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Postmaster General Says USPS Will Be Able To Handle This Year's Election

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says the U.S. Postal Service is fully capable of handling mail-in ballots securely and on time.

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LOUIS DEJOY: This sacred duty is my No. 1 priority between now and Election Day.

SIMON: That's the postmaster general before a Senate committee yesterday in a virtual hearing that was often contentious. Those were his first public remarks since being criticized for making operational changes that resulted in mail delays. NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis has been following the story and joins us now. Sue, thanks for being with us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: And what were lawmakers hoping to learn during this hearing?

DAVIS: Well, there's been a huge wave of political backlash against DeJoy in the past couple weeks coming from lawmakers in both parties. There's been these widespread reports of mail delays due to the removal of sorting machines and some 700 mailboxes around the country. Many members of Congress have been hearing it from their constituents.

And there's also been fears from Democrats that there's been political influence at the post office, considering President Trump's ongoing attacks and undermining of mail-in voting, which he has said he believes will hurt his chances of reelection. In response to all of this, earlier this week, DeJoy paused plans to overhaul the agency. But he testified that they will continue after the election.

SIMON: How did the postmaster general defend or explain those changes?

DAVIS: He said he didn't know about them until the media reported them. He said he was not directly involved in that decision-making and that he has never spoken to President Trump about the Postal Service. He said some mail delays are due to the coronavirus because, in many places, they were out of enough mail carriers. And he did acknowledge that boxes and sorting machines had been removed but said it was part of routine removals and that they would not be put back. He did try to calm fears that there was any political meddling here. And he said that people will be safe to vote by mail.

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DEJOY: First, I'd like to emphasize that there has been no changes in any policies with regard to election mail for the 2020 election.

DAVIS: And he also testified that he himself regularly votes by mail.

SIMON: Mr. DeJoy will be before lawmakers again on Monday virtually. What are you watching for there?

DAVIS: Right. The House is up next. You know, lawmakers are seeking assurances that the mail system has not been affected by any political decision-making and that the system has the resources it needs to deal with this election.

And DeJoy made a couple important points on that front. He said even if up to 125 million people voted by mail this year, it's still a fraction of what the Postal Service does every day, which is closer to 430 million pieces of mail. And he said voters shouldn't be scared to vote by mail but that they should vote early to give enough time for ballots to be delivered and counted.

SIMON: And, Sue, the House votes today on a bill written by Democrats that would give aid to the U.S. Postal Service. What kind of aid? Any chance it would make it through the Senate?

DAVIS: It would block the post office from implementing any changes backdated to January 1 of this year through January 1 of next year, and it would provide about 25 billion to the post office, which has had a lot of financial trouble. It's set to lose 9 billion or more this year.

But it's not going anywhere. Trump has already issued a veto threat. The White House has called it an overreaction to sensationalized media reports. And they said there is no evidence of political influence on this decision-making.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.