Two Senate Democrats late Thursday announced plans to introduce a bill they say would halt any “abrupt operational changes” at the U.S. Postal Service amid rising concerns the Trump administration is trying to interfere with the delivery of mail-in ballots.
The Delivering for America Act is co-sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). The bill reportedly prohibits any changes to Postal Service standards that will impact the service and speed of deliveries on a nationwide basis, any closure or consolidation of post offices, or any reduction in facility hours. (Gizmodo has not yet seen the bill’s actual text.)
Any changes that would “impede prompt, reliable, and efficient services” are prohibited under the bill until “at least” Jan. 1, 2021, and longer if the public health crisis continues.
“The changes put in place by the new Postmaster General are undermining reliable service at a time when many Americans are relying on the Postal Service to keep them connected and get critical supplies,” Peters said in a statement. “This bill will help ensure that people and small businesses can continue to count on the Postal Service to be a dependable lifeline during these challenging and uncertain times.”
The timing is not great. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate on Thursday despite a failure to find compromise on a new coronavirus relief package. The lawmakers will not return to work until after Labor Day unless an agreement is reached in the meantime.
The new U.S. postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, a long-time GOP donor, has been under fire for weeks after introducing sudden changes to long-standing practices at USPS that, according to leaked documents and sources, have had a deleterious impact on deliveries across the country. Of chief concern now is that millions of absentee ballots may be delayed, potentially impacting the integrity of the November election. Last week, the Senate Democratic caucus called on DeJoy to halt any changes that would make it harder or more expensive for state and county officials to receive and count mail-in ballots.
Democratic sources in Washington tell Gizmodo there is widespread belief that the changes implemented by DeJoy are intended to impact the receipt of mail-in ballots. Those fears were amplified, and for some confirmed, after President Trump stated plainly Thursday morning he was withholding funding from USPS to sabotage voting by mail.
“They want $3.5 billion for something that’ll turn out to be fraudulent, that’s election money basically,” Trump told Fox Business News. “They want $3.5 billion for the mail-in votes. Universal mail-in ballots. They want $25 billion, billion, for the Post Office. Now they need that money in order to make the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
Added Trump: “But if they don’t get those two items that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it.”
Members of the Postal Service Workers Union have reported that overtime, which is needed in order to meet the demands of the election season, has been officially banned. Members have also reported that mail sorting machines, which are used to count ballots, have been removed in numerous areas.
“This is election interference,” Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon, said Tuesday. “It’s no coincidence that as a record number of Americans are set to vote by mail this November, Donald Trump is doing everything in his power to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service. Trump is suppressing votes to steal an election.”
In a statement, Sen. Carper noted the pandemic has led to a sharp uptick in deliveries and that the delays under DeJoy’s leadership risk further economic harm.
“Small businesses that have already taken a huge hit during this economic crisis are depending on the Postal Service to ship their products. Seniors and veterans are getting their prescription medications by mail. Rural communities are counting on the Postal Service to stay connected. And a record number of voters are looking to the Postal Service to ensure that their voices are heard in the upcoming election,” Carper said.
“Now is the worst possible time to implement secretive and disruptive changes to this critical agency that will in any way compromise the effective and efficient services on which so many Americans depend,” he said.