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Capitol dome pictured from the eastern front of the U.S. Capitol April 1, 2019 (Humberto Sanchez/The Nevada Independent)

Despite recent delays in mail delivery, the Postal Service (USPS) will reliably deliver mail-in ballots for the presidential election in November, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy assured a senate panel, including Sen. Jacky Rosen, Friday.

“We deliver 433 million pieces of mail a day, so 150 million ballots, 160 million ballots over the course of a week is a very small amount,” DeJoy said, adding that the USPS has “adequate capacity” to deal with an election in which many voters are expected to cast ballots by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The hearing, convened by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, came just before the House approved legislation that would reverse cost-cutting changes imposed under DeJoy. The bill passed on a 257 to 150 vote in a rare Saturday session.

DeJoy recently agreed to suspend the austerity regime until after the election but has no plan to reverse course.

The House bill, which would also authorize $25 billion for the USPS, was passed with mostly Democratic votes. All House Democrats voted for the legislation, but only 26 Republicans backed the measure. 

Rep. Mark Amodei, Nevada’s only congressional Republican, did not vote, though he would have opposed the bill. 

The Nevada Republican said that he was not feeling well, though he stressed it was nothing serious, and decided to skip the vote. Twenty-two other Republicans also did not vote.

“Not being there is the same as a ‘no’,” Amodei said in a phone call just before the vote.

He said the Postal Service has the cash flow it needs to process the mail, similar to arguments made by other Republicans said.

“The Postmaster General has recently stated all current USPS operations will remain in place through the election, USPS will remain solvent through at least next August, revenues are $1.3 billion higher than this same period last year, and the $10 billion in lending authority Congress provided to USPS through the CARES Act has yet to be accessed,” Amodei said in a statement put out by his office.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also questioned the need for the measure and had urged his colleagues to oppose the legislation. 

The Republican-run Senate is also not expected to take up the House measure. 

In a letter to his GOP colleagues Wednesday, McCarthy cited the comments of Ruth Goldway, a former member of the Postal Regulatory Commission, appointed by Bill Clinton, who said recently that the postal service is “perfectly capable of handling election mail.”

Under DeJoy, USPS—which is mandated to cover the cost of its operations and typically runs a deficit—has implemented a series of measures to rein in spending, including limiting overtime and taking some sorting machines out of service. 

Democratic concern over the post office was sparked by President Donald Trump who recently said that one reason he rejected a Democratic proposal during talks on the next pandemic-relief legislation was that it included $25 billion for the USPS, which he said would be used to help the agency process mail-in ballots. 

Trump, who has claimed that universal mail-in voting would result in election fraud, said that denying the USPS the funds would help prevent a mail-in election. He has since backed away from the comment and said he would not veto a pandemic aid deal over the USPS. But he has continued to cast doubt on large-scale mail-in voting.

Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign is suing Nevada over its recently enacted state law to mail ballots to all active voters.

Rosen

In addition to concerns about the USPS’s ability to handle the election, Democrats, including Rosen and other members of the state’s congressional delegation, argue that agency cost-cutting measures have resulted in delayed mail, which has also delayed delivery of important things including medicine to seniors and veterans.

“During the pandemic, health officials have directed older Americans to stay at home for their own safety,” Rosen said at the hearing. “That means that for our seniors in Nevada and across the country, the Postal Service is the only way that they are going to receive these critical items – from life-saving prescriptions, household supplies, social security checks.”

“For veterans, my colleagues have already mentioned this, it’s a lifeline,” she continued. “Eighty percent of veteran’s prescriptions are filled by the United States Postal Service. I have 225,000 veterans in Nevada, many of them relying on this for timely delivery of life-saving medication.”

She said many postal workers are also veterans. 

Rosen met with postal workers Thursday in preparation for Friday’s hearing and said that they had told her that a sorting machine had been removed from the general mail facility in Las Vegas.

DeJoy told the panel that the decommissioning of sorting machines and removal of the agency’s signature blue mailboxes was something that is done regularly following a review of usage and population.

