drnadig/iStockBy MIKE LEVINE and LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — After a week of Democratic lawmakers calling for his resignation, the embattled head of the U.S. Postal Service, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, on Friday faces a public grilling for the first time since he began his short and controversial tenure.
A former logistics executive and longtime Republican financier, DeJoy arrived at the postal service in June, and he almost immediately set about enacting a series of cost-cutting initiatives that he said would streamline the ailing agency’s dwindling finances.
But those new initiatives reportedly caused delivery delays and coincided with a full-on attack on “mail-in voting” from President Donald Trump, prompting accusations that the administration was seeking to undermine voter confidence of the Postal Service ahead of November’s presidential election.
Earlier this week, DeJoy succumbed to public pressure and vowed to suspend his cost-cutting initiatives until after the election — but Democrats said his announcement did not go far enough.
Here is how the hearing is unfolding:
9:09 a.m. Democrats claim DeJoy has not ‘delivered’
Ranking Member Sen. Gary Peters says in his opening statement that DeJoy has “not delivered” and has “undermined on of this nation’s most trusted institutions.”
In stark contrast to his Republican counterpart’s opening statement, the top Democrat on the Senate panel, Gary Peters, D-Mich., warned that — “just months away from an election where we expect record numbers of Americans to vote by mail” — the country is facing “a mail crisis.”
Peters accused DeJoy of failing to fulfill his obligations as postmaster general, telling DeJoy, “The operational changes you implemented, without consulting with your customers or the public, have caused significant delays — delays that have hurt people across the nation.”
Peters said DeJoy owes the American people an apology and “very clear answers” about what he’s done.
“The country is anxious about whether the damage you have inflicted so far can be quickly reversed and what other plans you have in store that could further disrupt … timely delivery from the Postal Service,” Peters said.
DeJoy is sworn in from what appears to be Postal Service headquarters and begins his opening statement.
9:05 a.m. Hearing starts
At the start of Friday’s hearing, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee, Ron Johnson, R-Wis., accused DeJoy’s critics of engaging in a “character assassination,” saying Democrats “have put him in the cross hairs of another hyperbolic false narrative perpetrated to gain political advantage.”
Johnson dismissed any concerns about the recent changes implemented by DeJoy, insisting the new postmaster general deserves “credit” for “taking on the very thankless task of trying to maintain the United States Postal Service as a financially viable entity.”
Though he acknowledges that “the long-term financial reality of the postal system is bleak” due to a drop-off in mail volume, Johnson called “false” any suggestion that failing to provide more funding to the Postal Service “will undermine the election.”
According to Johnson, “The Postal Service has $15.1 billion in cash following a better than expected financial performance during the pandemic.”
DeJoy’s walk-back comes as Trump continues to draw a distinction between “mail-in voting” and “absentee voting,” promoting unfounded claims that “mail-in voting” systems are “riddled by fraud and corruption.” Specifically, he has said states that employ “mail-in voting” by proactively sending ballots to all registered voters are not prepared to properly vet the ballots that are then returned.
On Friday, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee will press DeJoy to detail his latest actions and explain how his agency plans to handle an expected surge in ballots sent through the mail.
“What I think we should be demanding is full answers on what [DeJoy] has done, why he has done it, and a commitment that he will not just slow or tap the brakes … but that he will throw this thing into reverse and he will restore the delivery standards that he has interfered with,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Wednesday on MSNBC.
Both the Postal Service and the White House have denied any intention to undermine mail-in voting, despite the president’s repeated and unfounded allegations that it will lead to election fraud.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the postal service controversy a “manufactured crisis” contrived by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats.
Even so, the postal service has already warned 46 states and Washington, D.C., that their vote-by-mail rules are “incongruous” with its delivery service standards and may result in uncounted ballots, adding another layer of complexity to an election in which more Americans than ever are expected to cast their ballots by mail.
Critics say the changes enacted by DeJoy, which include cuts to overtime pay and foregoing additional pick-up and delivery trips, have slowed mail service across the country. These reported delays prompted bipartisan calls to reverse course.
Despite announcing his intention to halt some of the initiatives, DeJoy remains the target of both congressional scrutiny and legal action.
On Tuesday, 14 states filed a federal lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging that the Postal Service’s changes violate voters’ constitutional rights, failed to follow proper procedures, and should be blocked. In a statement responding to news of the lawsuit, the White House said any such “politically motivated lawsuits are not rooted in giving Americans the power of the vote.” Several other states are expected to file a second federal lawsuit similarly challenging the changes.
According to the suits, DeJoy failed to follow required administrative procedures when implementing sweeping cuts to service, rendering them unlawful.
Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate this week called for DeJoy’s resignation. Nearly 100 congressional Democrats called on the Postal Service Board of Governors to “immediately remove” him, claiming he “has used his time as Postmaster General to sabotage the United States Postal Service and he must be removed immediately to protect this critical institution.”
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on the Postal Service Board of Governors to hand over information about DeJoy’s hiring, “so that Americans … could know whether Mr. DeJoy was selected for improper reasons of politics of patronage,” according to a letter he wrote to the board’s chairman.
A week earlier, a group of Democrats led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., asked the Postal Service’s inspector general to investigate the cost-cutting endeavors and DeJoy’s financial holdings, calling into question whether he had “met all ethics requirements regarding disclosure, divestment, and recusal from decisions in which he may have a conflict.”
In a statement to ABC News, Warren’s office confirmed that the inspector general is “investigating all aspects of our request.” A spokesperson for the inspector general said their office is “conducting a body of work to address concerns raised.”
Friday’s hearing will not be the last Congress will see of DeJoy. He and Robert Duncan, the chairman of the Board of Governors, are scheduled to appear before a House committee on Monday.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.