Postmaster General Finds Postal Service Sabotage is Harder than Promised

Newsletter 48: He would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling lawmakers!

Even when compared to this year of month-long weeks, the past seven days have been a doozy. From the Vice Presidential announcement to the Democratic National Convention and the rapidly accelerating collapse of the Postal Service, it’s been hard to keep up. Enjoy our attempt to make sense of it all!

Congressional Oversight:

Over the past few months, the news out of USPS has been nothing but worrying. We were quoted in Politico as deeply alarmed in March! But aside from some angry tweets, no one in power really seemed to be doing anything about it. That finally changed over the weekend as the onslaught of increasingly alarming developments was followed by overwhelming pressure for action from the grassroots. 

Early this month, we learned that newly-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy had carried out a major organizational shakeup, moving 23 experienced officials into new roles in what looked like a bid for greater control. Then, it came to light that many mail-sorting machines across the country were being decommissioned, putting USPS’ ability to sort flat mail rapidly (like, I don’t know, millions of mail-in ballots) at risk. Soon reports were coming in that mail collection boxes were being removed. And before long, it emerged that USPS had warned 46 states that operational problems could lead to significant delays that disenfranchise many who choose to vote-by-mail this fall. Finally, add to all of this Trump’s alarming assertion that, thanks to mail-in voting, we may not know the presidential election result for “months” or even “years.” 

As the weight of these stories piled up, we at Revolving Door Project began to wonder, will House Democrats do anything other than tweet? And then, they did! 

Thanks to the efforts of thousands (if not millions) who were angered to see the Postal Service and, perhaps, our democratic system crumble before their very eyes and were determined to do something about it, Democrats sprang into action. Suddenly, members across the caucus’ ideological spectrum were calling for the sort of aggressive oversight measures we’ve been clamoring for but that Democratic leadership had made clear were out of the question since the 116th Congress’ start. In a remarkable rebellion against Speaker Pelosi’s line, members demanded that the recess be cancelled, that a hearing with the Postmaster General be called right away, and that the Sergeant-at-Arms be deployed should DeJoy refuse to appear. 

Before long, Pelosi who, until the weekend, seemed perfectly content to limit the House majority’s response to a sternly-worded letter, had listened. She agreed to gavel the House back into session, greenlighted a hearing with DeJoy for next week, and assented to a vote on Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s postal funding bill. Still, members of her caucus continue to keep the pressure on with calls for even more aggressive moves, like a criminal investigation into DeJoy’s conduct. 

That seems to be encouraging other lawmakers to take their oversight task seriously too. In preparation for DeJoy’s testimony next Monday, the House Progressive Caucus will hear from former USPS board member and inspector general David Williams, who many have argued will be a key source in making sense of the current mess. 

Most importantly, however, this new aggressive posture quickly won major concessions from DeJoy. On Tuesday, DeJoy agreed to suspend operational changes to avoid any appearance of election interference.

These are consequential wins that underline the power of the sorts of oversight tactics and targets that Nancy Pelosi has scorned over the past year and a half. Credible threats to use all tools in the House’s toolbox yield results. That is especially true when members are targeting issues that have a direct impact in people’s everyday lives. Spotlighting these sorts of kitchen-table issues is exactly the strategy we encouraged on impeachment. House Democrats’ success here sadly underlines the degree to which their chosen approach was a missed opportunity. 

While they can’t go back in time to rectify their mistakes, they can learn from them. As the project’s Eleanor Eagan and Jeff Hauser wrote in the Daily Beast today, it’s critical that they keep the pressure on. House Democrats must ensure that DeJoy makes good on his promise and reverses any harmful changes that have already been carried out (a commitment they have not yet secured). They have a long list of suggestions for how lawmakers can continue to apply the heat. 

And, of course, we think that Democrats should take this new oversight energy to other targets as well. After failing to hold Trump to account for abandoning Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, we hope that House Democrats are at least as attentive as Ashton Kutcher to Trump’s failed response to the devastation in Iowa following a powerful derecho storm last week. After dragging his feet, Trump approved a disaster declaration that fails to provide aid for homeowners or farmers. Democratic lawmakers should draw attention to this callous abandonment and apply pressure for an improved response. 

Government Capacity:

The Trump administration’s attacks on the Postal Service over the last several months have been extraordinary. But, they are not that far out of step with a well-established pattern on the right in which lawmakers defund necessary institutions and then decry their dysfunction. The Internal Revenue Service comes to mind. Its degradation also represents a crisis for our democracy, if a less acute one in this moment. 

2020 (and potentially 2021):

Any space this week not allocated to the Postal Service crisis seemingly went to stories about Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris for the Vice Presidency. That’s understandable, there’s a lot to say about the historical significance of this moment, her record, and what her selection means for many. One notable subgenre has appeared in this voluminous body of work: corporate industries that are reassured to see Harris on the ticket. Many executives, from Big Tech to Wall Street, reportedly breathed a sigh of relief when her name was announced. 

But, as David Dayen wrote for the American Prospect last week, Harris need not fulfill their expectations. Her record on tech regulation and big bank prosecutions is what it is, there’s no changing that. As Vice President, however, she can chart a different course. Arguably the best way to do that is to fight hard for appointees who are committed to the public interest, rather than her corporate superfans. 

When it comes to tech-relevant appointments, it’s not just domestic policy-focused positions that matter, as the project’s Miranda Litwak and Timi Iwayemi outlined in the American Prospect yesterday. If they are committed to curbing tech’s increasingly awesome power, a Biden-Harris administration will need to appoint public-minded figures with the resolve to take on tech in trade-relevant positions. 

Litwak and Iwayemi also cover a number of other foreign policy personnel priorities in their piece. In addition to being adequately attuned to the tech industry’s power, trade officials should be committed to advancing labor rights and taking on other predatory industries, like pharma. Defense Department appointees will need to be willing to reject the famously cozy relationship between the department and defense contractors. And practically every foreign policy official that the Biden-Harris administration elevates will need to center climate change in everything that they do, because the climate crisis cannot be solved through domestic action alone. 

Some have bristled at progressives’ imposition of litmus tests, but there’s a lot of evidence that these lines in the sand represent good politics as well as good policy. Biden’s failure to take this to heart when it comes to agricultural and anti-monopoly policy is likely to cost him votes, as David Dayen laid out last week. When it comes to anti-monopoly concerns, Biden’s policy platform on agricultural policy is less ambitious than the Obama-Biden platform in 2008. Perhaps more importantly, Biden is being advised by former Secretary of Agriculture-turned-dairy lobbyist Tom Vilsack, who is in no small part responsible for that ambitious platform not seeing the light of day. In the view of many advocates, Biden’s decision to return to “the same old corporate-ag well” is going to make winning back rural America that much harder. 

And it’s not just farmers who bristle when corporate insiders are given top roles to set policy. Data for Progress polling shows that a majority of voters think it’s a problem when officials “oversee an industry they previously lobbied for,” or “an industry that they plan to be an executive in after leaving government” (among other configurations). In short, they don’t like the revolving door. The Biden-Harris ticket should take note. 

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last week:

The Way to Enact a Progressive Foreign-Policy Agenda? Personnel.

Nancy Pelosi Needs to Do More to Save the Postal Service—and the Election

Is Kamala Harris a win for Silicon Valley?

Why Silicon Valley will breathe a sigh of relief if Kamala Harris enters the White House

Farmers Reject Biden’s Pro-Corporate Rural Advisers