What to Know in Washington: House to Return to Address USPS

Members of the House will return to Washington this week, earlier than scheduled, to work on urgent legislation aimed at shoring up the U.S. Postal Service ahead of November’s elections.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the move in a “Dear Colleague” letter last night. Ahead of lawmakers’ return, Pelosi called on Democrats to appear at post offices in their districts on Tuesday in a show of support.

“In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is Election Central. Americans should not have to choose between their health and their vote,” Pelosi said. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has enacted “sweeping new operational changes that degrade postal service,” she said.

Alarm bells went off in recent days after the Postal Service warned 46 states last week that it may not be able to deliver their ballots on time for the November election. President Donald Trump has said repeatedly, without evidence, that voting by mail is subject to widespread fraud.

A vote on the measure described by Pelosi, the “Delivering for America Act,” is likely to take place on Saturday, said a senior Democratic aide. The bill “prohibits the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on January 1, 2020,” Pelosi said in the letter.

The move comes amid a nationwide uproar over funding cuts and operational changes to the Postal Service that Democrats say threaten to impede voting in November’s election and also slowing down critical mail services across the country.

Democrats are also pressing for the Senate to return early from a recess scheduled to last into September, while state officials — who actually run the elections — are looking to take action of their own.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who leads the House Oversight and Reform Committee, earlier invited DeJoy to testify at an “urgent” hearing on Aug. 24 about the changes he’s made to postal services, months before what’s expected to be a surge in voting by mail. DeJoy, a Republican donor named to lead the Postal Service in May, also faces an Aug. 21 deadline to produce a variety of documents and information relating to reforms he’s ordered. Read more from Steven T. Dennis, Billy House and Erik Wasson.

Photographer: Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg
Pelosi at the Capitol on Aug. 13.

What’s in the Bill: The legislation, introduced by Maloney on Aug. 11, would bar the U.S. Postal Service from making certain changes to its operations during the Covid-19 crisis. The service would specifically be barred from:

  • Revising service standards.
  • Closing post offices or reducing hours.
  • Barring overtime pay.
  • Making other changes that would delay mail or increase the volume of undelivered mail.

Postal Service leaders have announced several changes to mail delivery operations and the agency’s structure since DeJoy took office. A July memo instructed postal workers to leave some mail behind at distribution centers and it limited their overtime work, potentially delaying deliveries, according to a news release from Maloney. The memo said the Postal Service incurs $200 million in added expenses from making late and extra delivery trips.

A separate memo unveiled in August announced that 23 Postal Service executives would be displaced or reassigned, according to Maloney’s news release. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, said the proposed reshuffling was “deliberate sabotage to disrupt mail service on the eve of the election.” DeJoy said he wanted to “realign the organization to provide greater focus on the core aspects of our business and to give us a better chance for future success.”

For more on the measure, read the BGOV Bill Summary by Michael Smallberg.

Political Maneuvering: The pitched battle over the Postal Service has broken as both parties prepare for their high-profile political conventions.

Democrats accuse Trump of sabotaging the agency to cripple vote-by-mail efforts. Meanwhile, Trump, who’s trailing challenger Joe Biden in polls, has claimed that widespread remote voting routinely leads to massive fraud, putting Republicans in a tough spot, given the popularity of the Postal Service.

The issue is certain to be a major theme for Democrats as they kick off their party convention today — nominally in Milwaukee, Wis., but in reality will play out virtually in living rooms across the country. Prominent Democrats have raised concerns around voter suppression. Read more from Ben Bain.

Stimulus Stalemate Leaves Economy Limping: Meanwhile, chances for a deal in Congress on a new, comprehensive stimulus package before September diminish with each passing day, leaving the U.S. economy limping and many businesses and millions of consumers coming up short. Democrats and Republicans are focused on their conventions. Pelosi headed to California after rebuffing an overture from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to restart talks on a virus relief package without concessions.

Some Democrats have been pushing Pelosi to vote on boosting funding for the USPS, and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is continuing to press for a small-scale rescue package that would include stimulus checks for individuals and aid for small businesses. He said the GOP would back $10 billion in funding for the Postal Service that Democrats have been seeking. “We will pass it tomorrow,” Meadows said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “The president will sign it. And this will all go away.”

However, Pelosi announced no other plans for votes, and she has repeatedly rejected any piecemeal deal on stimulus. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referred to the his previous statement that senators will get 24 hours’ notice if they need to return to Washington. Erik Wasson, Reade Pickert and Billy House have the latest.

