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In Senate testimony, DeJoy denies intent to disrupt mail-in voting

Correction: In this report, we referred to Democratic Sen. Gary Peters as representing Wisconsin. Peters is from Michigan. We regret the error.

The USPS postmaster general testified before a Senate committee Friday, facing lawmaker scrutiny of recent policy changes that have reportedly caused widespread delays in mail delivery. Democrats have accused Louis DeJoy of sabotage, saying he’s trying to limit voting by mail, which is expected to surge this fall due to the pandemic. William Brangham reports and joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The postmaster general of the United States today testified before the Senate, facing the first public scrutiny of his recent moves at the Postal Service, which reportedly have caused widespread delays in mail delivery.

    Democrats have accused Louis DeJoy of sabotage, saying that he is trying to limit voting by mail, which is expected to surge this fall because of the pandemic.

    William Brangham has a report on today's hearing.

  • Louis DeJoy:

    Thank you, Chairman Johnson, for calling this hearing.

  • William Brangham:

    From the start of today's virtual hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the newly appointed postmaster general addressed a central question: Would the expected surge of mail-in ballots be delivered on time?

  • Louis DeJoy:

    I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation's election mail securely and on time. This sacred duty is my number one priority between now and Election Day.

  • Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.:

    Did you discuss those changes or their potential impact on the November election with the president or anyone at the White House?

  • William Brangham:

    Postmaster DeJoy, who was appointed by the Postal Service's Board of Governors, was in his prior life a major donor and fund-raiser for President Trump.

    And, today, he pushed back on the idea that the reforms he's instituting are being done to help the president's reelection. President Trump has repeatedly, and incorrectly, said voting by mail is rampant with fraud and demanded it be stopped.

    Senator Gary Peters, Democrat of Wisconsin, pressed this line of questioning.

  • Sen. Gary Peters:

    You will give us your word today, under oath, that you have not taken any action whatsoever in your capacity as postmaster general for any political reason or at the suggestion of any — any administration official?

  • Louis DeJoy:

    Sir, I will tell you, my first election mail meeting, I instructed the organization, the whole team around us and out in the field, whatever efforts we will have, double them.

    We are very committed, the board is committed, the postal workers is committed, the union leadership is committed to having a successful election. And the insinuation is, quite frankly, outrageous.

  • William Brangham:

    The changes DeJoy has implemented, which today he said he would suspend until after the election, included reducing overtime hours for mail delivery people and decommissioning hundreds of large high-capacity mail sorting machines.

    Senator Maggie Hassan, Democrat of New Hampshire, described how one sorting machine in the city of Manchester had been sold, and the remaining one broke.

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.:

    When we have only one machine that can do a certain kind of sorting in our largest distribution center in the state of New Hampshire, and it breaks, and everything has to stop until it gets fixed again, you're really sabotaging the Postal Service's ability to sort mail efficiently, and you're undermining postal workers' commitment to that everyday delivery.

    So, will you commit to having your team look into this??

  • Louis DeJoy:

    First, Senator, I don't agree with the premise, but I will comply with your request.

  • William Brangham:

    DeJoy said the removal of some of these machines was normal post office procedure in response to the decline in envelope-sized mail and to make space for the increase in package-sized mail.

    But senators from both parties, including Republican Rob Portman of Ohio, said these mail delays had real-world implications beyond the election.

  • Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio:

    We have a number of veterans who've contacted us and said they weren't able to get their medications.

    One is a 70-year-old, served in Vietnam, has COPD, has trouble breathing. The inhaler refill was mailed through the Postal Service. Due to delays, he ran out of it while waiting for it to arrive.

  • William Brangham:

    Importantly for November, DeJoy promised that almost all election mail would be treated like first-class mail, which would insure quicker delivery.

    There had been reports the post office was considering a slower category for ballots. DeJoy sought to assure the public that, despite what they have heard, the Postal Service had more than enough capacity to handle this volume of ballots in the fall.

  • Louis DeJoy:

    We deliver 433 million pieces of mail a day, so 150 million ballots, 160 million ballots over the course of a week is a very, very small amount.

  • William Brangham:

    Despite these assurances, many of DeJoy's critics aren't satisfied. As the hearing began today, six states and the District of Columbia, led by Pennsylvania, filed suit against the Postal Service and Postmaster DeJoy, saying these changes have made it harder for states to — quote — "conduct free and fair elections."

    In the end, Postmaster DeJoy defended his reforms as much-needed fiscal discipline for the post office. He and others have noted that the service lost $9 billion last year.

    He argued that, in the age of FedEx and UPS, the post office needs to change in order to compete.

  • Louis DeJoy:

    I believe there is an opportunity for the Postal Service to better serve the American public and also to operate in a financially sustainable fashion.

    Our ability to fulfill that mandate in the coming years is at fundamental risk. Changes must be made to ensure our sustainability for the years and decades ahead.

  • William Brangham:

    Postmaster DeJoy will testify before a House committee early next week.

    And, today, the post office's Board of Governors announced that they are establishing a bipartisan election mail committee. This would be to help a lot of these states who are going to see a surge in voting by mail, help them work out their programs.

    That same Board of Governors offered today its full support for Postmaster DeJoy — Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, William, you mentioned a lot of the criticism of the postmaster.

    Is it thought that he did enough today to allay these critics' concerns?

  • William Brangham:

    It's not totally clear, Judy.

    I think that the big concern is, is that — and this was cited by several of the senators during the hearing today — is that the president himself keeps politicizing the Postal Service with everything that he says, all of his accusations, false accusations, about voting by mail being full of fraud.

    So, everything that DeJoy does is seen through that lens. So, even though DeJoy today contradicted the president and said voting by mail is safe and reliable — DeJoy said that he would be voting that way this election — there's still just so much suspicion because of what the president keeps saying.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in that connection, William, as you know, the president ramped up some of this talk, this conspiratorial talk, today about the post office.

    He suggested today that what Democrats might have in mind is creating so much chaos that, after the election, they could sneak in Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, to be the next president.

  • William Brangham:

    Yes, he keeps saying this, and there's really no truth to it.

    I mean, here's the theory undergirding what the president is saying, that mail-in voting, which he alleges is going to cause all this chaos, so let's delay the election.

    Now, the president has no authority to delay the election. That's Congress' job. And Congress — 100 percent of congressmen and senators who have been asked about this have said, we're not delaying the election.

    But the president is sort of alleging that, according to the law, which is true, that if, on January 20 at noon, when the president and vice presidents term expires, and a victor has not been declared, the number three — that's the House majority leader — would become the president.

    But, as I have said, there is no evidence whatsoever this election is going to get moved one iota. And so this is a bit of a moot point, but he keeps using, I think partly because he thinks Nancy Pelosi is, I guess, a scare tactic for his supporters.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    William Brangham following these hearings and this issue.

    Thank you, William.

  • William Brangham:

    You're welcome, Judy.

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