August 18, 2020 4:15 PM, EDT

Postmaster General Halts Service Changes Until After Election

USPS delivery vehicles outside a post office in Torrance, Calif.A battle over the USPS and its ability to reliably deliver presidential election ballots during a pandemic has broken out in recent weeks. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

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Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he is suspending changes to mail service that raised concerns over slow delivery of ballots in the fall election after Democrats accused President Donald Trump of hampering the vote-by-mail process.

“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” DeJoy said in an emailed statement Aug. 18.

DeJoy said that mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are, and no mail processing facilities will be closed. Overtime work will “continue to be” approved as needed, he said.

The announcement follows concerns from Democrats and others over apparent mail slowdowns as the coronavirus pandemic leads to the necessity for increased mail-in voting options. DeJoy is to appear twice before Congress in coming days: on Aug. 21 at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and on Aug. 24 before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said in a statement Aug. 18 that the USPS would halt any service changes until after the general election on Nov. 3. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back on Aug. 22 to vote on legislation to halt post office cutbacks and give the agency $25 billion in additional funding.

“The post office in these times of coronavirus is really election central,” Pelosi said during an event with Politico Aug. 18. “Well, he should,” she said, when suddenly handed a note about a news report on DeJoy’s announcement that he is suspending changes.

Meanwhile, the attorneys general for Washington and Pennsylvania were briefing reporters on Aug. 18 on plans for separate, multistate lawsuits that would seek to halt operational changes at the Postal Service. More than a dozen other states had signed onto the effort, including California, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada. No Republican attorneys general have signed onto the suits.

Health Risks

“By interfering with the Postal Service, President Trump is putting both our democracy and people’s health at risk,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said in a statement Aug. 18. “We are suing to ensure the integrity of our electoral process and to make sure each and every vote is counted during this election.”

RELATED: Three More States to Announce Lawsuits Over USPS, Mail-In Voting

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said DeJoy’s commitment to hold back on operational changes is insufficient and not specific enough to avoid the lawsuit he plans to file with other AGs.

“They say they’re going to get back on course for November,” Frosh, a Democrat, said in a phone call. “But that’s a promise that I don’t think we can take at face value, especially when you look at the president’s statements about not letting the USPS have the money it needs and that if you have a mail-in election, you’ll never elect another Republican.”

Frosh said the USPS will need to put back sorting machines and override earlier instructions about leaving mail undelivered at the end of a shift, for example, in order to undo that damage.

Mailboxes Removed

Recent media reports have pointed to the removal of mail sorting machines in various cities, as well as the taking of mailboxes off the streets. Post office operating hours have been reduced and overtime work cut. The agency’s inspector general is investigating those moves.

DeJoy said Aug. 18 “some longstanding operational initiatives” that predate his arrival “that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic.”

RELATED: Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to Appear Before Senate Over Mail Delays

He said the Postal Service is ready to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.

“Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards,” he said in the statement. “The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Trump and DeJoy had recklessly made changes in a way that was illegal.

“There is a process for changes like this one that requires going before the postal regulatory commission and holding public hearings,” Shapiro told reporters. “DeJoy opted to do just what he and Trump wanted.”

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