What to Watch Today

Congress: The House meets tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. for a pro forma session. Pelosi said in her dear colleague letter last night that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) “will soon be announcing the legislative schedule for the coming week.”

The Senate meets tomorrow at noon for a pro forma session.

White House: Trump heads to Mankato, Minn., and Oshkosh, Wis., this afternoon for events.

Democratic National Convention: The Democratic National Convention, which begins today and ends Thursday with Joe Biden accepting the nomination for president, will be almost entirely virtual, with speakers delivering addresses from around the U.S. that will be streamed on the internet and broadcast by network and cable news outlets.

Today’s theme is “We the People,” and will feature former first lady Michelle Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as well as other party leaders. Emma Kinery takes a look at the main events, starting at 9 p.m. Washington time, and where to see them.

Elections: Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming hold primary elections tomorrow.

More Elections & Politics

Biden’s 2009 Lessons For Now: When Joe Biden entered the White House as vice president in 2009, the country was in economic turmoil caused by a global financial meltdown. The new president, Barack Obama, gave Biden a leading role in the economic recovery — and Biden’s approach then shows a former senator struggling to find middle-ground solutions that might anger people, but not alienate them.

Biden was willing to risk the wrath of Wall Street with his support for the Volcker Rule and other banking regulations, but didn’t embrace punitive demands from the left to break up big financial institutions. He fought to save third-ranked Chrysler when others on Obama’s team thought the carmaker should go under, because he feared the economic carnage of those lost jobs. He also focused on reviving manufacturers, clean energy and infrastructure, and on monitoring how the states were spending stimulus dollars. If he’s elected in November, Biden would once again step into the White House with the nation in economic crisis. Read more from Jeffrey Taylor, Mike Dorning and Jennifer Epstein.

Biden Maintains Solid Lead Over Trump: Biden maintained a solid lead over Trump ahead of the convention, according to polls that at least partly reflected his choice of Harris as running mate. Biden was up by 9 percentage points according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday, and by 10 points in a CBS News poll of likely voters nationwide. The RealClearPolitics average of general election polls, which includes the latest surveys, shows Biden leading by 7.9 points.

In 11 combined battleground states polled by NBC/WSJ — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — Biden was up by 7 points, 49% to 42%. Read more from Ros Krasny.

Abrams, Rising Stars to Keynote Democratic Meeting: Seventeen rising Democratic stars will together give the keynote address at the party’s convention tomorrow, the Democratic National Convention Committee said yesterday. The keynote spot is generally given to one emerging leader in the party — Barack Obama famously had the slot in 2004, when he was a U.S. Senate candidate from Illinois — but with the virtual convention proceedings limited to two hours each day, officials decided to showcase more people. The 17 Democrats will jointly give a single speech on Tuesday night’s theme, “Leadership Matters.”

Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House of Representatives minority leader and gubernatorial candidate, is perhaps the best known politician in the group. At 46, she’s also the oldest. There are also three Democrats from tightly contested House districts: Reps. Colin Allred (Texas), Brendan Boyle (Pa.) and Conor Lamb (Pa.). Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Harris Eligibility Is ‘Case Closed’: Trump’s re-election campaign officials backed away from questioning Harris’ eligibility for national office, describing the issue as a non-starter and “case closed.” The president raised the matter twice last week in news conferences and offered praise for conservative law professor John Eastman, who’s suggested there were questions about Harris because her parents weren’t U.S. citizens when she was born in Oakland, Calif.

Trump said Saturday that the theory by a “brilliant lawyer” was “not something that I’m going to be pursuing,” though he stopped short of debunking it. “I have nothing to do with that. I read something about it,” Trump said during a press conference at his Bedminster, N.J., golf club. “I don’t know about it. I read one quick article.”

“What he’s saying is that we have not made an issue of this and we will not make and issue of this,” Steve Cortes, a Trump campaign adviser, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “It’s a non-starter from our point of view, for the president and for the campaign.” Read more from Tony Czuczka and Ben Bain.

