As the U.S. Postal Service this past week dismantled mail-sorting machines and removed its iconic blue collection bins in Silicon Valley and throughout the nation, lawmakers began sounding the alarm about a plot to imperil the agency ahead of Election Day.
Their fears—outlined in an Aug. 12 letter penned by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) and Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), among other Democrats—were hardly unfounded.
President Trump made clear last week that he’s holding up $25 billion in federal relief for the USPS because he worries about it paying for universal ballots. At the White House today, the president lobbed new volleys against mail-in voting, repeating one of his favorite conspiracies about unchecked election fraud.
“You can’t have millions and millions of ballots sent all over the place, sent to people that are dead, sent to dogs, cats, sent everywhere,” he said at a briefing.
While the president tries to discredit the USPS as a dysfunctional money-loser and a tool for Democrats to enable fraudulent voting, Trump appointee Louis DeJoy has come under fire for destabilizing the organization from the inside out.
Since Trump tapped the Republican mega-donor as postmaster general in June, DeJoy has precipitated devastating shakeups at an agency already billions of dollars in the hole thanks to a 2006 law that requires it to pre-fund decades of retiree health benefits.
Disruptive reassignments, lowered overtime caps and other crippling cost-cutting tactics immediately followed DeJoy’s arrival.
On Friday, in the face of widespread backlash to running a public service as a private business, the former supply-chain CEO acknowledged the “unintended consequences” of his actions. And today, evidently seeing the writing on the wall, DeJoy finally agreed to temporarily suspend the operational changes.
“There are some longstanding operational initiatives—efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service—that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election in the midst of a devastating pandemic,” he explained in a statement. “To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
The about-face follows an Aug. 12 letter co-signed by Eshoo, Lofgren and other Democratic legislators that implored DeJoy to reverse policies that have slowed mail and weakened the nation’s oldest institution just months before one of the most consequential elections in a generation.
Amid a once-in-a-century pandemic that mandates physical distance, the missive argued, preparing for a largely vote-by-mail election is literally a matter of life or death.
By the beginning of this week—even with DeJoy set to testify before the Senate and offering assurances that he’ll rein in his controversial management policies—Eshoo decided to ratchet up demands for accountability.
In another communique—this one dated Aug. 16 and directed at California Attorney General Xavier Becerra—the South Bay rep called on the state’s top cop to investigate DeJoy for trying to “hamper” vote-by-mail efforts.
The Postal Service has already warned 46 states that it may be unable to deliver mail-in ballots in time for the Nov. 3 election, Eshoo wrote in a letter that cast the issue as a politically engineered crisis. “I believe there is sufficient evidence for your office to open a criminal investigation to determine if these actions violate California laws which protect the rights of our mutual constituents to vote,” she said, “and I urge you to do so.”
To make a case for Becerra’s jurisdiction over the matter, Eshoo cites Section 18502 of the California Election Code, which states: “Any person who in any manner interferes with the officers holding an election or conducting a canvass, or with the voters lawfully exercising their rights of voting at an election, as to prevent the election or canvass from being fairly held and lawfully conducted, is punishable by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months or two or three years.”
Based on President Trump’s own statements and the penumbra of conflicts around his handpicked postmaster—whose financial entanglements have come under glaring scrutiny—Eshoo said the administration seems to have run afoul of California law.
Like the earlier letter she penned with Lofgren, Eshoo invoked the nation’s founding document to drive home the foundational role the USPS has played in U.S. history.
“We cannot allow our democracy and votes cast in November to be hijacked by those who boast in broad daylight of their distaste of a revered institution which was placed in our Constitution by the framers,” the South Bay representative declared. “The first postmaster general was Benjamin Franklin, and succeeding generations have continued to entrust the Postal Service with so much of their day-to-day lives. It is a service that enjoys the fullest confidence of the American people, with the exception of those that wish to destroy it, along with our democracy.”
From the steps of the Palo Alto Post Office today, Eshoo said reports of disappearing sorting machines and ill-advised internal reorganizations at USPS already had her worried about the fate of the institution. But learning about the blue mailboxes being tagged for removal in her own district, she added, pushed her to escalate her approach.
When she returns to Washington, Eshoo promised to advance a bill—the Delivering for America Act—that would prohibit closure of any USPS branch and prevent DeJoy from slashing overtime, work hours or service beyond what was in place on Jan. 1.
In addition to preventing changes that would delay the mail, the proposal set for Saturday’s vote would allocate the $25 billion requested by the USPS Board of Governors but blocked by Republicans in previous relief packages this summer.
While lawmakers defend the USPS from sabotage in the nation’s capitol, Eshoo exhorted constituents to keep advocating for its preservation. According to Eshoo, Dejoy’s decision to temporarily halt the blue-box removals came in direct response to the public outcry.
“Public pressure works,” she said.
The veteran elected also advised Californians to take advantage of the state’s universal absentee ballots to vote as early as possible.
“When you get it,” she told reporters this morning, “fill it out immediately.”
“Your vote will be counted,” Eshoo added, “and so will your voice.”