US Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Friday told senators that the Postal Service has not changed the way it handles election mail as he sought to assure the public that ballots would be handled “securely and on time” in the November presidential election.
In his first public appearance before Congress, DeJoy sought to tamp down Democratic concerns that service delays prompted by his cost-cutting measures could result in millions of uncounted ballots in the November 3 election and help Republican President Donald Trump.
As he testified, six states led by Pennsylvania sued the US Postal Service and DeJoy, saying service changes in recent weeks have harmed the ability of states to conduct free and fair elections.
DeJoy, who has donated millions of dollars to Trump and other Republicans, said he has not spoken with the Trump campaign or White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about postal service operations. DeJoy said postal workers will prioritise election mail as they have in the past, adding that he would personally vote by mail.
“As we head into the election season, I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on-time. This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and Election Day,” said.
But DeJoy said he would not bring back mail-sorting machines that have been pulled from service in recent weeks, saying they were not needed.
He also told senators he could not provide a detailed plan about how he will ensure on-time election mail delivery.
Under pressure from the public and politicians, DeJoy on Tuesday suspended all mail service changes until after the election. Critics feared they would interfere with mail-in balloting, which is expected to be much more widely used amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that an increase in mail-in ballots would lead to a surge in fraud, although he himself has voted by mail.
Senator Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said he had received more than 7,500 reports of mail delays from people in his home state of Michigan.
“If you plan to continue pursuing these kinds of changes, I think my colleagues, and many of our constituents, will continue to question whether you are the right person to lead this indispensable public institution,” Peters said.
Republican committee chairman Ron Johnson defended DeJoy, saying the Postal Service needed an overhaul to shore up its shaky finances.
After he took the job in June, DeJoy imposed reductions in overtime, cuts in retail hours and restrictions on extra mail transport trips that resulted in widespread delays nationwide.
DeJoy said the decisions to remove sorting machines and mailboxes had already been under way and were a routine response to changes in mail volume, which has dropped during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeJoy is also due to testify before the Democratic-led House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Monday.
A group of 90 Democrats in the House on Wednesday called on the Postal Service’s board of governors to immediately remove DeJoy “to protect this critical institution”.
The House is set to vote on a bill on Saturday that would provide $25bn in funding for the Postal Service and require the reversal of operational changes.
The White House said on Friday it strongly opposes the bill and would recommend Trump veto it.
The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement that the House of Representatives bill “would arbitrarily give USPS $25bn in ’emergency’ taxpayer funding, without linking that funding to either the COVID-19 pandemic or the upcoming election.