Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended the US Postal Service’s ability to handle an influx of mail-in ballots this November and downplayed the impact of changes he’s made since taking over the Postal Service in June.
Democrats in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said they were skeptical, demanding that DeJoy provide Congress with the data he’s used to make changes to USPS operations.
Here are the top takeaways from DeJoy’s testimony on Friday:
Yes, there have been mail delays …
DeJoy distanced himself from some of the changes that the Postal Service has made, saying, for instance, he was not aware of planned closures to post offices and suspended them until after the election.
But he acknowledged that operational changes he did put in place, such as limiting additional truck routes, had led to delays in the mail.
“We all feel bad about what the dip in our service level has been,” DeJoy told GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.
DeJoy later told Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson that “a substantial portion” of the delays were due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while saying the USPS was working “feverishly” to erase the slowdowns.
“The only change that I made, ma’am, was the trucks leave on time. Theoretically, everyone should have gotten their mail faster,” DeJoy told Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada, while acknowledging that hasn’t been the case.
While DeJoy said he was suspending operations changes until after the election, he added he was not reversing the removal of sorting machines that lawmakers have raised concerns about.
“There’s no intention to do that. They’re not needed, sir,” he told Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the panel’s top Democrat.
… But the election will be fine, DeJoy says
DeJoy was unequivocal that the Postal Service would be able to handle the volume of mail that an expected surge in ballots will cause heading into November.
Democrats have accused the Postal Service of making cuts that will harm the election, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked. Even top union officials have raised concerns that USPS will not be able to deliver mail-in ballots on time.
At Friday’s hearing, DeJoy said it was his top priority to make sure the election mail runs smoothly.
“Senator, I promise you we are not making any changes until after the election,” he told Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, later saying he was “extremely, highly confident” all ballots sent seven days before the election would be received on time.
DeJoy told senators there were “no changes in any policies with regard to election mail for the 2020 election” – but documents obtained by CNN, dated in mid-August, show that USPS was planning to treat election mail differently this year.
DeJoy also said the Postal Service would work to make sure voters are educated about sending ballots through the mail. “In fact, I think in September we’re going to send a letter to every American with what our process is, going out to every American citizen,” he said.
DeJoy supports vote-by-mail, breaking with Trump
Trump has railed on vote-by-mail for months, falsely claiming it leads to major fraud, as well as alleging that the Postal Service cannot handle the volume of ballots likely to be sent through the mail this election.
But DeJoy issued a strong support for using the mail to vote, saying he’s done it and he supports all Americans having access to ballots they can send via USPS.
“I voted by mail for a number of years. The Postal Service will deliver every ballot and process every ballot in time that it receives,” he said.
Asked specifically by Portman if he supported vote-by-mail, DeJoy said, “I do. I think the American public should be able to vote by mail. And the Postal Service will, will, will support. So, I guess that’s yes.”
DeJoy also said he had not discussed Postal Service operations with Trump, pushing back on Democratic accusations that he was installed in order to sabotage the Postal Service before the election.
Republicans have concerns about the mail, too
Johnson accused Democrats at the start of the hearing of advancing a “hyperbolic false narrative” about issues with the mail to attack DeJoy and gain a political advantage.
Friday’s hearing showed that the concerns about mail service are bipartisan, as several Republican senators expressed alarm at what they’ve heard from constituents about the delays.
“We have a number of vets who have contacted us and said they weren’t able to get their medication,” Portman said.
While several Republicans forcefully pushed back on the idea that DeJoy was trying to hurt mail service for the election, Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, explained why the concerns had been raised.
“Mr. DeJoy, assuming as I do that you’ve been truthful in your testimony today, I can imagine how frustrating it is to be accused of political motives in your management responsibility,” Romney said. “At the same time, of course, you can certainly understand that there’ve been pretty good reasons for people to think that you or your colleagues are purposely acting to suppress voting, or that you’re going to purposefully prevent ballots from being counted.”
Romney added that Trump’s comments have only fueled the concerns. “Any surprise about such concerns has to be tempered by the fact that the President has made repeated claims that mail-in voting will be fraudulent, and that he doesn’t want to give more money to the post office because without more money you can’t have universal mail-in voting,” he said.
The kinder, gentler Senate
Friday’s hearing with DeJoy was announced after the House Oversight Committee had secured the upcoming testimony of DeJoy and USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan on Monday. Johnson said that the hearing was a chance for DeJoy to explain what was going on before he went before a “hostile” Democratic-led House panel.
It’s safe to say Friday’s hearing was more cordial than the reception DeJoy will get before the House on Monday, a committee that’s twice as large as the Senate Homeland Security Committee and contains Democrats known for tough questioning such as Rep. Katie Porter of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Ninety House Democrats sent a letter this week calling on DeJoy to be fired, including members of the Oversight panel.
Another key difference is that Monday’s hearing will be conducted partially in a hearing room, and not completely virtual like Friday’s hearing. That means the House lawmakers can engage with DeJoy and Duncan face-to-face, though some members will still ask questions virtually.
DeJoy was pressed by senators on numerous occasions, such as when Rosen demanded he explain what analysis was conducted about the impact changes would have on seniors, and that he provide documents to the Senate like minutes of board meetings.
“You will not commit to provide minutes,” she asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t have the authority to do some of those things,” DeJoy responded.
It’s also notable that one of Senate Democrats’ best interrogators at hearings – Sen. Kamala Harris of California – was on the committee but chose not to ask questions Friday after accepting the vice presidential nomination this week. Instead, Harris submitted questions to the record to DeJoy.
Technology is hard
Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who is arguably the most passionate senator when it comes to the Postal Service, had some technical issues that led to quite the hot mic moment.
When it was Carper’s turn to question DeJoy, his mic appeared not to turn on, and Johnson was preparing to move onto the next senator, Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford.
Then the shot turned to Carper. “F—, f—, f—,” he exclaimed, in an outburst familiar to anyone who’s been doing Zoom meetings during the pandemic.
“Mr. Chairman, I think Sen. Carper is there, I think he’s trying to be able to queue it all up,” Lankford said.
“Sen. Carper, can you unmute?” Johnson responded.
There was no question he already had.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen and Clare Foran contributed to this report.