WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was trying to streamline the US Postal Service (USPS) and “make it great again” – defending the man at the centre of an escalating scandal over allegations of electoral interference.
Mr Trump made the remarks during a press conference at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Saturday after accusations from Democratic lawmakers that Mr DeJoy is gutting the USPS to help secure the President’s re-election in November.
Mr Trump on the one hand endorsed Mr DeJoy – calling the wealthy Republican donor a “very talented man” who was working hard to “stop the tremendous losses that have taken place for many, many years”.
“He wants to make the Post Office great again,” Mr Trump said, playing off his 2016 election campaign slogan.
On the other hand, Mr Trump tried to put some distance between himself and escalating problems with the US mail agency that have erupted since Mr DeJoy took over.
“I don’t know what he’s doing,” he said at one point when asked about Mr DeJoy’s cuts, which have sparked widespread delivery delays and spread disquiet across the country. “I didn’t speak to him about it,” he said at another.
Mr DeJoy’s downsizing drive – which has included curbs on overtime and removal of post boxes – has become a major concern for Democrats who accuse Mr Trump of asphyxiating the Post Office to disrupt the Nov 3 election, which is expected to feature an unprecedented wave of postal voting due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Even some Republicans have expressed worry amid reports that medical deliveries were being slowed.
On Friday, the USPS inspector-general said it would be investigating Mr DeJoy’s cuts – along with potential conflicts of interest related to Mr DeJoy’s ownership of millions of dollars in stock in USPS rivals and customers, according to a financial disclosure form filed by his wife.
Early on Saturday, protesters gathered outside Mr DeJoy’s upscale condominium in Washington to chant, bang pots and wave placards that denounced him as “Postmaster Saboteur”. One sign read, “Deliver DeMail, Depose DeJoy”.
Pressed during his news conference on why the Post Office was being starved of funds, Mr Trump said Democrats were blocking a cash infusion during stalled negotiations over a new round of economic aid to ease the impact of the pandemic.
In fact, Democrats have been pushing to hand extra money to the Post Office so it can handle the anticipated election-related influx.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is discussing whether to bring back lawmakers from recess to deal with the postal service crisis, according to a Democratic aide.
Ms Pelosi, who has been lobbied by some House members to act, discussed the possibility of returning to Washington to take legislative action on a call with other House leaders on Saturday, said the aide, who declined to be identified.
The House could be brought back within the next two weeks, according to politics news site Politico.
As concerns mount over the USPS’ ability to handle the expected surge in ballots, states are working to ensure their residents’ votes count.
Pennsylvania last week asked its Supreme Court to push back its deadline for accepting mail-in ballots. In a court filing, it cited a letter from a USPS official to the state warning of “a risk that ballots requested near the deadline under state law will not be returned by mail in time to be counted under your laws”.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that similar notices were sent to 45 other states and the District of Columbia.
Mr Jon Tester, a Democratic senator from Montana, has asked Mr DeJoy in writing to explain reports that the USPS was removing mailboxes from towns in the state. Late Friday, a USPS spokesman told CNN that removal of mailboxes was being halted in 16 states, including Montana, and parts of two others.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG