House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions

House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions
© Bonnie Cash

The House Oversight and Reform Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday that would prevent appointments of those who have recently engaged in partisan political activities to leadership positions at the U.S. Postal Service.

The panel approved the bill by voice vote, but Democrats voted down multiple GOP amendments to increase penalties for tampering with postmarks and prevent postal workers from going on strike or using official time for union activity in the weeks leading up to the November elections. 

The vote came as Postmaster General Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyHillicon Valley: Murky TikTok deal raises questions about China's role | Twitter investigating automated image previews over apparent algorithmic bias | House approves bill making hacking federal voting systems a crime Judge orders Postal Service treat election mail as priority The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - White House moves closer to Pelosi on virus relief bill MORE faces scrutiny for his efforts to raise money for Republicans before taking office in June.

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The bill, authored by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyPelosi, Democrats unveil bills to rein in alleged White House abuses of power Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE (D-N.Y.), would bar members of the Postal Service Board of Governors, the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general from holding any political position while serving in their roles. Nominees for postmaster general and deputy postmaster general would also be limited to people who haven't engaged in political activities like running for office or working for a political party in the last four years.

"While we encourage political personal engagement, it has no place in independent agencies," Maloney said. 

Democrats have raised questions about DeJoy's qualifications, given his donations to the GOP and his lack of experience at the Postal Service before leading the agency. Since becoming postmaster general, DeJoy implemented cost-cutting measures like removing some mail-processing machines and restricting overtime just as more Americans are expected to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. But following outcry over subsequent mail delivery delays, DeJoy announced last month that he would suspend implementation of the changes until after the November elections. 

DeJoy isn't the only top Postal Service official with close ties to Republican Party activities. 

Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan is currently involved with the GOP super PACs American Crossroads and the Senate Leadership Fund. Duncan was appointed by Trump to the Postal Board of Governors in 2018 and previously served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2007 to 2009. 

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Rep. James ComerJames (Jamie) R. ComerHouse panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions House Republicans investigating California secretary of state's contract with Biden-linked firm GOP lawmakers want answers from Disney on Mulan, China MORE (Ky.), the panel's top Republican, argued the legislation was unnecessary and could limit the number of qualified candidates for Postal Service leadership positions. 

"Just because someone has been a Republican or a Democrat and held an elected office should not preclude them from serving their country as a postmaster general," Comer said. "Taking all the people out of the pool who have served politically in four years is simply tying the Board of Governors' hands and likely removes potentially qualified candidates."

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that people who worked for DeJoy's former logistics company felt pressured to attend fundraisers at his home for GOP candidates. Those employees said they were subsequently compensated in the form of bonuses to help defray the cost of their donations, which would run afoul of campaign finance laws. 

A spokesperson for DeJoy told The Washington Post that he “believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations.” DeJoy denied reimbursing employees for contributions during testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee last month.

Maloney announced last week that the committee will investigate whether DeJoy lied under oath. 

DeJoy also acknowledged at the committee hearing last month that he had told friends "associated" with the Trump campaign that the president's attacks on voting by mail were "not helpful." But DeJoy declined to specify who those "personal friends" were in response to a follow-up letter from Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyJudge issues nationwide injunction against Postal Service changes House panel advances bill to ban Postal Service leaders from holding political positions Shakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' MORE (D-Va.), who chairs the Oversight subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Postal Service.

The House passed legislation last month that would prevent the Postal Service from making any operational changes that would result in reduced service until the COVID-19 pandemic is over and provide $25 billion for agency operations.