Vazquez Loses Primary Race to Pierluisi: Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vazquez lost her chance at re-election yesterday after Pedro Pierluisi, the island’s former nonvoting member of the House of Representatives, edged her out in a historic gubernatorial primary race. With 75.6% of voting stations reporting, Pierluisi had won about 57.9% of the votes versus Vazquez’s 42.1%, clinching the nomination for the ruling New Progressive Party, or PNP. Pierluisi claimed victory after Vazquez recognized his lead and said she respected the will of voters. Read more from Jim Wyss.

The Coronavirus Pandemic

Covid Fears Laid Bare by Special Census Survey: In a pandemic that’s upended every aspect of American life, a special project by the Census Bureau has set out to map and measure all the anxieties that Covid-19 has brought in its wake. From job losses to the strains of home-schooling and the spread of hunger and depression, the weekly Household Pulse is a series of snapshots of the country’s physical, mental and financial wellbeing since late April.

The survey was supposed to wrap up in late July. But its insights have proved so “timely and relevant” that the Office of Management and Budget has approved an extension through the end of October. Research teams are out in the field again, and set to report back with their latest findings in the coming days. Alex Tanzi has some key takeaways from the first three months of the historic project.

Covid Flight From Transit Forces Shift: Public transportation leaders are rethinking how to serve riders who depend on them, as they adjust to the possibility that many commuters who abandoned mass transit during the Covid-19 pandemic will never return. Half the nation’s remote workers prefer to work from home permanently even if offices reopen, a May Gallup poll found.

With commuters stepping away after sustaining downtown-to-suburbs rail networks for decades, those who can’t work at home and have few or no transportation alternatives more likely are low-income or people of color. Roughly half of transit riders nationwide before the pandemic weren’t White, and about 60% earned less than $50,000 a year, according to the Census Bureau. Some 35% don’t have access to a car. Read more from Courtney Rozen.

White House Denies Report Birx Replaced: The Trump administration denied a report that Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force, had been replaced after criticism both from the president and Pelosi. CNN reported in a tweet that Scott Atlas, previously a neuroradiologist at Stanford University, would now be advising Trump on the virus outbreak. CNN cited a person close to the coronavirus task force who wasn’t identified. “This is not true,” the White House said in a statement Friday evening. “Yes Dr. Birx has been traveling but any suggestion that Dr. Atlas has somehow replaced her in the Oval or is blocking her from the Oval is absolutely not true.” Read more from Justin Sink and Ben Livesey.

Saliva Test Partly Funded by NBA Gets FDA Authorization: A Covid-19 test that processes saliva samples and doesn’t require special swabs or collection devices received emergency-use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday. Research for the test was done by Yale University’s School of Public Health and was partly funded by the National Basketball Association and the union representing NBA players. Read more from Yueqi Yang.

Around the Administration

Trump May Ask for Resignation of Cabinet if Re-Elected: Trump said Saturday he may ask for the resignation of every member of his cabinet if he’s re-elected — and added that he’s not pleased with all of them, Jennifer Jacobs reports. “I could see something like that happening,” Trump said in response to a question from a reporter at Bedminster. “I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with everybody, frankly.” The president didn’t specify which cabinet members he’s unhappy with.

White House Expected to Withdraw Pendley Nomination: William Perry Pendley’s nomination for Bureau of Land Management director is expected to be withdrawn by the White House when the Senate returns from recess in September, a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee staffer said Saturday. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) tweeted Saturday: “Let’s be clear. The White House is pulling down the Pendley nomination because Americans don’t want a zealot in charge of their public lands.” The move came just days after all Senate Democrats wrote the White House in opposition to Pendley’s nomination, Bobby Magill reports.

Fed Close to Making Inflation Strategy Official: The Federal Reserve will soon reveal a subtle yet profound shift in how it conducts monetary policy for the world’s largest economy, officially embracing a more relaxed view on inflation. In addition to helping rescue the U.S. economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Fed Chair Jerome Powell and colleagues also spent 2020 finishing up the central bank’s first-ever review of how it pursues the goals of maximum employment and price stability set for it by Congress. It’s a process that began in early 2019 and included a nationwide listening tour. Now they’re close to presenting the results — perhaps as soon as September. Read more from Christopher Condon and Vivien Lou Chen.

Trump Isn’t Seeking Putin Meeting: Trump doesn’t plan to meet Vladimir Putin in the U.S. before November’s election, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said, playing down a report that Trump is looking to organize a face-to-face summit with Russia’s president. “We’re not having a summit with Vladimir Putin before the election,” O’Brien said on NBC’s “Meet the Press’ yesterday, Tony Czuczka reports.

