Senator launches investigation into USPS as Democrats demand Trump donor in charge reverse cuts

Democrats say Postmaster General Louis DeJoy admitted to the operational changes following repeated "prior denials"

By Igor Derysh

Senior News Editor

Published August 7, 2020 1:53PM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Mail in Ballots (Getty Images/Salon)
Donald Trump | Mail in Ballots (Getty Images/Salon)

The top Democrat on a Senate committee overseeing the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has launched a probe into service cuts after Trump donor Louis DeJoy took over the agency as postmaster general.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., the ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, opened an investigation to "get to the bottom of any changes that the new postmaster general may be directing that undercut the Postal Service's tradition of effective service," he said in a statement.

The statement said DeJoy had "failed" to respond to "repeated inquiries" and urged individuals, small businesses and organizations impacted by delays or cuts to report any problems.

"I've heard firsthand from constituents, postal workers and local officials in Michigan who have encountered problems with the timely and dependable service they count on to conduct business, get prescription medications and critical supplies and even exercise their right to vote," Peters said.

The investigation comes after Democrats and the postal workers' union raised alarms over planned cuts at post offices around the country. DeJoy, who has no experience at the agency, has called for changes which advocates and politicians warn could undermine the expected surge in voting by mail in the upcoming election.

DeJoy has argued that the operational changes were needed at the cash-strapped agency. Democrats have proposed a $25 billion cash infusion to help save the USPS in the next phase of coronavirus relief, but Republicans balked at any funding in their proposal.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., met with DeJoy on Wednesday. They said he "confirmed that contrary to prior denials and statements minimizing these changes, the Postal Service recently instituted operational changes" shortly after he assumed office.

The Democratic leaders said DeJoy further confirmed that the USPS had reduced overtime availability, placed restrictions on extra mail deliveries, begun testing new sorting and delivery policies and reduced the number and use of processing equipment at mail processing plants.

"We believe these changes, made during the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, now threaten the timely delivery of mail — including medicines for seniors, paychecks for workers, and absentee ballots for voters — that is essential to millions of Americans," they wrote in a letter to DeJoy, calling the cost-cutting measures "counterproductive and unacceptable."

"Elections are sacred," Schumer told reporters after the meeting. "To do cutbacks when ballots, all ballots, have to be counted — we can't say, 'Oh, we'll get 94% of them.' It's insufficient."

The concerns come as President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to sow doubt about voting by mail as polls show him significantly trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Trump has repeatedly pushed numerous false conspiracy theories about mail-in voting. However, he recently began to tout Florida's mail system — which he has used — as "safe and secure," even though it uses the exact same postal system as every other state.

Along with Trump's campaign to sow doubt in the vote in a race where he trails in most battleground states, some states have also thrown up roadblocks to mail voting.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected a lower court ruling that would have allowed anyone to vote by mail in June, and the Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled to overturn a lower court ruling that would have allowed voters to cite fears over the coronavirus pandemic as a reason to request an absentee ballot.

Tennessee requires voters to provide one of 14 excuses to request an absentee ballot, but the court ruled 4-1 that people who do not have a "special vulnerability" to the coronavirus or who are caretakers for someone who does cannot claim the pandemic as an excuse.

Justice Sharon Lee criticized the ruling in the lone dissenting opinion.

"All qualified Tennessee voters — like voters in forty-five other states — should be allowed to apply to vote by absentee mail ballot during the unprecedented and deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is gripping our community, state, nation and world," she wrote, arguing that medical experts who reviewed the state's in-person voting plan "testified that these measures were inadequate to contain the virus."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's senior news editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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