“This is a process that has been around for a few years now,” DeJoy said of sorting machines, adding he was unaware of it until recently.  “We really are moving these machines out to make room to process packages.”

Asked he would replace the sorting machines, DeJoy said “no” adding that “they are not needed.”

Rosen’s office said that the post office is currently the top issue for Nevadans. Her office received over 1,000 inquiries last week alone. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto’s office said that they have heard from more than 6,000 Nevadans on the issue of the post office since the beginning of August. Last week, Cortez Masto, Reps. Dina Titus and Steven Horsford all held round table discussions with postal workers and business owners. Rep. Susie Lee held a press conference in support of the House USPS bill.  

DeJoy conceded that the mail has been delayed, but he attributed that to an initiative he spearheaded to make sure that mail trucks better adhere to their schedules, and which DeJoy predicted would ultimately save $1 billion. 

“Unfortunately, our production processing within the plants was not fully aligned with this established schedule,” DeJoy said. “We had some delays in the mail and our recovery process in this should have been a few days and it’s amounted to be a few weeks.”  

Rosen pressed DeJoy to provide documents to the committee on the rationale for the changes and whether USPS discussed their impact on seniors or veterans. He would only go as far as saying he would provide documents on a decision he oversaw to ensure that all mail trucks depart on time.

House Democrats split

While House Democrats are united on taking action on the USPS Saturday, there is a split over whether they should also vote on legislation to provide pandemic aid. 

That split is reflected among Nevada’s House Democrats with Lee and Horsford calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring up pandemic legislation. Titus said she preferred to stay focused on the USPS.

Pelosi has so far rejected the calls to act on pandemic relief.  

Lee was among more than 100 Democrats who signed a letter to Pelosi urging her to hold a vote on a bill that would restart the emergency $600-a-week federal unemployment payment and peg it to health and economic indicators. The payment expired at the end of July.

“It’s been almost three weeks since the expanded $600 per week in unemployment benefits expired,” Lee said. “Thousands of Nevadans who are out of work are basically trying to survive on $200 per week in assistance.”

Horsford separately wrote to Pelosi, along with New Mexico Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, requesting a vote on his bill to extend the weekly $600 payment through the end of January and provide a one-time ‘Back on Your Feet’ payment of $3,600.

House Democrats passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, but Senate Republicans offered a $1 trillion proposal and the two sides have remained at loggerheads since talks broke down in early August. 

“While we await progress in these bipartisan negotiations with the House and Senate, we urge you bring forward stand-alone legislation that provides relief to millions of Americans who are facing record unemployment amidst the COVID-19 health pandemic, as well as provide a one-time payment to help Americans who are able to reenter the workforce,” the letter said.

Titus’s office provided a statement underscoring her desire to only consider USPS legislation this weekend to undo “recent damage that President Trump and his Republican mega-donor postmaster general have inflicted upon the Postal Service.” Titus spokesman Kevin Gerson said in an emailed statement.  

“She has heard directly from small business owners, seniors, and veterans in Southern Nevada who are concerned about the Trump Administration’s attacks on timely mail delivery,” Gerson continued.  

“At the same time, she remains committed to helping Las Vegas recover from this recession,” Gerson said. “The House voted to extend the $600 per week unemployment assistance back in May. [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell and Donald Trump are blocking relief for individuals who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own."

Meanwhile, Lee teamed up on a letter with Amodei last week to Pelosi and McCarthy calling for the restarting of negotiations.

“We are writing to urge you to immediately resume negotiations for a relief package to confront the dual public health and economic crises Americans are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter said. “We recognize that negotiating such a significant legislative proposal is difficult, but failing to reach a deal is unacceptable and is a failure of duty to the American people.” 

 For a full rundown of the measures the delegates supported or opposed this week, check out The Nevada Independent’s congressional vote tracker and other information below.

This story was updated on August 22, 2020, at 3:50 p.m. to record the House vote tally and include comments from Rep. Mark Amodei.

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