Speaker Nancy Pelosi confronted Postmaster General Louis DeJoy after the Trump administration announced it would suspend the operational changes to the US Postal Service (USPS) that voting rights advocates said was threatening to undermine mail-in voting this fall.
The Trump administration announced its decision on Tuesday ostensibly to appease Democrats, and even some Republicans, who were concerned the recent diminution of postal services would suppress voter turnout and erode Americans' faith in the integrity of the ballot count.
“This morning, I spoke with Postmaster General DeJoy and conveyed to him that his announcement is not a solution and is misleading," Ms Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The Postmaster General’s alleged pause is wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked. 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. All of these changes directly jeopardize the election and disproportionately threaten to disenfranchise voters in communities of colour," Ms Pelosi said.
Mr DeJoy on Tuesday said he would suspend changes he was making within the USPS until after November’s election to avoid accusations he and Trump administration officials are interfering with the presidential race by trying to pare Democratic votes and help the president win a second term.
The embattled postmaster general has agreed to appear before panels in both the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic-controlled House next week, at the same time as the Republican National Convention.
The president has been transparent that he does not want to send additional funds to the postal service because he believes it will lead to more voters casting ballots by mail, which he has claimed is vulnerable to fraud.
There is virtually no evidence of large-scale fraud on vote-by-mail ballots in the US, although a GOP congressional primary in North Carolina was called off amid an illegal absentee ballot harvesting scandal last year.
Ms Pelosi's conversation with Mr DeJoy mirrored the public statement she released on Tuesday shortly after the postmaster general announced the halt of his operational changes, which she called an "insufficient first step."
Mr Trump, meanwhile, has denied pushing the USPS chief to make changes in order to help his re-election odds. He blamed Democrats for the controversy over mail-in voting on Tuesday during an event at the White House.
“The Democrats want to make it a political issue. It’s not a political issue; it’s really about a correct vote,” Mr Trump said.
“You have to get voting, voting right. You can’t have millions and millions of ballots sent all over the place, sent to people that are dead, sent to dogs, cats – sent to everyone,” said the president, who trails nationally and in key swing states. “I mean, this is a serious situation. This isn’t games. And you have to get it right. I just want to get it right. Win, lose, or draw. I think we’re going to win," he said.
Several voting rights groups are suing Mr DeJoy to reverse the reforms that have caused backlogs and delays across the country months before an election in which record numbers are expected to vote by mail.
The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in Maryland, accuses Mr DeJoy of “weaponising the United States Postal Service to disenfranchise Americans who choose to vote by mail.”
Mr DeJoy, a major donor to Mr Trump and former fundraising executive at the Republican National Committee, who was named head of the postal service in May, has overseen a raft of changes to working practices since his arrival, including the removal of mail processing machines and a ban on overtime — which have caused severe delays to mail delivery.
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