Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Tuesday announced he was “suspending” cost-cutting policies blamed for slowing down mail delivery ahead of the November elections, bowing to blistering criticism from Democrats that the Trump administration was intentionally undermining mail-in voting.
The postmaster, who is days away from questioning by Senate and House panels, vowed that there will be no changes to retail hours at post offices, processing equipment, mailbox locations and overtime policies for U.S. Postal Service employees.
President Trump and Mr. DeJoy have insisted that proposed changed were aimed at improving the long-suffering USPS and speed up mail service. The changes, however, got tangled in the partisan wrangling over expanded mail-in voting to avoid spreading the coronavirus during the November elections.
“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” Mr. DeJoy said in a statement. “I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability. I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election.
“In the meantime, there are some longstanding operational initiatives — efforts that predate my arrival at the Postal Service — that have been raised as areas of concern as the nation prepares to hold an election amidst a devastating pandemic. To avoid the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded,” he said.
Mr. DeJoy said he is expanding a leadership task force focused on the election to partner with state and local governments.
The recent policy changes included cuts to overtime pay and changes to mail routes, which have led to widespread complaints about mail delays.
Last week, the USPS notified nearly every state that it wouldn’t be able to guarantee mailed ballots would be delivered in time to count for the November elections.
The warning ahead of an anticipated flood of mail-in ballots was similar to USPS’s annual notice about mailing holiday cards early to get them delivered by Christmas.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, met Mr. DeJoy’s announcement with skepticism. She said it does not “reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the president this fall.”
The announcement also did not derail Democrats’ intent to address the issue with legislation.
Ms. Pelosi called lawmakers back from their summer vacation to vote on a bill Saturday. The legislation would revert any operational policies to what was in place in January and provide $25 billion in funding to the Postal Service.
The bill is not expected to clear the Republican-run Senate.
“Postmaster General DeJoy’s announcement of what may be a temporary pause in operational changes delaying the mail is a necessary but insufficient first step in ending the president’s election sabotage campaign,” Mrs. Pelosi said.
Mr. DeJoy is set to testify Friday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Monday before the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
With the election less than 80 days away and the COVID-19 pandemic keeping American life far from normal, the Postal Service has been front and center of partisan infighting.
Democrats rallied in front of USPS headquarters in Washington on Tuesday and accused Mr. Trump and Mr. DeJoy of actively trying to dismantle the Postal Service.
“Mr. DeJoy, let’s admit it — a political appointee, a large contributor to President Trump — and when we met him it was clear that he was hellbent on destroying the post office,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said on CNN.
Republicans generally defended the president and the postmaster general, keeping in line with Mr. Trump’s argument that the Postal Service was in desperate need of financial reform.
Some Republicans, however, voiced concerns about the effects of mail delays, especially on rural communities and those who rely on USPS to deliver their medications.
“Serving a rural state like Kansas, I understand well the crippling impact that losing the Postal Service would have on rural communities across the country. The Postal Service is navigating uncharted waters, but it cannot fail its responsibilities,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, noting that some deliveries are “a matter of life and death.”
The fight over the new policies stems from the slugfest between Democrats and Republicans over coronavirus spending and mail-in voting.
Mr. Trump, who argues that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud and unworkable without more funding for the Postal Service, said a universal vote-by-mail system could result in a do-over of the November election.
“You can’t take millions of ballots, send them haphazardly all over the country or all over a state and expect it to come out properly,” Mr. Trump said.
“It’ll end up being a rigged election, or they will never come out with an outcome. They’ll have to do it again, and nobody wants that,” he said. “I don’t want that.”
The Trump administration is hammering Democrats for returning to Washington to pass a narrow Postal Service bill rather than negotiating a larger coronavirus relief package.
The White House said the president would sign a bigger aid package that includes funds for the USPS.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, told The Louisville Courier-Journal that the Democrats’ narrow $25 billion bill for the Postal Service won’t likely pass the Senate, but he suggested that it could be a door to reopen COVID-19 relief talks.