There's more clarity Wednesday on just how far postmaster general and Trump lackey Louis DeJoy is retreating on the sabotage he's inflicted on the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). DeJoy announced Tuesday that he would suspend certain policy changes he'd made until after November's election, but did not clarify whether he would reverse them, leading congressional Democrats to demand more information.
As it now stands, DeJoy appears to intend to suspend just a handful of changes. Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, confirmed to Government Executive that only the initiatives DeJoy specifically mentioned would be included. Those changes include: "changes to retail hours at post offices, decommissioning or relocating processing equipment, removal of blue collection boxes and processing facility closures." It apparently doesn't include replacing that equipment. And it doesn't include other, massive monkey wrenches he's thrown into the USPS works, like his directive to delay first-class mail, allowing it to pile up undelivered for days and weeks. He's instituted a policy of prioritizing "on-schedule trips"—getting mail carriers out the door at a specific time—rather than delivering all the mail, the primary cause of service disruptions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked with DeJoy Wednesday, and he confirmed with her “that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure.”
DeJoy is also apparently leaving in place a policy in 200 cities around the country requiring mail carriers to return to the post office by 2 PM, pushing mail sorting into the afternoon to get carriers out earlier in the morning. Carriers are expected to sort the bulk of the new mail and anything left undelivered for delivery the next day. But it also requires carriers to take some of the unsorted mail and sort it while they're out on their routes. That just pisses off carriers, who have to interrupt deliveries to sort in the field, and it delays delivery. There are other issues popping up that also need to be addressed, like a brand new rule change that forbids postal employees from witnessing absentee ballots while on duty. Alaska and several other states require witness signatures to verify ballots. In the case of Alaska, it directs voters to have signatures witnessed by "an authorized official," which includes postal clerks.
Alaska Division of Elections Director Gail Fenumiai fired off a letter to the USPS demanding an explanation after voters contacted her office complaining of the change. “They have been told by the postal official that they are not authorized to serve as a witness in their official capacity," she wrote in her letter Thursday. "This came as surprise to the state because we know in past elections postal officials have served as witnesses. Rural Alaska relies heavily on postal officials as they are often sometimes the only option for a witness. […] Can you provide me with an explanation and a copy of the official postal regulation stating this mandate?” The response from David Bentley, product management specialist at the USPS: “Postal Employees are prohibited from serving as witnesses in their official capacity while on duty, due in part to the potential operational impacts. The Postal Service does not prohibit an employee from serving as a witness in their personal capacity off-duty, if they so choose.”
This change apparently was not communicated to any of the states that require witnessed absentee ballots. One of those states is Wisconsin, and Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said that they'd never heard about the change. Add that to the list of things Democrats have to drill DeJoy on when he testifies to the Senate on Friday and the House on Monday.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader in the Senate, has demanded an explanation, in writing, from DeJoy on which policy changes he is keeping but suspending, what he's rescinding, and what he's restoring, as well as for an explicit promise that ballots and official election mail will be treated as first-class. “I told him there’s a lot of mistrust because of statements he and the president have made about cutbacks in mail delivery during Covid and about mail-in voting through Election Day,” Schumer said in a statement. “We cannot allow two things as sacred to our country as the Post Office and our elections to be undermined.”
In addition the the congressional hearings this week and next, the House will be voting on a $25 billion emergency spending bill for the institution on Saturday, which would also require the USPS to restore all operations to pre-coronavirus procedures. At this point, it looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is going to engage in more hostage-taking and try to force some other coronavirus relief demands (like liability protection for businesses and schools to freely infect people) onto any vote for the USPS.
Additionally, two members of Congress, Democratic Reps. Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Ted Lieu of California, have asked the FBI to open a criminal probe into DeJoy for interfering with the mail. “There is overwhelming evidence that Postmaster General DeJoy and the Board of Governors have hindered the passage of mail,” they wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “It is not unreasonable to conclude that Postmaster General DeJoy and the Board of Governors may be executing Donald Trump’s desire to affect mail-in balloting,” their letter states.
Beyond congressional action, at least 20 Democratic state attorneys general are suing to have operations fully restored.