Louis DeJoy had a challenging message Wednesday for those who long to see him removed as US Postmaster General: “Get used to me.”
The comment came after Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) asked the embattled chief of the United States Postal Service how long he would remain as Postmaster General – “a long time,” DeJoy responded – during a hearing Wednesday. on the House Oversight Committee.
That exchange was indicative of the entire procedure, which was often hectic, combative, and fueled by outrage from Democratic lawmakers over DeJoy’s handling of the USPS at a time of worsening mail delays and tough questions about the feasibility of long term of service.
DeJoy’s crack to Cooper made the blood of the Democrats boil even more. But he may be right, for now at least: Because the postmaster general is installed by the service’s board of governors, and not the president, it means that President Joe Biden, or Congress, cannot fire Mr. DeJoy even if they wanted to.
His removal would only be possible when Biden fills Democratic vacancies on the USPS Board of Governors, which has the authority to hire and fire postal directors general. Confirming those seats in the Senate will take time, although the Washington Post reported Wednesday that Biden has identified three nominees to move forward.
Meanwhile, however, Democratic lawmakers are working with DeJoy on urgent legislation to reform the agency’s finances and the burden of employee pensions, even as many publicly call for his resignation.
For many Democrats, DeJoy’s performance on Capitol Hill Wednesday can make that balancing act difficult: They found a lot of things they didn’t like not just in what the postmaster general said, but in how he said it.
“I have to say that I don’t think the postmaster gets it,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), a member of the Oversight Committee who questioned DeJoy on Wednesday about the agency’s delivery standards. “I think it’s time for him to go.”
“I thought he approached a lot of our questions with exactly the same attitude, which was a mocking condescension,” Krishnamoorthi told The Daily Beast after the hearing, invoking DeJoy’s response to Cooper. “That’s not going to fly, man. I’m not going to fly. “
Wednesday’s hearing was the second time in DeJoy’s short tenure that he has been subjected to high-profile questioning in the House Oversight Committee. Shortly after taking over the top USPS post in June 2020, delays and irregularities quickly began to accumulate, a particularly alarming development for lawmakers on the eve of an election in which more voters than ever planned to vote by mail.
In a controversial August 2020 hearing, Democrats questioned the former logistics executive and Republican mega-donor about everything from cuts in overtime to the price of a stamp. The questioning of Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) produced a memorable response from DeJoy: “I’m going to say that I know very little about postage and stamps.”
By the time House Democrats called DeJoy back to Capitol Hill this week, his worst fears about the impact of the USPS delays on the voting system had not materialized. But they still had many questions about the DeJoy administration of the USPS: In October, the USPS inspector general issued a report concluding that the changes DeJoy made to delivery times and protocol led to a worsening of delays. Already battered by the pandemic, the USPS hobbled into a busy holiday season and is now providing the poorest service many longtime agency observers have seen.
Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), a member of the oversight panel, had 29 years of experience in the USPS before coming to Congress. She told The Daily Beast after the hearing that she had never seen the service in such dire straits as it is now: “I don’t think we’ve ever faced this,” she said.
Unprecedented delays are occurring across the country. In Washington, DC, only 40 percent of all first-class mail arrived on time at the end of December 2020, compared with nearly 90 percent at the same time last year. Chicago residents are receiving vacation packages a month and a half late. Lawmakers are inundated with calls and emails from frustrated voters seeking answers; this week, 33 senators signed a letter to DeJoy asking him to explain the recent delays.
DeJoy apologized for those delays at the top of Wednesday’s hearing. “We must recognize that during this peak season we fell very short of meeting our service goals,” he said. “I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays.”
But Lawrence raised concerns about DeJoy’s upcoming “strategic plan” for the USPS to overcome this difficult stretch. Although the postmaster general has not released details, he testified Wednesday that he will propose cuts to delivery standards, including the standard that local mail be delivered within two days. Democrats believe it would be a disastrous move at a time when the USPS is struggling to compete with private sector competitors, particularly if combined with cost increases to the consumer, as DeJoy suggested.
“To say that is what is bold and necessary … that is not leadership,” Lawrence said. “You have to prove yourself. He heard us loud and clear, that he needs to prove himself. “
The Michigan Democrat stopped short of saying DeJoy deserved removal, telling The Daily Beast that she and other Democrats are working with the USPS on postal reform legislation. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) supported working with DeJoy to pass reforms.
In the wake of the new political reality in Washington, the postmaster general has begun trying to reach out to Democratic lawmakers. Lawrence said that during the last administration, DeJoy did not take his calls or respond to him, but after the 2020 election, they had a “cordial” call.
Other Democrats see any charm offensive as too little, too late. Krishnamoorthi said he supports working with any USPS leadership in office to pass reforms, but argued that DeJoy should leave as soon as possible.
Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a senior member of the Oversight Committee, issued a statement after DeJoy’s hearing praising Biden’s nomination of three people appointed to the USPS Board of Governors, and explicitly expressed his hope that that they would remove DeJoy. “These nominations are an important first step toward reforming the Postal Service,” Connolly said. “My hope is that the newly formed Board will do the right thing and bring in a new qualified Postmaster General.”
A majority of the nine-member board would be needed to support the removal of DeJoy. Currently, there are four Republican appointments and two Democratic appointments. If all of Biden’s options are confirmed, Democrats would have a majority on the board.
Republicans on the Oversight Committee had questions for DeJoy about the mail delays, but largely branded him as the victim of an anti-Trump Democratic crusade. Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the leading Republican on the panel, compared the party’s concerns about the USPS delays and Trump’s potential role in those delays to the Trump impeachment inquiry that he said was based on “unsubstantiated conspiracies”.
Far-right Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), meanwhile, suggested that the main cause of the USPS delays was actually the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer, and read articles from fringe media such as Gateway. Pundit to prove your point. And Representative Andrew Clyde (R-GA) raised the unfounded belief in widespread electoral fraud conspiracies while saying it was not the time to go into “details.”
At one point, tempers flared when Connolly said Republicans who voted for Electoral College certification on January 6 “had no right to lecture” anyone about the dangers of partisanship.
Yet Democrats left more concerned about the fate of the USPS than about the state of affairs in Congress. “It is not a theoretical concept,” said Krishnamoorthi. “It is not an abstract question, it is real for each and every one of us … I have to tell you that people are starting to work around mail, which is a scary concept.”