Tensions flare as senators grill postmaster general

Tensions flared on Friday as senators battled with Postmaster General Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyPostmaster general says postal service can't return mail-sorting machines Hillicon 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 MORE, and each other, over reports of delayed mail and concerns about the looming November elections. 

DeJoy testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the first of two likely contentious appearances he'll make before Congress over the next few days. 

Democrats have expressed fears that the reforms pushed by DeJoy were intended to slow mail-in ballots and help President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE win reelection. Trump has repeatedly criticized voting by mail, suggesting that it leads to more fraud. Evidence does not support that assertion.

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Republicans, for their part, sought to defend DeJoy, who they repeatedly noted was put in place by a commission.

They accused Democrats of pushing an election-year conspiracy theory.

"According to Democrats, the postmaster is trying to sabotage the postal system to disenfranchise voters in the upcoming election," said Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose MORE (R-Wis.), calling such arguments “false narratives.”

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Postmaster general says postal service can't return mail-sorting machines The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump faces backlash after not committing to peaceful transition of power MORE (D-Mich.), ranking member of the committee, fired back that the post office has “always delivered” but “Mr. DeJoy ... you have not delivered in this brief tenure so far.”

DeJoy defended the reforms, noting that the Postal Service is facing an $11 billion net loss in revenue during fiscal 2020, but vowed to ensure that delivery of election mail goes smoothly this fall. 

“As we head in the election season, I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely and on time,” DeJoy testified. “This sacred duty is my No. 1 priority between now and Election Day.”

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But the back-and-forth set the tone for the rest of the two-hour hearing, with Republicans simultaneously defending DeJoy while Democrats appeared exasperated as he repeatedly declined to commit to handing over information.

“From what I’ve heard so far today, apparently the post office never had any issues, there were never any delays ... until 65 days ago when you arrived, and then apparently all chaos has broken out,” Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell works to lock down GOP votes for coronavirus bill Charities scramble to plug revenue holes during pandemic Warren calls for Postal Service board members to fire DeJoy or resign MORE (R-Okla.) said dryly about the comments from his Democratic colleagues. 

Multiple Democrats quoted calls and emails from thousands of constituents who had contacted their offices over the past weeks raising concerns about ballots and late deliveries of medication and other essential items. 

Johnson questioned whether these calls were “manufactured,” citing a high level of what he described as “scripted” calls coming into his office. 

“I have no doubt the Democrats are ginning these issues and these problems up into something that they are not, a very false narrative as I said designed to extract a political advantage, and Mr. Postmaster General, I am very sorry you are on the targeting end of this political hit piece,” Johnson said.

Peters — who testified that he had received 7,500 complaints about the Postal Service from constituents over the past two weeks — strongly pushed back on this assertion, noting that constituent concerns were “real people coming forward.”

“Those are very real, and when I hear those kinds of stories, we stand up, it’s the job of every senator here to stand up for our constituents, that’s what this is about, it’s about making sure their voices are heard,” Peters said. 

The tension boiled over in other portions of the hearing. Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperThe conservative case for phasing out hydrofluorocarbons Democrat asks for probe of EPA's use of politically appointed lawyers Overnight Energy: Study links coronavirus mortality to air pollution exposure | Low-income, minority households pay more for utilities: report MORE (D-Del.) swore on air when a glitch delayed him from asking questions during the hearing, though his frustration in the moment seemed more about the technology of virtual hearings than the matters at hand. He later tweeted that he gets fired up by the Postal Service. 

Concerns over the Postal Service have been magnified by Trump’s continuous attacks. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyCrenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error MORE (R-Utah) criticized the president for these comments, noting they only increased concerns around the Postal Service. 

“You can certainly understand that there have been pretty good reasons for people to think that you or your colleagues are purposely acting to suppress voting or that you are going to purposely prevent ballots from being counted,” Romney said to DeJoy. 

“Any surprise at such concerns has to be tempered by the fact that the president has made repeated claims that mail-in voting will be fraudulent, and that he doesn't want to give more money to the post office, because without more money, you can’t have universal mail-in voting,” he added. 

And DeJoy, under questioning from senators, said he supports mail-in ballots and scoffed when asked if he would pledge that decisions about the Postal Service were not based on conversations with Trump or an administration official. 

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“I was greatly concerned about all the political noise we were hearing ... we are very committed, the board is committed, the postal workers [are] committed, the union leadership is committed to having a successful election and the insinuation is quite frankly outrageous,” DeJoy said. 

Providing further funding for the Postal Service, potentially tied to legislative reforms, proved a rare spot of bipartisan agreement during the hearing, with Democrats and Republicans expressing support following a plea by DeJoy for funds to address the effects of COVID-19. 

Johnson noted that there was the “possibility” funds for the Postal Service could still be included in a future coronavirus relief bill, while Peters emphasized the need to provide support for the Postal Service beyond the pandemic and Election Day. 

The House is set to vote on legislation this weekend that is expected to provide the agency with $25 billion. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley warns Schumer to steer clear of Catholic-based criticisms of Barrett Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election Harris slams Trump's Supreme Court pick as an attempt to 'destroy the Affordable Care Act' MORE (R-Ky.) said this week that the Senate is unlikely to vote on a standalone Postal Service bill, though they are working on a smaller coronavirus relief package that aides say will include $10 billion for the post office.

“Congress certainly must provide the Postal Service with the resources and the oversight that you need to reliably deliver mail for the American people,” Peters said. “We want to make sure we put the Postal Service on sound financial footing that lasts for another 245 years and beyond.”