US Democrats Step Up Pressure On Postal Service Cuts Ahead Of Election

image

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US Democrats stepped up pressure on Sunday (Aug 16) against a cost-cutting campaign by President Donald Trump’s appointed Postal Service chief that they fear will hold up mail-in ballots in November’s election, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling lawmakers back and several states considering legal action.

Top Democrats in Congress called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and another top postal official to testify this month at a hearing on a wave of cuts that has slowed mail delivery across the country, alarming lawmakers ahead of the Nov 3 election when up to half of US voters could cast ballots by mail.

Democrats have accused Trump, who is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in opinion polls, of trying to hamstring the cash-strapped Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that a surge in mail-in voting would lead to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, as one in four voters cast ballots that way in 2016.

Several Democratic state attorneys general told Reuters they were in discussions about potential legal action to stop Postal Service changes that could affect the election outcome.

“It is outrageous that Donald Trump would attempt to undermine the US Postal Service for electoral gain,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy told Reuters in a telephone interview, adding that his actions raised constitutional, regulatory and procedural questions.

“We will take whatever action is necessary to prevent further efforts to undermine or thwart the operation of the Postal Service,” she said, adding that counterparts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington and other states were conferring.

“We will use all our authority to ensure every eligible vote is secure, protected, and counted in November,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.

HOUSE BACK TO WASHINGTON

Pelosi, the country’s top elected Democrat, said on Sunday she was calling the Democratic-controlled House back to Washington later this week to vote on legislation to protect the Postal Service from what she called Trump’s “campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the Postal Service to disenfranchise voters.”

A senior Democratic aide said House lawmakers would likely return on Saturday to vote on the bill, which would prohibit changes to Postal Service levels that were in place on Jan 1, 2020.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring their Republican-controlled chamber back into session as well, but a spokesman for McConnell said there were no scheduling updates.

Congressional Democrats also called on DeJoy, a Trump donor, and Postal Service Chairman Robert Duncan to testify at an Aug 24 hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

"The President has explicitly stated his intention to manipulate the Postal Service to deny eligible voters access to the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election," Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a joint statement.

"The Postmaster General and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election."

Schumer said the Postal Service’s board of governors should remove DeJoy if he “refuses to come before Congress.” DeJoy did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump said on Thursday he had held up talks with Congress over a fresh round of coronavirus stimulus funding to block Democrats from providing more funds for mail-in voting and election infrastructure.

Trump later walked back those comments, saying he would not veto a bill that included funds for the Postal Service.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Sunday that he would agree to $10 billion (S$13.7 billion) to $25 billion in new Postal funding. 

The House approved $25 billion in a bill passed in May.

Mark Dimondstein, head of the 200,000-plus-member American Postal Workers Union, said on Sunday the Postal Service’s Republican-dominated governing board sought more than $25 billion.