WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s postmaster general on Monday agreed to testify before Congress next week on cuts in service that lawmakers fear could hamper the Postal Service’s ability to handle a flood of mail-in ballots in November’s election.
Louis DeJoy, a large donor and Trump ally who became the new postmaster general in June, agreed to testify next Monday before the Democratic-led House of Representatives Oversight and Reform Committee, which is investigating whether service changes adopted in recent weeks have slowed mail deliveries.
Democrats, who control the House, are also weighing legislation on the issue, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying in an MSNBC interview on Monday that she expected some Republicans to support it.
“We will have vote by mail. It will be successful. We will not depend on the president to anoint it,” she said.
Democrats have raised concerns that, amid a coronavirus pandemic that is expected to result in about twice as many Americans voting by mail as did so in 2016, cost cuts at the Postal Service could lead to missed or delayed ballots.
They have pointed to reductions in overtime, restrictions on extra mail transportation trips and new mail sorting and delivery policies as changes that threaten to slow mail delivery.
Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that mail balloting is vulnerable to fraud and has warned of a “rigged election.” Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, and one in four voters cast ballots that way in 2016.
Robert Duncan, who chairs the Postal Service board of governors and is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, will testify along with DeJoy at the hearing next week, the Postal Service confirmed.
Separately, House Democratic Conference Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Representative Ted Lieu called on the FBI to open a criminal probe into DeJoy.
“There is evidence that making mail-in balloting more difficult may be one of the motivations for the changes instituted at the Post Office,” Jeffries and Lieu wrote in a Monday letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“There is also evidence that the Postmaster General has a financial stake in multiple financial entities that are either competitors to or contractors for the Post Office,” the lawmakers said.
Trump said in an interview with Fox News on Monday that his administration was “not tampering” with the Postal Service but wants to “make it run efficiently.”
Later on Monday at an event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Trump said: “We can’t play games, get out and vote through those beautiful absentee ballots or just make sure your vote gets counted.
Trump trails Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden in polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a close Trump ally, accused Democrats of promoting conspiracy theories, a charge echoed by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy.
Trump, who himself plans to cast an absentee ballot by mail in Florida, and many other Republicans have opposed an expansion of mail-in voting to accommodate people concerned about going to the polls to vote in-person due to fears amid the pandemic.
He said in March that with mail-in voting at levels that Democrats were seeking “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
The House will meet on Saturday to consider legislation prohibiting the Postal Service from making changes to operations or service levels that were in place on Jan. 1, 2020, said the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
A Democratic congressional aide said the legislation will also include $25 billion in funding for the Postal Service. Congressional Democrats had sought that amount in talks on coronavirus relief legislation that broke down over a week ago.
While Trump has voiced opposition to such funding, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Monday the administration could agree to Postal Service funding as part of a bill to deliver coronavirus aid.
(Reporting by Katanga Johnson, David Shepardson, Susan Heavey and Eric Beech; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Alexandra Alper; Writing by David Morgan and Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)