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Postmaster general to go before Congress as Trump denies undermining service before election

U.S. President Donald Trump’s appointed postmaster general on Monday agreed to testify before Congress next week on cuts in service that lawmakers fear could hamper the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) ability to handle a flood of mail-in ballots in November’s election.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major Trump political donor, agreed to testify on Aug. 24 before a House of Representatives panel investigating whether service changes adopted in recent weeks have slowed mail deliveries, according to the committee, which called his appearance voluntary.

Congressional Democrats have raised concerns that, in a pandemic that is expected to result in about twice as many Americans voting by mail as did so in 2016, cost cuts at the USPS could lead to missed or delayed ballots. They have pointed specifically to reductions in overtime, restrictions on extra mail transportation trips and new mail sorting and delivery policies as changes that threaten to slow mail delivery.

Also Monday, several individuals including candidates for public office sued Trump, the postal service and DeJoy in New York on Monday to ensure adequate funding for postal operations.

The lawsuit alleges that Trump and DeJoy are trying to ensure the USPS cannot reliably deliver election mail and seeks a court order to force adequate funding of the USPS prior to November’s election.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, left, is escorted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on in Washington on Aug. 5. Several individuals including candidates for public office sued President Donald Trump and the postal service’s new postmaster general in New York on Monday to ensure adequate funding for postal operations. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Trump denies tampering

Trump, who has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that mail balloting is vulnerable to fraud, denied trying to undermine the USPS’s ability to handle a flood of ballots.

“No, we’re not tampering,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News amid an outcry from Democrats and other critics who accuse him of trying to hamstring the postal service to suppress mail-in voting as he trails Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls.

“We want to make it run efficiently, run good. We want to make it run for less money, much better, always taking care of our postal workers,” the Republican president said, describing the postal service as “one of the disasters of the world.”

Trump did not state why the changes are necessary just before an election that has been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, who himself plans to cast an absentee ballot by mail in Florida, and many other Republicans have opposed an expansion of mail-in voting to accommodate people concerned about going to the polls to vote in-person due to fears of contracting the virus.

He also expressed support for expanded in-person voting, including more voting booths, early voting and other efforts, while he reiterated his attacks on mail-in voting.

U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters Monday before a campaign rally that the USPS was inefficient and needed reorganization. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, and one in four voters cast ballots that way in 2016.

Separate letter sent to FBI

Democrats in Congress, alarmed at postal service changes put in motion under Trump with the election looming, stepped up pressure on the president and DeJoy.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives will meet on Saturday to consider legislation prohibiting changes to USPS levels that were in place on Jan. 1, said the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. The first votes are expected as early as 11 a.m. ET.

It is not clear if the Republican-led Senate would take up the measure, though several lawmakers from the party have expressed concerns about curbing access to voting as well as delayed deliveries for needed benefit cheques and even medicines.

DeJoy has agreed to testify next Monday before the panel investigating whether service changes adopted in recent weeks have slowed mail deliveries. Robert Duncan, who chairs the USPS board of governors and is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, will also testify at the  hearing of the House’s oversight committee.

Separately, Democratic congressmen Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Ted Lieu of California called on the FBI to open a criminal probe into DeJoy.

“There is evidence that making mail-in balloting more difficult may be one of the motivations for the changes instituted at the post office,” Jeffries and Lieu wrote in a Monday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

“There is also evidence that the postmaster general has a financial stake in multiple financial entities that are either competitors to or contractors for the post office.”

Trump said on Aug. 13 he was opposing Democratic efforts to include funds for the postal service and election infrastructure in coronavirus relief legislation, as he aims to block an expansion in mail-in voting during the pandemic. Trump said in March that with mail-in voting at levels that Democrats were seeking “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump and a close Senate ally on Monday sought to portray the Democrats as at fault. Trump told reporters outside the White House that he wants to “make sure the election is not stolen.”

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas defended the president by accusing Democrats of promoting “conspiracy” theories.

“Their unfounded hysteria over the Postal Service may be the craziest one yet,” Cotton said on Twitter.

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