By Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top Democrats in the U.S. Congress on Sunday called on President Donald Trump’s appointed postmaster general to testify this month on changes that have stoked fears they are aimed at holding up mail-in ballots ahead of the November election.
The Postal Service’s internal watchdog has begun investigating a wave of cost-cutting kicked off by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that has slowed mail delivery around the country, alarming lawmakers ahead of the Nov. 3 election when up to half of U.S. voters could cast ballots by mail.
Congressional Democrats called on DeJoy, a Trump donor, and U.S. Postal Service Chairman Robert Duncan to testify in an Aug. 24 hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform.
“The President has explicitly stated his intention to manipulate the Postal Service to deny eligible voters access to the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election,” Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a joint statement. “The Postmaster General and top Postal Service leadership must answer to the Congress and the American people as to why they are pushing these dangerous new policies that threaten to silence the voices of millions, just months before the election.”
DeJoy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Schumer in a statement called on the Postal Service’s board of governors to remove DeJoy if he “refuses to come before Congress.”
Democrats have accused Trump, who is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in polls, of trying to hamstring the cash-strapped Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting.
Trump on Thursday said he had held up talks with Congress over a fresh round of coronavirus stimulus funding to block Democrats from providing more funds for mail-in voting and election infrastructure.
Trump later walked back those comments, saying he would not veto a bill that included funds for the Postal Service. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN on Sunday said he would agree to $10 billion to $25 billion in fresh Postal funding. The Democratic-controlled House approved $25 billion in a bill passed in May.
Mark Dimondstein, the head of the 200,000-plus-member American Postal Workers Union, on Sunday said the Postal Service’s Republican-dominated governing board sought more than $25 billion.
‘TIME FOR CONGRESS TO ACT’
Appearing on Fox News, he said the service required emergency funds due to the pandemic-driven economic slowdown, pointing out that it received no funds in a stimulus package passed in March.
“The Congress and this administration took care of the private sector to the tune of over $500 billion,” said Dimondstein. “The postal office did not get a dime. It’s time for Congress to act.”
Pelosi may recall lawmakers from a summer recess to address changes at the Postal Service, a Democratic congressional aide said on Saturday.
Separately, Meadows told CNN’s State of the Union that the White House fears a surge in mail-in voting could delay election results and leave the naming of the new president to the speaker of the House.
“A number of states are now trying to figure out how they are going to go to universal mail-in ballots,” Meadows said. “That’s a disaster where we won’t know the election results on Nov. 3 and we might not know it for months and for me that’s problematic because the Constitution says that then a Nancy Pelosi in the House would actually pick the president on Jan. 20.”
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence said that a surge in mail-in voting would lead to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, as one in four voters cast ballots that way in 2016.
Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Scott Malone, Lisa Shumaker and Nick Zieminski.