As states threaten lawsuits, postmaster general suspends mail-handling changes until after election
Louis DeJoy is slated to testify before Senate and House lawmakers within days.
Under mounting pressure from Democrats, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced Tuesday he will suspend several cost-cutting initiatives in an effort "to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail."
Asked at a campaign event in Arizona if he had any role in DeJoy's decision, President Donald Trump, who has railed against mail-in voting and demanded the Postal Service be more efficient, would not directly answer.
Instead, he praised DeJoy. “We have a good man, the head man," he said. "This has been going on for a long time, but I have a much better idea.” The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
DeJoy's announcement comes as more than 20 state attorneys general are forging ahead with at least two lawsuits against the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service, among others, arguing the service broke the law by making operational changes without seeking approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission and that the changes impede on states' abilities to run free and fair elections.
The suits will assert that DeJoy failed to follow required administrative procedures when implementing sweeping cuts to service, rendering them unlawful.
One alleges that DeJoy instituted the changes at the post office "...following repeated statements from President Trump evincing a partisan political motive for making it harder to vote by mail...," according to a copy obtained by ABC News.
The coordinated effort by Democrats aims to block the Postal Service from making any moves that could impede the flow of mail-in ballots in states that are relying on them for an efficient election in the face of pandemic fears, according to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who are spearheading the effort.
Despite DeJoy's reversal Tuesday, Ferguson and Shapiro say they need more than his word -- and will push forward for legal assurances.
“We need more than a statement, we need binding agreements. The Postmaster General’s statement, while positive, does not address the operational changes put in place in July at the heart of our lawsuit,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Therefore, we’ll continue to press our case through the legal process and hold DeJoy accountable going forward beyond the election.”
"The law requires that changes at the U.S. Postal Service that cause a nationwide impact in mail service must be submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission," Ferguson said in a press release. "The commission then evaluates the proposal through a procedure that includes public notice and comment."
DeJoy's announcement came just after he agreed to testify at a Senate hearing on Friday and again next Monday before House lawmakers.
Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon noting that while he welcomes the news, he still has many unanswered questions.
"I will keep pressing the Postmaster General for answers through my investigation and at Friday's Senate hearing. Given how much the American people are relying on the Postal Service during these challenging times, the Postmaster General should not making any changes that put mail delivery at risk before the election or for the duration of the Coronavirus public health emergency," Peters said.
DeJoy, a longtime Republican donor, has come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks for enacting a series of measures meant to streamline the Postal Service, which has long suffered financially.
But critics say those measures have slowed mail service, and with more Americans expected to vote by mail in the upcoming election, the changes have prompted questions about whether they are part of a concerted effort to undermine absentee voting -- a platform the president has repeatedly, and without evidence, said would lead to election fraud.
Congressional Democrats had demanded that he stop the service-related cutbacks and on Tuesday, DeJoy announced he would halt many of those initiatives -- including approval of overtime for mail carriers and halting the removal of mailboxes and mail-sorting machines -- until after the election.
"Even with the challenges of keeping our employees and customers safe and healthy as they operate amid a pandemic, we will deliver the nation's election mail on time and within our well-established service standards," DeJoy said in a statement. "The American public should know that this is our number one priority between now and election day."
Taking a position contrary to Trump -- who has said the Postal Service is a "joke" and ill-equipped to handle "millions and millions of ballots" -- DeJoy said it's fully capable of handling the expected surge in mail-in ballots this year and will do so regardless of any additional funding from Congress.
In the middle of a live POLITICO interview, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was slipped a note from an aide informing her of DeJoy's move to suspend the operational changes until after the election.
"Well, he should," Pelosi said, without skipping a beat. "They felt the heat. And that's what we were trying to do is to make it too hot for them to handle."
She later called DeJoy's decision a "necessary but insufficient first step in ending the president's election sabotage campaign."
"This pause only halts a limited number of the Postmaster's changes, does not reverse damage already done, and alone is not enough to ensure voters will not be disenfranchised by the President this fall," Pelosi said in a statement.
She also noted the House will still go ahead with a vote on Saturday on a bill designed to reverse those operational changes DeJoy says he's now suspending and provide $25 billion in support.
Ronald Stroman, the deputy postmaster general until he resigned his post in June after the announcement that DeJoy had been picked to take over the Postal Service, said Tuesday that DeJoy's statement raises further transparency concerns and produces more questions than answers on what he is actually suspending.
"He says retail hours at postal offices will not change. The question becomes, have you already changed hours, and are those hours then going to be reversed? Or are you saying that you're going to be at status quo for today? That is a question that is simply not answered by the statement," Stroman said in a conference call organized by the left-leaning Democracy Fund, according to audio obtained by ABC News.
"It goes on to say that mail processing equipment will remain as it is, will remain where they are," he continued. "Well, if you've already dismantled some of that equipment or removed it, the fact that it's remaining as it is doesn't mean that you're going to reassemble that equipment, or return it to the extend that it's been removed."
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who signed on to one of the lawsuits, said he didn't think DeJoy's response was "even close to sufficient," calling his comments "a lot of vague assurances that don't give me any comfort at all."
"If he's really going to do these things, we can settle the lawsuit in 15 minutes," Frosh said. "He can agree to do these things and have the court approve it."
One lawsuit to stop the cuts is expected to be filed in Washington late Tuesday and will be joined by 13 other states including Wisconsin, Nevada, Minnesota and Michigan, according Ferguson. It will name DeJoy, Trump and the Postal Service as defendants.
A second suit is expected to be filed within the next day in Pennsylvania, Shapiro said, and will name DeJoy and the Postal Service Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan as defendants.
Separately, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced on Tuesday she would be filing a suit in New York.
No Republican attorneys have joined in on the effort involving more than 20 states, Shapiro said, but he has heard from numerous who are "deeply concerned" about the status of the post office.
Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings -- citing widespread delays and reports the disruptions are designed to disenfranchise voters -- announced publicly she was one of the attorney generals joining a lawsuit.
"In any other era, under any other administration, it would be unthinkable to appoint a megadonor to deliberately break one of America's oldest public services — but corruption has become the new normal. I'm not standing for it, and neither are my fellow Attorneys General," Jennings said in a statement.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal also confirmed his state would be "part of a multistate effort to stop political interference in an apolitical institution."
"We expect to file a lawsuit in the next few days -- one of several lawsuits that state attorneys general are bringing to safeguard our democracy," Grewal said in a statement. "Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable. We intend to keep it that way."
ABC News' Ben Gittleson, Mike Levine, Mariam Khan, Stephanie Wash, Allie Pecorin and Luke Barr contributed to this report.
This report was featured in the Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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