Democrats are accusing the Trump administration of sabotaging the nation's mail system as voters gear up to cast mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic.
There had already been calls for an internal investigation of cost-cutting measures that have led to slower mail delivery and suggestions that the effort by Louis DeJoy, the new postmaster general who is a donor to President Donald Trump and Republicans, is harming the agency.
It comes as Trump has repeatedly alleged, without proof, that mail-in voting efforts are ripe for fraud and will cost him the White House when voters cast ballots.
On Friday, DeJoy announced a hiring freeze for leadership positions and a massive reorganization of top Postal Service leaders.
Rep. Gerry Connolly of Virginia, the congressional Democrat who chairs the committee overseeing the postal service, called the moves "sabotage."
"Postmaster General DeJoy is calling this a 'modified organizational structure.' It's really a Trojan Horse," said Connolly on Twitter, sharing a Washington Post report about the changes. "Deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election — an election that hinges on mail-in ballots."
This is the latest example of Trump's paranoia about the political system infecting Americans' faith in institutions. His constant effort to undermine belief in mail-in voting is dovetailing with his political ally's convenient effort to reform the Postal Service. Add in his Treasury secretary's effort to exert more control over the postal service. This is the stuff conspiracy theories are made of.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, who chairs the Government Oversight Committee, called for the changes to be halted.
"The drastic changes to the Postal Service by an overtly partisan Postmaster General are another example of the President's attempts to prevent millions of Americans from having their votes counted," she said in a Saturday statement.
DeJoy said Friday at a meeting of the Postal Service Board of Governors that there would be no slowdown of mail related to the election.
"We will do everything we can to deliver election mail in a timely manner consistent with our operational standards," he said, adding, "Despite any assertions to the contrary, we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail. Instead we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all election mail."
Trump has questioned whether the mail system could handle mail-in voting caused by the pandemic and threatened to sue efforts to expand mail-in voting in places like Nevada, which he said are "using Covid to steal the state."
After the President made that claim, the Postal Service pledged Monday that it has "ample capacity" to handle what's expected to be a crush of mail-in ballots between September and November.
Democrats, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly vocal in their criticisms of DeJoy and have asked the inspector general for the Postal Service to conduct an investigation.
They cited news reports in particular that neighborhoods in Philadelphia were experiencing major slowdowns in mail delivery after cuts in overtime and hours for postal workers and said delays would "pose a threat to the November election."
Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had what Schumer described as a "heated discussion" with DeJoy about the cuts.
"We are demanding that the regulations they put in place, which cut employment and cut overtime, be rescinded. Particularly because of Covid and because of the elections, we need those to vote and we will advocate strongly for money so that they can hire all the people necessary -- both overtime and new people -- to make sure that every single ballot is counted, he said.
The postal service needs money
The importance of mail as an essential service is evident as the presidential election looms. But its financial problems are also coming to a head as businesses have cut down on the amount of mail they send during the pandemic.
The Postal Service has asked for $75 billion in emergency funding under its previous director, who suggested it could be broke by September.
Democrats wanted to include a one-time $25 billion check for the postal service in the CARES Act, but the Trump administration blocked the money. Instead, the Postal Service got a $10 billion loan for operating expenses through the massive pandemic stimulus bill enacted during the spring, but it had to agree to terms with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin over the summer.
Now, Democrats have pushed to include $25 billion in a new stimulus bill. It's become a sticking point in stalled negotiations for that bill, which would also extend expanded unemployment benefits and include a new direct payment to people affected by the pandemic.
The Postal Service is an independent organization, but in order to access the loan, it agreed to giving information about its operations to the Trump administration, including handing over previously confidential agreements it entered into with delivery giants like Amazon.
Trump has demanded the Postal Service raise delivery fees on companies like Amazon, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post.
After the loan, Connolly and Maloney said the pandemic was being leveraged to give the administration more control.
"Secretary Mnuchin and the leadership of the U.S. Postal Service appear to be exploiting this public health pandemic to hold the Postal Service to unreasonable loan terms without even consulting Congress," they said in a statement in late July.