The battle over the future of the United States Postal Service is intensifying, with a record number of mail-in ballots expected to be cast in the 2020 presidential election, and Democrats and Republicans locked in a fight over the future of the agency. Historian Philip Rubio, who teaches at North Carolina A&T State University and worked as a mail carrier for two decades before that, says decades of political interference have caused a “manufactured crisis” at the U.S. Postal Service. “The damage has been done,” Rubio says of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s changes. “I think he’s discouraged a lot of voters who were hoping to vote by mail to vote safely and securely because of the pandemic.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The battle over the future of the U.S. Postal Service is intensifying. For weeks, Democrats have accused the Trump administration and the new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, of sabotaging the Postal Service in the lead-up to the election, when a record number of mail-in ballots are expected to be cast.
On Saturday, the Democrat-led House approved a bill to give the Postal Service $25 billion and to stop DeJoy from making more changes to the Postal Service, which have already led to long delays in processing and delivering mail. This is Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
REP. RASHIDA TLAIB: Let it be clear: This administration is waging an authoritarian campaign to sabotage this election by manipulating the Postal Service to suppress our votes. And they are threatening the livelihood of our postal workers, our seniors, our veterans and so many more in the process. This is not a conspiracy theory; this is fascism. We will not stand for this, now or ever.
AMY GOODMAN: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to take up the House bill. DeJoy, who is a major donor to Trump, is testifying before the House Oversight Committee today.
Saturday’s vote came on the same day protests were held at over 800 post offices across the country to condemn the actions of DeJoy, who became postmaster general in June and still holds investments worth up to $75 million in assets in competitors to the U.S. post office or contractors with it.
During a Senate hearing Friday, DeJoy claimed the cost-cutting measures he’s implemented have nothing to do with the election, and said the Postal Service is, quote, “fully capable” of delivering mail-in ballots on time. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan questioned DeJoy about his refusal to restore recently disconnected mail sorting machines.
SEN. GARY PETERS: Will you be bringing back any mail sorting machines that have been removed since you’ve become postmaster general? Will any of those come back?
POSTMASTER GENERAL LOUIS DEJOY: There’s no intention to do that. They’re not needed, sir.
SEN. GARY PETERS: So, you will not bring back any processors?
POSTMASTER GENERAL LOUIS DEJOY: They’re not needed, sir.
AMY GOODMAN: While Postmaster DeJoy is refusing to reconnect the sorting machines, postal workers in Dallas, Texas, and Tacoma, Washington, have defied orders and reconnected the machines.
This all comes as more questions are being raised over the role of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the post office shake-up. The New York Times reports Mnuchin met with two Republican members of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors in early February and pressed them to select a postmaster general to push Trump’s agenda.
We’re joined now by Philip Rubio, history professor at North Carolina A&T State University, author of Undelivered: From the Great Postal Strike of 1970 to the Manufactured Crisis of the U.S. Postal Service. Prior to becoming a history professor, Rubio carried mail for the Postal Service for 20 years.
It’s great to have you with us, Professor Rubio.
PHILIP RUBIO: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about the latest developments, the Senate hearing on Friday, the bill that was passed, and what’s expected to happen today with the House hearing? This isn’t just Democrats accusing the White House and the post office of making it difficult or delaying the mail so that mail ballots won’t get in on time. That was clearly stated by the post office itself, saying that they did not think they would be able to handle all this mail, though DeJoy told a very different story when he testified before the Senate Friday.
PHILIP RUBIO: That’s correct. And this postmaster general really does have a credibility problem. He came into office just two months ago with claims that he was going to run it like a business and correct past inefficiencies, and he was going to, first of all, clean house, replacing 23 senior management positions and cutting overtime, banning late leaving from mail processing plants and also from stations — so, slowing the mail down, in effect — and, added to that, pulling up thousands of blue mail collection boxes and decommissioning these mail sorting machines, and then denying that, and then admitting that but saying it’s not had that much of an effect.
But the damage has been done. I think he’s demoralized postal workers. I think he has discouraged a lot of voters who are hoping to vote by mail, to vote safely and securely because of the pandemic. And he has also made, I think, people, as postal consumers, discouraged by promising that he will resume decommissioning these machines and these other policies of his after the election.
AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen anything like this before? For example, the post office in Tacoma, Washington, in Dallas, Texas, reconnecting letter sorting machines that were disconnected under orders from the postmaster general?
PHILIP RUBIO: Well, I can’t think of anything like that. But we have to remember, on the one hand, these are isolated incidents, but, on the other hand, they are revealing of what postal workers have always done in the past — taken measures into their own hands — and it’s a promise of what might happen in the future. That is, postal workers — because we have to remember, postal workers are really the heart of what I would call the service culture that’s still alive in the post office — OK? — as opposed to the business culture of just trying to cut costs. And so, to actually take a risk at being fired for insubordination, you know, to plugging those machines back in, we might see — that takes a great effort, and we might see something like postal workers defying bans on overtime to make sure that ballots get through.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to David C. Williams, the former Postal Service inspector general, former vice chair of the Postal Board of Governors. In his opening remarks to the House Progressive Caucus last week, Williams criticized Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
DAVID WILLIAMS: I recently resigned as the vice chairman of the Postal Board of Governors, when it became clear to me that the administration was politicizing the Postal Service, with the treasury secretary as the lead figure for the White House in that effort. By statute, the Treasury was made responsible for providing the Postal Service with a line of credit. The Treasury was using that responsibility to make demands that I believe would turn the Postal Service into a political tool, ending its long history as an apolitical public infrastructure.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you respond to that, Professor Philip Rubio?
