WASHINGTON (CBS SF/AP) — Facing public pressure and state lawsuits, the Postmaster general announced Tuesday he is halting some operational changes to mail delivery that critics warned were causing widespread delays and could disrupt voting in the November election.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he would “suspend” his initiatives until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”
The abrupt reversal comes as more than 20 states, from New York to California, announced they would be suing to stop the changes. The states, along with lawmakers and others, want to ensure voters are able to use mail-in ballots if they prefer to avoid polling places due to health risks from COVID-19.
“The Postal Service is ready to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives,” DeJoy said in a statement.
DeJoy’s announcement comes as the list of states planning to sue him and President Trump was expected to grow Tuesday afternoon. At least 20 states, including California, were expected to file joint lawsuits over the changes at the postal service.
“These attacks are an attack on our democracy,” said. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto). “The postal service is now a national emergency.”
“The postmaster general says he’s stopping shortages,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin). “We don’t want him to stop. We want him to reverse. We want him to resign.”
DeJoy is scheduled for an appearance on Friday before the Senate to testify on mail delivery delays and service changes that lawmakers and others are warning could imperil the November election.
Trump has flatly denied he was asking for a slow-walk of the mail. But his newly-installed postmaster, a Republican donor with no previous postal management, has been facing pressure by Democrats to halt any changes as millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail during the COVID-19 crisis. Demonstrations were being held Tuesday in several cities, including Venice, California.
Key Republicans are now sounding the alarm.
In the pivotal swing state of Ohio, Attorney General Dave Yost pleaded with Trump to postpone any needed changes to the Postal Service until after Election Day. GOP Sen. Rob Portman and other Republicans in Ohio’s congressional delegation urged DeJoy to “ensure timely and accurate delivery of election-related materials.”
The crisis at the Postal Service has erupted as a major election-year issue as DeJoy, a Trump ally who took control of the agency in June, has swiftly engineered cuts and operational changes that are disrupting mail delivery operations and raising alarms among workers.
At the White House, Trump leveled fresh assaults Tuesday on mail-in voting and universal ballots. More Americans than ever are expected to choose to vote absentee this year instead of risking health concerns by voting at polling places during the coronavirus outbreak.
“You can’t have millions and millions of ballots sent all over the place, sent to people that are dead, sent to dogs, cats, sent everywhere,” Trump told reporters.
“This isn’t games and you have to get it right,” Trump said.
Trump made clear last week that he was blocking $25 billion emergency aid to the Postal Service, acknowledging he wanted to curtail election mail operations, as well as a Democratic proposal to provide $3.6 billion in additional election money to the states to help process an expected surge of mail-in ballots.
Congress is not in session but Speaker Nancy Pelosi is calling the House back to Washington over the crisis at the Postal Service, setting up a political showdown amid growing concerns that the Trump White House is trying to undermine the agency ahead of the election.
The House is expected to vote Saturday on legislation that would prohibit changes at the agency. The package will also include $25 billion to shore up the Postal Service, which faces continued financial losses.
DeJoy and the head of the Postal Service board of governors are also set to testify Monday in the House.
“We have to save the Post Office from the President now,” Pelosi said late Monday on MSNBC.
The top Democrat on the Homeland Security panel seeking DeJoy’s testimony, Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, called the Postal Service “a lifeline” to Americans.
“We must ensure they can continue to count on dependable and timely delivery,” said Peters.
The Postal Service is among the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions, strained in recent years by declines first-class and business mail, but now hit with new challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump routinely criticizes its business model, but the financial outlook is far more complex, and includes an unusual requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits that advocates in Congress want to undo.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.