N.J. Republicans buck Trump on Postal Service funding as president, Murphy spar over vote-by-mail

Posted Aug 23, 2020

New Jersey’s two Republican House members bucked their party late Saturday and voted to increase Postal Service funding and roll back changes to Post Office operations blamed for delaying mail delivery, while President Donald Trump sparred with Gov. Phil Murphy over plans to send ballots out to millions of Garden State voters.

Reps. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist., and Chris Smith, R-4th Dist., were among only 26 House Republicans who voted in favor of the Post Office bill in a rare Saturday session.

The bill passed, 257-150, despite Trump’s threat to veto the measure.

“We must not shortchange the Postal Service, which has proven so critical to our economy, elections and democracy,” Smith said.

“I visited the hard-working women and men of the USPS this week, and it only galvanized my resolve to ensure they are not used as political pawns,” said Van Drew, who switched parties and is a big backer of Trump. “We must ensure that they have the resources to deliver during these times to help all Americans receive their mail, which could include medicines or necessary goods.”

The Senate will not vote on the bill, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.

The House, though, plans to keep the pressure on. The Oversight and Reform Committee is to hear from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Monday.

Trump has claimed that automatically mailing out ballots would lead to massive voter fraud, an assertion not supported by several studies.

His campaign, the Republican National Committee and the state GOP have gone to federal court to overturn Murphy’s plan to send an absentee ballot to every active voter in the state, about 5.8 million of the 6.2 million registered to vote.

“We’re promoting people embracing the absentee processes that have been put in place that are tried and true,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “And we’re suing states that are trying to change their process 90 days out from an election, which is adding chaos to an election where we should have certainty.”

The president renewed his attack on New Jersey’s expanded vote-by-mail on Saturday, calling it “disaster in the wings.” Murphy quickly responded that Trump’s tweet was “false.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had called the House back from its August recess Saturday to respond to DeJoy’s cuts in Postal Service operations while states geared up for a deluge in mail ballots.

DeJoy said earlier this week that he would leave postal operations alone until after the election, but did not commit to reconnecting sorting machines or rescinding other changes.

The House-passed measure allocated $25 billion to the Postal Service, required it to treat mail-in ballots as first-class mail, and rolled back service changes blamed for delivery delays.

McConnell said he wouldn’t bring up the bill, blaming Democrats for the deadlock on a larger coronavirus stimulus bill.

“The Senate will absolutely not pass stand-alone legislation for the Postal Service while American families continue to go without more relief,” McConnell said.

But the House passed legislation three months ago that included more Postal Service funding, as well as $1,200 payments to individuals, an extension of $600 in extra unemployment insurance payments, and aid to state and local governments. McConnell has refused to allow a Senate vote on the measure.

Lawmakers of both parties were outraged after DeJoy, a major Trump donor, cut overtime and disconnected sorting machines in an attempt to save money.

The actions delayed mail delivery, raising concerns that the Post Office would not be able to handle of mail-in ballots expected this fall as Americans shy away from in-person voting due to the pandemic.

The Postal Service told New Jersey it could not guarantee that all of the mail-in ballots would be delivered on time, and state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and his colleagues in other states sued the agency over the service reductions.

Separately, New Jersey lawmakers joined their colleagues across the country in holding events Tuesday to highlight the changes, which also were the subject of a series of protests this weekend in the state.

Smith decried efforts to remove almost half of the 26 machines at the Hamilton mail processing center, site of the 2001 anthrax attack.

“Efficient and powerful equipment such as delivery bar code sorters move 40,000 pieces of mail per hour,” Smith said. “To dismantle perfectly operating equipment delays the mail and hurts customers and commerce.”

A Postal Service report released by the oversight committee before Saturday’s vote found a recent drop in service standards for first class, priority mail and other classes of mail.

“What is happening now is one of the gravest crises of the tumultuous last four years,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist., who has asked Grewal to conduct a criminal investigation into whether the Trump administration is trying to subvert the general election by cutting Postal Service operations.

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