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USPS Suspends Changes, But What Does That Mean?

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy says he is suspending plans to reorganize his agency. This move comes after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Congress back from recess to vote on a bill to protect the Postal Service until the election. Here was her response yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: They felt the heat, and that's what we were trying to do is to make it too hot for them to handle.

GREENE: And yet she and other Democrats are still not entirely satisfied. Let's talk about what's going on here with NPR's Miles Parks, who's been covering this. Hi, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: Well, so let's pick through exactly what the postmaster general announced here, that he's not making operational changes until after the November election. Is that right?

PARKS: Right. He says his plans for a transformation of the Postal Service are going on hold until after the election. Remember, he had promised this organizational realignment just a few weeks ago as an effort to save money. But those changes, although they were never publicly detailed, in practice, led to mail delays, frustration from postal workers' unions and fears about the election in a year where the majority of ballots are probably going to be delivered via the mail. The political backlash was loud and swift, as Pelosi alluded to there, and he was forced to change course, saying in a statement yesterday that, quote, "to avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded."

GREENE: Well, as for those fears about the election, I mean, many people were very blunt in saying they feared that President Trump was trying to meddle in the election. So this move seems to be what Democrats were demanding. Why aren't they fully satisfied?

PARKS: So it's a step in that direction, but there's still no word on if DeJoy is going to reverse the changes that have already been made. The removal of sorting machines, for instance, has been a high-profile issue. The Washington Post reported that the plan was to decommission 10% of these machines, and we know that some of them had already begun to be removed. DeJoy now says that no more machines will be removed, but his statement made no mention of the machines that were already removed and whether they'll be returned. I talked to Alex Padilla, who is the secretary of state of California and a Democrat, after the statement was released by DeJoy yesterday.

ALEX PADILLA: They still have a lot of questions to answer and, frankly, information to share. Whatever these notices or changes in directives were, the public deserves to see them because the public deserves to have confidence that when they're mailing their ballots in, their ballots will be delivered on a timely basis.

PARKS: So lawmakers will have a lot of questions for DeJoy this week, when he's set to testify before a Senate committee on Friday and then a House committee again on Monday.

GREENE: You know, we've been hearing a lot of Democrats and their voices criticizing all of this. It's important to note Republicans have been really worried about all this as well.

PARKS: Right. Republican Senator Susan Collins, who had called on DeJoy to rescind the changes, said on Twitter that she was happy about this statement, but she also now says Congress needs to pass funding for the Postal Service, which is heading towards financial ruin if Congress does not swoop in in the next few months. Even President Trump tweeted save the post office this week after, you know, openly questioning whether he would support funding just a week ago. So it seems like there's some agreement, some bipartisan agreement that money is needed. The question now is how much. Democrats, even Republicans like Collins, say $25 billion is the number, but Republicans in the Senate like Senator Ron Johnson may question whether that much money is actually needed.

GREENE: And so DeJoy, you mentioned, is going to be testifying in both chambers. The Senate is first, right? On Friday, what do we expect there?

PARKS: Right. So what we're going to be watching for is, one, whether the Republicans - we have to remember that DeJoy is a major Republican donor - considering many of these Republicans represent rural constituencies, who stand to potentially be hurt by mail delays - how hard Republicans press him. The other thing that election officials are going to be watching for is more concrete details on his plans around the election. A lot of Democrats, as you mentioned earlier, have accused him of sabotaging the mail in an effort to affect mail voting. Election officials are worried about that. It'll be interesting to see how far DeJoy goes to kind of assuage those concerns.

GREENE: NPR's Miles Parks for us this morning. Thanks, Miles.

PARKS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.