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Postal Service halts some operational changes amid outcry

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing mounting public pressure and a crush of state lawsuits, President Donald Trump’s new postmaster general announced Tuesday he is halting some operational changes to mail delivery that critics blamed for widespread delays and warned could disrupt the November election.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said he would “suspend” several of his initiatives — including the removal of the distinctive blue mail boxes that prompted an outcry — until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”

“We will deliver the nation’s election mail on time,” DeJoy said in a statement.

The abrupt reversal from DeJoy, who is set to testify Friday before the Senate, comes as more than 20 states, from New York to California, announced they would be suing to stop the changes. Several vowed they would press on, keeping a watchful eye on the Postal Service ahead of the election.

“What’s going on right now is nothing less than a
full-on assault by this administration on the U.S. Postal Service, an
institution that millions of Americans rely on every single day,” said
Bob Ferguson, the attorney general in Washington state, at a news

Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh
Shapiro announced they were leading collections of other states in suing
to block service changes at the Postal Service, just as the postmaster
was making his own statement Tuesday. Both Shapiro and Ferguson said
they would not take DeJoy at his word.

“We need to see binding action to reverse these changes,” Shapiro said.

The crisis at the Postal Service has erupted as a major election year
issue as DeJoy, a Republican donor who took control of the agency in
June, has swiftly engineered cuts and operational changes that are
disrupting mail delivery operations and raising alarms that Trump is
trying to undermine the agency ahead of the election.

At the White
House, Trump has flatly denied he is seeking to slow-walk the mail,
even has he leveled fresh assaults Tuesday on mail-in voting and
universal ballots. More Americans than ever are expected to choose to
vote absentee during the coronavirus outbreak.

“You can’t have
millions and millions of ballots sent all over the place, sent to people
that are dead, sent to dogs, cats, sent everywhere,” Trump told

“This isn’t games and you have to get it right,” Trump said.

Some of the initiatives DeJoy said he was shelving until after the election had already been announced.

said Tuesday he is halting the planned removal of mail-processing
machines and blue collection boxes, as well as an initiative to change
retail hours at post offices. He also said that no mail processing
facilities will be closed and said the agency has not eliminated

One initiative that DeJoy didn’t single out in his
announcement was the newly imposed constraints on when mail can go out
for delivery — a change that postal workers have said is fueling delays.
A Postal Service spokesman declined to comment beyond DeJoy’s

Trump made clear last week that he was blocking $25
billion emergency aid to the Postal Service, acknowledging he wanted to
curtail election mail operations, as well as a Democratic proposal to
provide $3.6 billion in additional election money to the states to help
process an expected surge of mail-in ballots.

Speaker Nancy
Pelosi is calling the House back to Washington over the crisis as
lawmakers held demonstrations in cities nationwide, pressuring Senate
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to resume session. One protest was in
Atlanta, where vulnerable GOP Sen. David Perdue faces a tough

The House is expected to vote Saturday on legislation
that would prohibit changes at the agency. The package will also include
$25 billion to shore up the Postal Service, which faces continued
financial losses.

“We need to know exactly what is happening,”
said Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Homeland
Security panel that called Friday’s hearing.

Ahead of the election, DeJoy,
a former supply-chain CEO who took over the Postal Service in June, has
sparked nationwide outcry over delays, new prices and cutbacks that
could imperil not only the election, but what some call a lifeline for
those receiving mail prescriptions and other goods during the COVID-19 crisis.

has defended DeJoy, but also criticized postal operations and claimed
that universal mail-in ballots would be “a disaster.”

Experts say
examples of ballot fraud have been overstated. The Brennan Center for
Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%,
based on studies of past elections.

The Postal Service is among
the nation’s oldest and more popular institutions, strained in recent
years by declines first-class and business mail, but now hit with new
challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. Trump routinely criticizes
its business model, but the financial outlook is far more complex, and
includes an unusual requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits that
advocates in Congress want to undo.

The legislation set for
Saturday’s vote, the “Delivering for America Act,” would prohibit the
Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of
service it had in place on Jan. 1. The package would include the $25
billion approved as part of the COVID-19 rescue that is stalled in the Senate.

the first postmaster general in nearly two decades who was not a career
postal employee, has pledged to modernize the money-losing agency to
make it more efficient. He eliminated most overtime for postal workers,
imposed restrictions on transportation and reduced of the quantity and
use of mail-processing equipment.

Key Republicans are now sounding the alarm.

the pivotal swing state of Ohio, Attorney General Dave Yost pleaded
with Trump to postpone any needed changes to the Postal Service until
after Election Day. GOP Sen. Rob Portman and other Republicans in Ohio’s
congressional delegation urged DeJoy to “ensure timely and accurate
delivery of election-related materials.”Postal workers are increasingly worried about their ability to deliver for the fall election.

In a letter to postal staffers last week obtained by The Associated Press, DeJoy said his policies have brought “unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels,” but added that the Postal Service “must make a number of significant changes which will not be easy, but which are necessary.”

Izaguirre reported from Charleston, W.Va. Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Kevin Freking, Darlene Superville and Jill Colvin in Washington, Bruce Schreiner in Frankfort, Ky., and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.