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Senator McConnell: Put out the fire at the Postal Service

This is the situation we’re in with the U.S. Postal Service: It’s as if your local post office were on fire, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) won’t let the fire department put it out.

In the face of reports of mailboxes pulled from the pavement and trucked away, while mail sorting machines have been dismantled from Pennsylvania to Florida — with impacts in Kentucky — Sen. McConnell he yawned: “The Postal Service is going to be just fine.” Oh, really? Even after the Postal Service warned “46 states and D.C…. [including Kentucky] that it cannot guarantee all ballots cast by mail for the November election will arrive in time to be counted”?

Perhaps, before being sanguine about serious questions of Postal Service capacity, Sen. McConnell could ask veterans, seniors, or disabled Americans across Kentucky — urban areas from Covington to Bowling Green, and rural areas from Paducah to Hazard — if their medicines and other essential mail pieces are arriving at their homes on time. Apparently, he doesn’t want to hear the answer.

To be sure, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — a “megadonor” to President Trump and investor in competitors against the USPS — announced “all changes being made to the Postal Service would be suspended until after the November 3 election.” But this administration has proven it cannot be trusted, and besides, as others have noted, much of the damage has already been done. Disconnected mail sorting machines are either prevented from being reconnected or are heaping wrecks in post office parking lots. Meanwhile, thanks to President Trump’s demagoguery, public confidence that votes for president will be cast and counted accurately has dropped significantly since 2016.

We don’t have to accept this. The U.S. Constitution says “The Congress shall have Power… To establish Post Offices and post Roads” and “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” that power. Additionally, Congress has an oversight power, the power to investigate, that is quite broad — “indeed co-extensive with the power to legislate,” according to the Supreme Court. To save the Post Office’s critical functions needed to facilitate mail-in voting and shipping essential items like medicine, Congress must both legislate and investigate.

The entire House has already decided to use its power under the Constitution — coming back into session early from its August recess — to pass $25 billion legislation to protect the USPS, as well as hold oversight hearings to obtain critical information from Postmaster General DeJoy. That’s the right path. “Congress,” however, also includes the Senate — but the full Senate hasn’t yet shown up for this crisis.

While one Senate Committee has also held hearings, Sen. McConnell has ignored calls to bring the full Senate back into session to tackle this crisis head-on. Instead, astonishingly, he has said that House demands to save the Postal Service could be a negotiating opportunity to bargain for less spending on — wait for it — coronavirus relief. What’s more, according to one report, “McConnell said ‘nothing was lost’ by allowing members to go back to their home states since most aren’t directly involved in the negotiations.” Well, the Senate not only has the same constitutional power to legislate and investigate that the House does, one could argue that it has the duty to use this power.

Rather than embrace his “Dr. No” reputation, Sen. McConnell could choose to exercise his power as Senate leader to bring the Senate back into session and get something done that helps Kentucky and the nation: Fully fund the USPS, take concrete action to reverse the Postmaster General’s actions that have slowed mail delivery across America, and get to the bottom of why those actions were taken in the first place.

If our Postal Service — as old as the Republic itself, and with the highest approval ratings of any federal agency — has been set alight by cronies of the sitting president, it should be unthinkable that a Senate Majority Leader would simply stand by and watch this critical part of our democracy burn.

Elizabeth Wydra, a former clerk at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is president of Constitutional Accountability Center, a public interest law firm and think tank dedicated to promoting the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethWydra.

Tags constitutional power Donald Trump Louis DeJoy mail in voting mailboxes Mitch McConnell Postal system slowdown sorting machines U.S. Postal Service United States Postal Service crisis United States Senate Vote by Mail

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