NLRB Lawyer Denies Direct Role in Reorganization: The federal labor board’s top lawyer, General Counsel Peter Robb, told Democrats that agency officials have proposed restructuring certain case-handling and supervisory functions for seven Western regional offices, but rejected the lawmakers’ claim that he was directly responsible for the plan. Read more from Robert Iafolla.

Companies Fight Against Trump’s Census Rule: Uber, Ben & Jerry’s and 13 other companies are seeking to join a court fight against Trump’s order barring undocumented immigrants from being counted in the 2020 Census. In a court filing, the companies say they have a strong interest in joining the case because they rely on accurate census data to “make a variety of decisions, including where to put new brick-and-mortar locations, how to market their products, and how to predict which products will be successful in a given market.” Read more from Robert Burnson.

Iowa to Seek Federal Disaster Aid: Iowa is expected to request federal disaster aid after a powerful storm swept through parts of the state last week, flattening crops, downing trees and knocking out power in some areas for days. “President Trump and Governor Reynolds talked this week to discuss the storm and the president committed to support the state and the people of Iowa,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said yesterday. Read more from Jennifer Jacobs.

Defense & Foreign Affairs

Trump Orders TikTok’s Chinese Parent to Sell Its U.S. Assets: Trump on Friday ordered the Chinese owner of the popular music video app TikTok to sell its U.S. assets, citing national security grounds and delivering the latest salvo in his standoff with Beijing. Trump’s decision came after an investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, which reviews proposed acquisitions of American businesses by overseas investors for national security concerns. Read more from Sara Forden and Ben Brody.

U.S. Bid to Extend Iran Arms Ban Defeated: A U.S. effort to extend an expiring arms embargo on Iran was soundly rejected at the United Nations Security Council on Friday evening, setting the stage for a diplomatic crisis pitting the Trump administration against both allies and adversaries. Only the Dominican Republican joined the U.S. in voting for the resolution, with Russia and China against. Eleven other countries abstained. Read more from David Wainer.

Strikes Begin in Belarus: Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya said she’s ready to be interim president in place of incumbent Alexander Lukashenko as national strikes were starting a day after the country’s biggest opposition protest. “I am ready to take responsibility and act in this period as national leader” until new presidential elections are held, Tikhanovskaya said in a video address published today, in which she called for unity. “Genuine, honest, and transparent elections that will unquestionably be recognized by the international community.” Read more from Aliaksandr Kudrytski.

  • The election in Belarus wasn’t free and fair, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in Warsaw on Saturday, without clarifying the U.S. stance on potential sanctions on Minsk. The European Union Friday signaled it’s ready to impose sanctions on Belarus over the regime’s violent crackdown of protesters after last Sunday’s vote, which the bloc said was fraudulent. The bloc will start drawing up a list of officials linked to Lukashenko who could be sanctioned. Read more from Marek Strzelecki and Adrian Krajewski.

Turkey in a Stir Over Biden Remarks: An old video of Biden calling for the removal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has set off a furor in Turkey while earning Trump a shout-out. In a Dec. 16 meeting with New York Times editors, Biden called Erdogan an “autocrat” and advocated that the U.S. “embolden” his opponents to defeat him at the ballot box. “No one can attack the will of the nation and the democracy, and question the legitimacy of Turkey’s president,” Erdogan’s communications director, Fahrettin Altun, fumed on Twitter. “We believe that the current U.S. administration would find these undiplomatic remarks unseemly of a presidential candidate of our NATO ally.” Read more from Tugce Ozsoy.

U.S. Formalizes F-16 Jet Sale to Taiwan: Taiwan formally signed an agreement to buy 66 of the latest model F-16 jets built by Lockheed Martin. Taiwan’s purchase of the F-16s marks the first sale of advanced fighter jets to the island since President George H.W. Bush announced approval for 150 F-16s in 1992. The move is likely to be denounced by Beijing. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

U.S. to Add 1,000 Troops in Poland: Poland and the U.S. signed an expanded defense cooperation agreement that will result in 1,000 additional U.S. personnel being sent to the Eastern European country on a rotational basis. The deal, agreed earlier this month, and signed Saturday in Warsaw by Pompeo and Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, follows the U.S. decision to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany and plans to redeploy almost half of that number to other nations in Europe. Read more from Marek Strzelecki and Adrian Krajewski.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com