House debates Postal Service changes, funds ahead of vote in rare Saturday session

House debates Postal Service changes, funds ahead of vote in rare Saturday session

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill Saturday giving $25 billion in emergency funds to the U.S. Postal Service and reversing recent cost-cutting operational changes. Democrats are seeking to reinforce the agency ahead of the November election when many voters are expected to cast mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote passed 257-150 in the Democratic-controlled House, earning some support from Republicans who expressed concerns about delayed mail. The bill is likely to meet significant opposition in the GOP-led Senate.

The rare Saturday session in August comes amid a national uproar over mail interference, putting the Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy at the center of an unprecedented election year. The House will recess again until next month.

DeJoy, an ally of President Donald Trump, has been criticized for implementing cost-cutting measures, such as removing postal boxes and reducing post office hours, in an effort to disenfranchise those seeking to vote by mail during the pandemic. Many have also accused DeJoy of coordinating with the White House to undermine the vote by mail effort.

During a congressional testimony Friday, DeJoy said he would not restore the cuts that have already been made and was unable to provide senators with a plan for how he will handle the influx of mail-in ballots this November. He also would not say whether he did an analysis of how his policy changes would affect veterans, the elderly or families who send financial documents by mail.

Many Republicans have shrugged off Democrats’ complaints as being overblown and Republican leaders urged their members to vote against the bill, accusing Democrats of promoting a “conspiracy theory.”

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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled distaste for the House bill in a tweet just minutes after the vote.

“House Democrats have spent weeks ignoring the urgent needs of American workers and families, but they rushed back to Washington the instant that overblown conspiracy theories about the U.S. Postal Service convinced them their own jobs might be in jeopardy,” he tweeted.

McConnell has suggested he is open to additional Postal Service funding, but not as a stand-alone bill. He has called for a smaller amount of USPS funding to be part of a larger coronavirus relief bill.

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a tweet that House Democrats “are doing their jobs to help fund @USPS & protect it from sabotage. Just like they did their jobs & passed another COVID-19 bill months ago.”

“Show some political courage & finally stand up to Trump, @SenateMajLdr McConnell,” she wrote. “Call back the Senate & let us vote.”

Trump has also said he wants to block agency emergency funding for the Postal Service because he opposes expanding access to vote by mail.

“Representatives of the Post Office have repeatedly stated that they DO NOT NEED MONEY, and will not make changes,” Trump tweeted Saturday before the vote, calling it “another HOAX by the Democrats.”

When asked about the tweet, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “He says everything’s a hoax cause he’s a hoax.”

Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., the chair of the Oversight Committee and the bill’s author, released on Saturday afternoon new internal Postal Service documents that show DeJoy was notified of nationwide delays over the last two months due to his operational changes.

“To those who still claim there are ‘no delays’ and that these reports are just ‘conspiracy theories,’ I hope this new data causes them to re-think their position and support our urgent legislation today,” Maloney said in a statement.

Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Pa., said he abstained from voting after testing positive for the coronavirus but would have voted against the bill, saying calls to direct $25 billion to the postal service “are not reflective of the data or the reality of the situation.”

Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., said Saturday he voted for the bill because the USPS is a “lifeline to the communities I represent.”

“The men and women of USPS are working tirelessly during this pandemic, and we need to do everything we can to support them,” he tweeted after voting.

The Postal Service provides a lifeline to many people beyond just mail-in ballots, particularly more rural areas where it is not efficient for private companies to operate, delivering drugs, financial statements and other items that are especially needed by mail during the pandemic.

DeJoy, a major GOP donor, is the first postmaster in 20 years with no experience at the agency. He previously owned a logistics business that was a longtime Postal Service contractor.

Image: Lauren EganLauren Egan

Lauren Egan is a reporter for NBC News based in Washington.

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Leigh Ann Caldwell is an NBC News correspondent.

Haley Talbot

Haley Talbot is an associate producer in the NBC News Washington bureau.

Alicia Victoria Lozano and The Associated Press

contributed.

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