Now that President Trump has gone from calling the post office “a joke” to flat out admitting he wants to break it, Republicans tempted to stay silent should think long and hard before putting another stupid Trump political stunt ahead of seniors, veterans and sick Americans waiting too long for their medications.
While it should not take representing a rural constituency to know how cruel and wrong this is, with the exception of Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Steve Daines, Susan Collins and Roy Blunt and five GOP congressmen, this seems to be just fine among Republican lawmakers who have said nothing.
It’s one of Trump’s more boneheaded and dangerous ideas, a not-at-all-subtle plan to blame the Postal Service should he be defeated for a second term. On Wednesday he said that without funds to bail out the USPS -- funds that he is blocking -- it cannot handle the surge of mailed ballots the pandemic will produce. Trump asked, “Are they gonna do it even if they don’t have the money?” And then he said, if so, the election on Nov. 3 will be “the greatest fraud in history.” Bingo. Denigrate the post office for months on end, deny it badly needed funding and then, when the counting starts, declare any result invalid by blaming a crippled Postal Service.
Major backlogs have badly disrupted mail flow in a pandemic when people at risk of infection need household essentials, let alone prescriptions, paychecks, unemployment insurance and Social Security payments. Somehow President Trump thinks voters, many in his own coalition, will only notice the toll this sabotage will take on mail-in balloting.
The mail delays are a result of changes implemented by Louis DeJoy, a donor whom Trump installed as the new postmaster general in June. Since taking office, President Trump has replaced every member of the Postal Service board of governors. DeJoy, who has given $2.7 million to Trump and Republicans in the last three years, insists he is making his own decisions without influence from the president. He and his wife, Aldona Wos, who has been nominated to be ambassador to Canada, have holdings ranging between $30 million and $75 million in companies that are competitors of the post office, according to her financial disclosure forms.
Under DeJoy’s management, the post office is now being treated as a for-profit business requiring efficiencies to get out of the red, instead of what it is -- a two-century-old, critical government service enshrined in the Constitution. He has started a hiring freeze and is asking for early retirements. Overtime has been cut, three “operating” units will be reorganized and reduced to four regions from seven. A controversial reorganization announced last Friday shuffled 23 high-level employees, including the top two executives in charge of daily operations. This week postal workers have told Vice and National Public Radio that mail sorting machines are being removed from processing facilities without explanation. (And on Thursday, there were reports of mailboxes being decommissioned and loaded onto trucks in Portland and Eugene, Ore.)
The postal service has been ailing for years and the pandemic hit it hard with a steep drop in business and marketing mail, though a subsequent surge in May due to increased deliveries helped, but not enough. The second quarter cost the USPS $2.1 billion and losses could total $20 billion by the end of 2020.
This summer the USPS received a $10 million Treasury loan it could access only with unprecedented stipulations that ceded new operational controls to the Treasury Department, injecting even more politics into its functions. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted personnel decisions, third party contracts for shipping, and collective bargaining negotiations be approved by the Trump administration. Former congressman (and Army secretary) John McHugh, a Republican who chair The Package Coalition, which includes Amazon.com, eBay, Express Scripts and CVS Health, told the Washington Post, “If nothing else, it gives Treasury entree to what up to this point has been absolutely proprietary information between only the USPS and its customer. One could argue this is just another step to making the Treasury secretary the de facto postmaster general.”
Democrats have proposed $25 million to bail out the Postal Service, which Trump repeated Thursday he will continue to block, and thus far most Republicans are hiding. Murkowski, and the members of the Montana delegation, have made it clear the new policies are hurting and the USPS needs more money.
Daines wrote to DeJoy: “This action, if not rescinded, will negatively impact mail delivery for Montanans and unacceptably increase the risk of late prescriptions, commercial products or bill delivery.” He was joined by Rep. Greg Gianforte, the at-large member from the state, who wrote to DeJoy: “Delaying mail service is unacceptable. ... Do not continue down this road.” Murkowski has said sustaining the post office “is truly a necessity — not a convenience” in Alaska where “the Postal Service is a primary source of knowledge, commerce and basic necessities.”
Meanwhile, Congress has already caught the new Postal Service leadership in a lie. Initially DeJoy downplayed or refuted reports that his new policies had markedly slowed down the mail. He came clean in a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders, but there is still no explanation for an official claim in writing that the changes were not official post office policy ordered by the postmaster general. After what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had called a “heated” meeting with DeJoy (before which DeJoy had met with Trump), he and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote him a letter stating: “You confirmed that, contrary to certain prior denials and statements minimizing these changes, the Postal Service instituted operational changes shortly after you assumed the position of Postmaster General.” Because the changes had delayed mail delivery during a pandemic, the two leaders called the new policies “counterproductive and unacceptable,” and “as a result we believe these changes must be reversed.”
An Aug. 6 letter signed by 84 members of the House described the Postal Service management's attempts to mislead Congress. In the letter, which 80 Democrats signed along with four Republicans, the members wrote, “On July 22 your General Counsel and Executive Vice President sent a letter to the Oversight Committee claiming that these documents are not ‘official Postal Service memoranda.’ ” It goes on to explain that the general counsel, Thomas Marshall, stated the orders were prepared by a “mid-level manager” and therefore “should not be treated as official statements of Postal Service policy.”
The members, in their letter, described widespread complaints that indicate the actions were not undertaken by a rogue manager and noted the Postal Service failed to alert industry officials, postal unions, members of Congress and other stakeholders of the changes. “If these claims in your General Counsel’s letter are accurate -- that these recently publicized documents should not be treated as official statements of Postal Service policy -- then we urge you to immediately issue a directive to all Postal Service employees explaining that none of the changes in the documents is valid, none of them was approved by Postal Service headquarters, and none of them should go into effect.”
Funny, neither Marshall -- nor anyone else at USPS -- has done any such thing.
The campaign against the Postal Service is just one arm of a several-pronged strategy Trump is using to knee-cap vote-by-mail. A report in Politico last week noted Trump is looking for ways to do so beyond the $20 million the Republican National Committee will spend on lawsuits, through the use of executive orders: “aides and outside advisers began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail-in voting — everything from directing the Postal Service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day.”
Of course it's 2020, and we can’t have nice things. But surely a political take-down of the post office wasn’t on anyone’s Bingo card. Democrats call it voter suppression; we can all agree to call it disturbing. For Republicans trying to stave off a Democratic takeover of the Senate and the White House, owning this outrage is mind-bogglingly dumb.