House passes USPS rescue in bid to thwart Trump attacks on mail-in voting

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump ally and GOP donor, has vehemently denied charges that he is undermining the nation’s abilities to vote by mail. But Democrats say his cost-cutting measures have slowed mail delivery in some areas, which could disenfranchise the millions of Americans who are expected to mail in their ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to the $25 billion funding infusion, Democrats’ bill would force the Postal Service to halt the shutdown of mail-sorting machines and any restrictions on overtime pay for employees. The bill would also require the Postal Service to prioritize election mail as “first-class,” ensuring a speedy delivery of mail-in ballots.

“We want the Postmaster General to undo the damage he has already done,” House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said Friday. “Every member of Congress should support this bill.”

The Oversight panel released a five-page document Saturday showing steep declines in mail processing and delivery across the board, beginning in early July. The data was part of a briefing prepared for DeJoy last week, according to the committee, and rebuts Republican assertions that Democrats are “conspiracy theorists” falsely claiming the existence of significant mail backlogs across the country.

The measure is unlikely to be taken up in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Republicans have repeatedly dismissed Democrats’ efforts as political and unnecessary. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Saturday firmly rejected the House legislation as a “a totally piecemeal postal bill” and cited “overblown conspiracy theories” about the threat to the agency. The White House has also threatened to veto the bill.

“This is a joke,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), arguing against the bill Saturday. “No legislation is going to happen because my friends aren’t serious about legislation. No money is going to get to the Post Office because it can’t pass the Senate.”

House GOP leadership formally whipped against the legislation and Trump tweeted his opposition during the vote. But more than two dozen Republicans bucked the party to back the bill. Many of those Republicans represent swing districts, like Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Don Bacon of Nebraska.

“Slowing of these services would have a disastrous impact on the lives of many Americans. Now is not the time to jeopardize USPS operations or delay services,” Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), who also faces a competitive race for reelection this fall, said as he announced his intent to support the bill.

Trump has repeatedly railed against the Postal Service and mail-in voting, claiming without any evidence that the process is ripe for fraud. Trump repeated his claims on Saturday, falsely stating that the Postal Service had not asked for money. In fact, the Trump-appointed postal board sought $75 billion in April to help sustain its services during the pandemic.

“This is all another HOAX by the Democrats to give 25 Billion unneeded dollars for political purposes, without talking about the Universal Mail-In Ballot Scam,” Trump tweeted.

The vote took place in a mostly empty Capitol building, with hundreds of lawmakers flying or driving in for the unusual summer session in between the two parties’ conventions. Nearly 70 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, cast their votes by proxy, allowing them to limit cross-country travel during the pandemic.

In recent days, DeJoy had said he would back off some of his planned organizational changes earlier this week and would revisit the ideas after the election to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Still, Pelosi and other top Democrats rejected DeJoy’s announcement as “insufficient,” saying he didn’t address the current changes that are significantly hampering delivery of everything from prescription medicine to Social Security payments for seniors.

The Democrats’ push to shore up the Postal Service comes as congressional leaders remain at a standstill over how to take broader action to address a pandemic that has killed nearly 175,000 Americans and continues to force tens of millions to rely on unemployment benefits after losing their jobs.

Meanwhile, popular relief programs — including extra federal unemployment aid and small-business grants — have lapsed since the start of August, with partisan finger-pointing intensifying across the Capitol. Apart from the House’s vote on Saturday, both chambers remain on August recess until mid-September and there is little hope a deal can be reached before then.

Amid mounting pressure within the GOP, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows attempted to make an unannounced visit to Pelosi’s office on Saturday, after spending time in the Capitol with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). But Pelosi was unavailable when Meadows came, and it was not clear that Republicans were willing to shift their stance on the relief bill.

Dozens of House Democrats this week made urgent appeals to Pelosi and McConnell to restart talks, sending a slew of letters on the concerns they’re hearing back home about inaction.