LIVE: Postmaster General testifies at Senate hearing as Democrats demand answers over Postal Service operations

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WASHINGTON — Embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is set to testify Friday before the Republican-led Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee in a highly anticipated hearing that comes as Democrats raise the alarm over Postal Service operations in the run-up to the presidential election.

The virtual hearing will be the US Postal Service chief’s first opportunity to publicly answer questions amid accusations that the Trump administration is deliberately sabotaging Postal Service operations through operational changes that have slowed mail delivery. Democrats have charged that the cuts threaten what’s expected to be a surge in mail-in ballots for the November election due to the coronavirus pandemic.

DeJoy’s testimony comes after the postmaster general announced on Tuesday that controversial operational initiatives would be suspended until after the election. In making the announcement, DeJoy provided a series of assurances, including that the Postal Service “is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall.”

Congressional Democrats have continued to express concern, however, while arguing that DeJoy has not satisfactorily answered key questions related to Postal Service readiness and operations.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday after speaking with DeJoy that the “alleged pause is wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked,” adding, “the postmaster general frankly admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works.”

Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have accused Democrats of unfounded concerns and unnecessary attacks on the postmaster general.

Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, will argue in his opening statement at the hearing that Democrats have targeted DeJoy for political gain.

“He has already been subjected to character assassination as Democrats have put him in the cross hairs of another hyperbolic false narrative perpetrated to gain political advantage,” Johnson plans to say, according to a copy of his remarks obtained by CNN.

Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the panel’s top Democrat, disputed the notion that the issue of the postal service had been politicized, saying in an interview he became focused on the issue because of the “volume and intensity” of the response his office heard from constituents about problems with the mail.

Peters said he wanted to hear from DeJoy what data and analysis was used to make the service cuts, and whether that took into account the potential impact that would have on the timeliness of mail delivery in the middle of the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of talk about the election, but the Postal Service is an essential service all across the country for people every single day,” Peters said.

The controversy over Postal Service operations is unfolding as President Donald Trump has repeatedly and baselessly attacked mail-in voting, falsely claiming that it is rife with fraud.

Friday’s hearing will be the first of two scheduled hearings featuring DeJoy on Capitol Hill. The postmaster general is also slated to testify before the Democrat-led House Oversight Committee on Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a letter sent to DeJoy on Wednesday pressing for further details on the announcement, including asking him to describe in specific terms exactly which operational initiatives and changes will be paused, and what changes will continue to be implemented.

Adding to concerns over operational readiness, the US Postal Service recently warned almost all 50 states and Washington, DC, that voters could be at risk of not getting their ballots back to election offices in time to be counted because election rules are not compatible with the time needed for delivery and return of absentee ballots through the mail. The warning served as a stark reminder that the expansion of mail-in voting due to the pandemic is colliding with a slowdown in postal delivery due to controversial changes made by the new postmaster general.

While the most pointed criticism has come from Democrats, lawmakers from both parties and postal union leaders have sounded alarms over procedural changes instituted by DeJoy this summer, including eliminating overtime and slowing some mail delivery.

DeJoy acknowledged to USPS employees that the cost cutting measures have had “unintended consequences,” but defended them as necessary.

Democrats have claimed that DeJoy, who has been an ally of Trump and a Republican donor, is intentionally undermining Postal Service operations to sabotage mail-in voting in the November election — a charge DeJoy denies.

The Postal Service’s internal watchdog is also reviewing DeJoy’s recently imposed policy changes, and his compliance with federal ethics rules.

The financial struggles of the USPS are not new, but the coronavirus pandemic has further strained the mail service.

As Democrats continue to raise concerns, the Democrat-led House is set to return on Saturday to vote on legislation that would provide $25 billion in funding for the financially strapped agency.

House Republicans have criticized Democrats over the move.

“Contrary to Democrats’ claims, the Postal Service is .. properly funded for the election and beyond. It is not being ‘sabotaged’,” House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy wrote in a letter to House Republicans earlier this week.

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