in mid-June.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy said, adding that, like Trump, he personally plans to vote by mail.

The hearing quickly became a debate over delivery disruptions being reported nationwide. Democrats said the changes under DeJoy’s watch are causing widespread delays, but Republicans dismissed the worries as unfounded and part of a Democratic “conspiracy” against Trump.

In questioning, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) said the upheaval at one of the nation’s oldest and most popular institutions was either the result of “gross incompetence” or that DeJoy was “doing this on purpose.”

“What the heck are you doing?” Lynch asked DeJoy at a sometimes contentious House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing. DeJoy denied any wrongdoing and accused Lynch and other Democrats of spreading misinformation.

DeJoy refused requests by Democrats to restore mail-sorting machines or mailboxes removed from service.

DeJoy also disputed published reports that he has eliminated overtime for postal workers and said a Postal Service document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a mid-level manager. DeJoy, who has called election mail his “No. 1 priority,” said he will authorize expanded use of overtime, extra truck trips and other measures in the weeks before the election to ensure on-time delivery of ballots.

DeJoy urged voters to request mail-in ballots at least 15 days before the Nov. 3 election so they have enough time to receive their ballot, complete it and mail it back to elections officials on time. Acknowledging an expected surge in mail-in ballots because of the coronavirus pandemic, DeJoy said voters should mail back their ballots at least seven days prior to the election.

His advice “should in no way be misconstrued to imply that we lack confidence in our ability to deliver those ballots,” DeJoy told the panel. “We can, and will, handle the volume of election mail we receive.”

Louis DeJoy testifies Aug. 24 before the House Oversight Committee

DeJoy during his Aug. 24 testimony. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)

The oversight hearing came two days after the House approved legislation Aug. 22 to reverse changes at the Postal Service and send $25 billion to shore up the agency ahead of the November election. Twenty-six House Republicans broke with Trump to back the House bill, which passed 257-150, although there was little sign of bipartisanship at the Aug. 24 hearing.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee chair and author of the House bill, said DeJoy was using the Postal Service’s longstanding fiscal problems as an excuse “to justify sweeping and damaging changes to Postal Service operations. And we have all seen the results: national headlines about delays of days and weeks, veterans desperately waiting for their medications, sorting machines being ripped out and thrown in dumpsters.”

Maloney’s committee on Aug. 22 released internal Postal Service documents warning about steep declines and delays in a range of mail services since early July, shortly after DeJoy took the helm. Delays have occurred in first-class and marketing mail, periodicals and Priority Mail, the agency says in an Aug. 12 briefing prepared by Postal Service staff for DeJoy.

“These new documents show that the delays we have all heard about are actually far worse than previously reported,” Maloney said.

DeJoy acknowledged at a Senate hearing last week that there has been a “dip” in service, but disputed reports of widespread problems.

People gather during a "Save the Post Office" rally Aug. 22 in Salt Lake City.

People gather during a "Save the Post Office" rally Aug. 22 in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

At one point, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) questioned DeJoy’s role as a fundraiser for Trump’s 2016 election, leading to a heated exchange. Cooper cited news reports of mail trucks being forced to leave on schedule even when completely empty and pointedly reminded DeJoy that it’s a felony to delay delivery of the mail.

DeJoy called empty trucks unfortunate but not new. He said he’s in “full compliance” with ethics rules and resented the line of questions.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) told DeJoy flatly that he does not trust him.

Republicans took the opposite approach, repeatedly apologizing to DeJoy for the harsh questions and dismissing the mail delivery delays as a conspiracy theory.

“You’re getting a berating up here,” Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., told DeJoy.

The Postal Service landed in the middle of election-year tensions after Trump, during an interview on Fox News, acknowledged he’s blocking emergency funds to the Postal Service to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, millions of Americans are expected to avoid polling places and try to cast their ballots by mail.

DeJoy, a wealthy Republican donor, owned a logistics business, New Breed Logistics, that was a longtime Postal Service contractor, and he has significant financial stakes in companies that do business or compete with the agency. New Breed merged with XPO Logistics in 2014, and DeJoy became CEO of XPO’s supply chain business. After he retired in 2015, he became a member of XPO’s board until 2018. DeJoy said Aug. 24 he is in “full compliance” with ethics rules and said his actions as postmaster were just “a plan to run trucks on time.”

XPO ranks No. 3 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America and No. 1 on the TT Top 50 list of the largest logistics companies.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) fired off a round of quick, seemingly basic questions — How much does it cost to mail a postcard? And how many people voted by mail in the last election? — only to find DeJoy did not know the answers.

“I’m concerned about your understanding of this agency,” she told DeJoy.

DeJoy said many of the operational changes, such as removal of sorting machines, were underway before he arrived. Porter and other Democrats pressed him on who ordered the changes.

DeJoy did not provide an answer.

Porter and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) also raised questions about DeJoy’s financial interests. He said he had no stakes in online giant Amazon, a major Postal Service customer and a frequent target of criticism from Trump.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows called the House bill approved Aug. 22 a “political statement” and stressed that Trump would consider additional money only as part of a broader coronavirus relief package. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the Senate is eyeing $10 billion for the Postal Service in a new COVID-19 relief package, but won’t pass stand-alone legislation for the post office.

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