Breakdown: the Trump Administration and the USPS
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is an independent agency under the Executive Branch of the U.S. federal government in charge of providing postal services to the public. Similar to most government agencies it is intended to be nonpartisan. But in the last few months, President Trump, the head of the
executive branch, has chosen to target the already-weak USPS amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and a challenging re-election environment.
On April 9th, former Postmaster General Megan Brennan announced to the House Oversight Committee that because of the disastrous effect of COVID-19, the USPS was at risk of losing $13 billion this year, possibly running out of money by the end of September. In a vow to avoid this, the USPS Board of Governors, all of whom are selected by the President, asked lawmakers to provide $75 billion in aid. This money would go toward offsetting the loss from COVID-19 and working on upgrading postal vehicle fleets.
Just days later, the Trump Administration blocked aid for the USPS via the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Before this decision, however, Congress decided to give the USPS a $13 billion grant to the USPS as a part of the relief bill. Instead, the USPS was given a $10 billion line of credit which Trump later threatened to block if the USPS didn’t raise package prices. By July 29th, the Treasury Department and the USPS agreed on a $10 billion loan in exchange for providing the Treasury with the details on their major agreements with other vendors such as Amazon.
On May 6th, it was announced that Louis DeJoy would take over as the next Postmaster General, despite having had no previous experience with the USPS. Prior to his nomination by the Board of Governors, DeJoy was a Republican Party fundraiser. Financial records later revealed that DeJoy still holds $30 million worth of stock in his former company, a USPS competitor.
By late May, President Trump began making unsubstantiated claims on Twitter that mail-in ballots will lead to mass voter fraud. Later, however, while on the campaign trail in North Carolina, President Trump urged voters to take advantage of mail-in voting due to the fact it could help him in the battleground state. With DeJoy’s impartiality in question and the contradiction between the President’s stance with mail-in ballots, the press and Congress began to look more closely into the nuances of the new USPS changes.
On August 7th, DeJoy announced a major restructuring of the agency to the Board. This came as a shock, with some regarding it as a power grab by DeJoy. This came the same day Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate asked the Postal Service Inspector General to look into DeJoy’s recent and rapid changes to procedure.
By August 11th, the USPS announced they were in a “financially unsuitable position.” The USPS General Counsel Marshall explained the undesirable position the agency was in, while also defending the changes being made. That same day, House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney introduced the Delivering for America Act, which would “prohibit the Postal Service from implementing or approving any changes to the operations or service levels in effect on January 1, 2020, that would impede prompt, reliable, and efficient service” until at least 2021. This bill would also offer $25 billion in emergency relief.
In an interview with Fox Business on August 13th, President Trump shared that the reason he opposed funding the USPS was due to the possible increase in mail-in voting. Throughout August, President Trump and his aides continued to relay unverified information about the potential problems with mail-in voting. On “Face the Nation”, Jared Kushner pushed the narrative that mail-in ballots were not an effective form of voting due to the new system, he is quoted as saying “You can’t have a new system being tried where there’s not the right time to do it and expect them to get it right and then expect that Americans will have confidence in the elections.”
By August 18th, over 20 states announced that they plan to sue the USPS over the recent changes being made by DeJoy. In response, DeJoy announced that the changes to USPS procedures would be stopped until after the election in order to ensure there wouldn’t be any negative impact on the election. Reports claim that the USPS had ordered employees not to answer questions by the press about the situation, raising more suspicion about the impartiality of the agency.
The New York Times reported on August 22nd that U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, had met with two members of the Board of Governors before the selection of DeJoy in order to make his appointment possible. On the same day, the House was able to pass the Delivering for America Act, providing the USPS with $25 billion in aid and banning changes until at least January 2021. The vote was close and along party lines.
As the election closes in, many Americans are left unsure of the effectiveness of mail-in voting after being left confused by the drawn-out drama with the USPS and Trump Administration in the media. Big cities like Los Angeles are seeing unprecedented mail delays as a result. It seems as though the saga is not even close to over, as just this week, The Washington Post reported that the White House blocked a plan for the USPS to distribute face masks to every household back in April sparking more outrage. But as more and more federal judges block any USPS changes until next year, it is looking like none of the changes drafted by DeJoy will be implemented until 2021.