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Democrats flubbed opportunity to capitalize on postal delays

Democrats flubbed opportunity to capitalize on postal delays
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The hearing had the makings of a classic, dramatic showdown between Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Businesses, wealthy brace for Biden tax hikes | Dow falls more than 650 points as COVID-19 cases rise, stimulus hopes fade | Kudlow doesn't expect Trump to release detailed economic plan before election Overnight Health Care: US sets a new record for average daily coronavirus cases | Meadows on pandemic response: 'We're not going to control it' | Pelosi blasts Trump for not agreeing to testing strategy Gaffes put spotlight on Meadows at tough time for Trump MORE’s Dems vs. the Trump administration over Mailgate, the alleged purposeful “knee-capping” of the U.S. Postal Service by President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE to help rig the 2020 elections. Pelosi had just called the House back into emergency session for a public hearing. Just weeks before the election, the issue could have been a windfall gift to the Democrats, who’d be seen going to bat for millions of voting-eligible casualties of delayed mail service.

They flubbed it.

Tens of thousands of citizens from coast to coast had written their senators and representatives, fuming about a slowdown in mail delivery. News outlets ran horror stories about veterans whose meds arrived late. Republican senators had just conducted a “car wash” hearing to help spruce up the Postmaster General, Louis DeJoyLouis DeJoyJudge orders Postal Service to restore high-speed mail sorting machines Watchdog rips operational changes at USPS Voting rights group files suit against Trump, administration officials alleging voter intimidation MORE — the target of Democrats’ ire. Angry House members prepared for a public flogging of DeJoy at the hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

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The Dems brought a shotgun to the knife fight… problem was: It wasn’t loaded.

This hearing wasn’t even close to resembling a John DingellJohn DingellRaces heat up for House leadership posts Democrats flubbed opportunity to capitalize on postal delays COVID-19 bill limiting liability would strike the wrong balance MORE drive-by. The late, legendary chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and his staff were masters of the public flogging. Always armed with thorough documentation and sympathetic witnesses who were victims of powerful scoundrels, Dingell knew how to slice and dice his targets, who wouldn’t know they were chopped until they got up from the witness table.

Not this hearing.

There were no victims for drama. No horror stories of grave consequences for recipients of delayed medicine or social security checks. No postal service whistleblowers who brought receipts. The alleged villain, Mr. DeJoy, came across as shifty with his constant eye-twitching and stammering — but those were self-inflicted. No one from the dais sliced or diced.

Those expecting a big bang of a hearing got only a fizzle.

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All the factors were there to provide the context for suspicion. The president himself had declared war on mail-in ballots. DeJoy had ordered a “restructuring” of the Service, and mail delivery slowed down considerably after his arrival on June 15. His own data showed it. He admitted it. He was a fat-cat political donor before accepting the job. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s fingerprints were all over the selection process for DeJoy getting the job, a process that reeked of political manipulation. Dave Williams, the USPS Board of Governors vice president and long-time USPS IG, resigned because of Mnuchin’s interference with that and other matters.

Before the hearing — but after all the news reports and constituent complaints — long-time government watchdog types could sniff this one out: Someone made a dumb political miscalculation. It appeared Trump sought to create havoc with the postal service to disrupt the mail-in ballot process… but in their single-minded zeal, no one thought about the unintended, collateral backlash it would create from those on the receiving end of snail mail on downers. Even a twenty-something legislative correspondent from a freshman congresswoman could see that one coming. That’s why this was such a potential political gift to the Dems.

Instead, the public witnessed five hours of routine partisan rancor, with little substance or drama. Some punches landed on DeJoy — enough to sully up the sheen he sported courtesy of Senate Republicans — but no blood was drawn.

As a veteran conductor of oversight hearings in the Senate, having learned at the knees of Master Dingell’s staff, I can safely draw conclusions about this hearing while at risk of being criticized for calling balls and strikes from center field, or having the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. This hearing was a political rush job to keep the issue on the front burner at the expense of a more credible and compelling offering had they waited a month and done their homework. 

First, the onus was on the Democrats to back up their allegations with evidence — and to do so in a compelling way. The evidence was sparce — data showing slowdowns in deliveries beginning in July — but there was no data showing it was directly caused by the “restructuring.” An extra month of gumshoeing might have turned up some causal evidence, either through documents or testimony.

Also, nothing new was revealed during the hearing that would amount to a takeaway. There was nothing memorable about it, the kind of indelible image that would make viewers discuss it with friends days later. Such a thing usually comes only from a horror story from a victim viewers find relatable. The only witnesses here were two executive suits who got away with passing the buck, the second being Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan.

Instead of evidence and credible witnesses, viewers got a re-hashing of news reports and constituent complaints… and a subpoena that will let the perps kick the can down the road for a few more weeks. 

Maybe in a few weeks, the committee will take another bite at the apple. Maybe they’ll have done some actual investigative work and have found some documents, a credible whistleblower, a couple victims, even a nugget or two from their subpoena. Maybe they’ll even call Dave Williams as a witness, a veteran public servant whose reputation, credibility and integrity are right up there with Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE and Michael Horowitz.

Nothing aforementioned lets Republican House members off the hook on the issue: Turning a blind eye to messing with the Postal Service could be political suicide. Their reaction has been “there’s nothing to see, here.”

But the allegations were made by Democrats; the Democrats orchestrated the hearing, and it’s the Democrats’ credibility at stake on a very critical issue that could reward them handsomely politically — or cost them a golden opportunity.

They had best prepare.

Another bite at the apple must be done with teeth.

Kris Kolesnik is a 34-year veteran of federal government oversight. He spent 19 years as senior counselor and director of investigations for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). Kolesnik then became executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. Finally, he spent 10 years working with the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General as the associate inspector general for external affairs.