PHILIP RUBIO: Well, David C. Williams was the watchdog, and he was one of two watchdogs, the other being Ronald Stroman, who also — well, he resigned under pressure. So, they were looking out for the Postal Service, and they both resigned because they saw it being politicized.
You know, the Postal Service, or the post office, that we’ve had around for 245 years, most of that time was a political institution, but we didn’t see that kind of partisan intervention — well, of course, with the exception of Andrew Jackson and the spoils system with hiring, but as far as manipulating the Postal Service and driving it into the ground. So, I’m glad to see him testifying. I’m glad to see Ron Stroman, former Board of Governors member, testifying.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you surprised that — with the enormous response across the country, the outcry, with the Postal Service having like a 91% positive rating, which delivers drugs, pharmaceuticals to veterans, to people who aren’t veterans, so relied on — I mean, the VA now looking for alternatives to the USPS because they’re concerned, you know, drugs won’t get to veterans on time, that the — are you concerned the damage has already been done, but surprised that DeJoy would say, “OK, we’ll hold off on changes until after the election”? Now, that’s really something, because it’s saying to people all across the country, if you stick with this administration, we’re going to gut the post office then.
PHILIP RUBIO: No, but I’m not surprised by anything that Postmaster General DeJoy is saying, because, apparently, he’s telling different people what he thinks they want to hear. And right now the outrage has forced him to back down, but he is making promises that he will resume essentially dismantling the Postal Service, which was instituted in 1971 after the great postal strike of 1970, and the idea being we’re going to create a nonpolitical institution and it’s going to be a hybrid government agency/business. What he assumes that he was given was a mandate to take it further in the business direction.
And, you know, unintentionally and ironically, both he and Trump, I think, have dramatized how — the perils of postal privatization and partisan intervention and driving our post office into the ground, that we don’t have to accept this, that we shouldn’t have to accept this, we shouldn’t have to take it.
I’m not surprised that there has been popular protest, popular outrage, because that’s something that people learned from the springtime with the George Floyd protests. And so, when you see people not getting their medications, when you see people not getting their mail on time, of course they’re going to speak up. And they’ve learned that protests can change things.
And I think that’s forced Congress to be — well, I should say, it’s encouraged Democrats in Congress to put this on the agenda. But it’s still not enough. What Democrats in the House and Senate are doing is the best they can do to keep putting pressure, with investigations and putting bills forward, that the American people will hopefully respond to.
AMY GOODMAN: President Trump tweeted — I’m going to go back and look at what he tweeted — on Sunday, “So now the Democrats are using Mail Drop Boxes, which are a voter security disaster. Among other things, they make it possible for a person to vote multiple times. Also, who controls them, are they placed in Republican or Democrat areas? They are not Covid sanitized. A big fraud!” Now Twitter has flagged the tweet for violating Twitter rules about civic and election integrity. He is suggesting you will get COVID if you drop your ballot into a ballot box.
PHILIP RUBIO: So, this is just more distraction that Trump and his administration are doing, as they’ve done around so many other issues, but around the Postal Service. And what is gratifying is to see that lots and lots of people, including politicians, are pushing back against that, are not being satisfied with DeJoy’s responses and are rebutting Trump’s claims.
But what all of this does is to — what it’s intended to do is to distract and discourage. And what we have to do as individuals, as well as a collective body, is to remember that we do have a right to vote. We have a right to vote safely. The Postal Service is mandated to provide universal service, whatever that service is, even if more than half of us vote by mail, to make sure that enough overtime is in effect, enough postal workers are deployed, to get all those ballots counted, for people to register and vote early, to vote in person if they feel safe enough doing that, but to vote and to keep putting pressure on the postmaster general.
AMY GOODMAN: And can anything legally be done? I mean, you’ve got the bill that was passed in the House, now the House hearing today. Not clear what will happen in the Senate, though it doesn’t look like Mitch McConnell would take it up, though there is bipartisan attack on Trump and DeJoy — of course, it starts at the top — for going after the Postal Service, so much so that Trump inexplicably, after attacking it for so long, sent out a tweet last week saying, ”SAVE THE POST OFFICE!” He just didn’t write “from me,” from himself.
PHILIP RUBIO: Right. And he and his wife and other administration members also vote by mail, and they are also encouraging Republicans to vote by mail. So, however you vote, people need to remember that they do have a right to vote, and they do have the right to expect that the postmaster general, who — even though it’s not a very strong political position, has a lot of power and can reverse these policy changes and can also work better with the states to make sure that the ballots are counted. But in the end, it will probably come down to postal workers, who make sure that the mail does get through, just as we always did.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Philip Rubio, I want to thank you for joining us. Key that you said, “just as we always did,” because before being a historian, you were a U.S. postman for 20 years, now a history professor at North Carolina A&T State University, author of Undelivered: From the Great Postal Strike of 1970 to the Manufactured Crisis of the U.S. Postal Service.
Next up, we’ll look at the arrest of Trump’s former campaign manager Steve Bannon and others on fraud charges connected to the “We Build the Wall” effort. We’ll find out what that is. Stay with us.
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