The Situation With USPS Mailboxes and Sorting Machines, Explained
- Major changes at the U.S. Postal Service have increased concerns about both the future of the agency and its ability to collect mail-in ballots in time for the November election.
- Those changes have included the removal of several drop boxes and sorting machines; however, after much scrutiny this weekend, the USPS said it would stop removing mail boxes until after the election.
- Similarly, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has said that “no sorting machines” will be “going offline between now and the election.” It is unclear if his comment was an attempt to deny reports of sorting machines that are already said to have been removed.
- On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that she was calling the House back to Washington D.C. to vote on a bill that would reverse the post office’s recent overhauls.
Sorting Machines and Mail Boxes Removed
The United States Postal Service has become a point of political focus in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. Over the last few days, concerns around the USPS have spiked even more following reports that the agency was removing mail-sorting machines and mailboxes from rotation.
According to multiple outlets, a plan outlined by Postmaster Louis DeJoy last month included decommissioning 10% of the postal service’s costly mail sorting machines. In raw numbers, that means decommissioning 671 of those machines, which are scattered across the country.
Widespread reporting of this plan surfaced on Thursday, following an interview with President Donald Trump on Fox News. In that interview, Trump said that he wants to deny funding to the USPS ahead of the elections so that the postal system won’t be able to handle an influx of mail-in ballots in November.
Notably, that’s been viewed by many as a blatant attempt to suppress mail-in voting, something that Trump has repeatedly claimed will lead to widespread fraud — even though there is no hard evidence to back up this claim.
Even before these reports, there were already fears that mail-in ballots could arrive at election offices late. For years, the USPS has been stressed. It’s understaffed. It’s not funded by tax dollars. It’s losing money.
As part of a massive overhaul of the agency, DeJoy also instructed it to cut overtime and to send out mail trucks on time even if all the mail for that run hasn’t been sorted yet.
Recently, the postal service warned 46 states and Washington D.C that it can’t guarantee all mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted. If that happens, under the current system of most states, those ballots would be invalid — even if a person mailed their ballot on time.
Thus, many fear the removal of sorting machines could slow down and jeopardize that process even more.
But it’s not just sorting machines. Other reports from people online and even government officials appear to show photos of the postal service’s iconic blue mailboxes either being taken away or locked up.
Alongside both developments, there have been widespread reports of major delays in mail being delivered.
Why Are These Machines Being Removed?
When reports of these units being removed first surfaced, the public did not seem to have a concrete answer as to why this was happening. Reportedly, the USPS had not announced any new policy to local union officials. The agency also didn’t explain its reasoning or say what was going to happen to those machines and mailboxes.
Additionally, it was only learned that DeJoy planned to decommission 671 sorting machines after multiple outlets — such as The Washington Post, NBC, and CNN — obtained internal documents reportedly stating such.
The fact that sorting machines are being either removed, replaced, or modified is nothing new. That much happens all of the time; however, recent removals appear to be much more widespread than normal practices.
“Look at it this way,” one USPS employee at a Buffalo, New York, distribution center — which was set to lose six of its 21 machines — told VICE. “Your local grocery store was forced to cut 1/3 of its cash-out lines, but management expected the same productivity, quality, and speed for the customer. It’s just never going to happen.”
Still, traditional mail has been declining for years, and many distribution centers are now finding themselves having to sort through less mail than ever before. Because of that, it’s possible the USPS might not need as many of those machines or mailboxes. In fact, once the USPS publicly responded on the matter, that soon became their explanation.
“The Postal Service routinely moves equipment around its network as necessary to match changing mail and package volumes,” a USPS spokesperson said. “Package volume is up, but mail volume continues to decline. Adapting our processing infrastructure to the current volumes will ensure more efficient, cost effective operations, and better service for our customers.”
Alongside that, on Friday, a USPS official told KSHB in Kansas City that several mail-processing machines in the area had been removed earlier in the summer “for efficiency and lower mail volume” related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a similar statement regarding mailboxes, a spokesperson explained that units are removed if they “consistently receive very small amounts of mail for months on end,” saying that having carriers drive to such locations drives up costs.
Regarding why other mailboxes have been spotted with locks, it appears that this could be a semi-routine way to stop after-hours theft, though it’s still unclear if this is actually the case. It’s also unclear if the practice has become more widespread recently or if this is mainly a case of people now noticing a routine occurrence.
USPS confirmed Friday that it will stop removing mailboxes until after the election.
Still, it does appear that changes to mailboxes and sorting machines may be — along with other changes — what has caused recent slowdowns and delays in mail delivery.
In a letter to employees, DeJoy reportedly said that the changes are simply “unintended consequences” and that his plan for the agency “will increase our performance for the election and upcoming peak season and maintain the high level of public trust we have earned for dedication and commitment to our customers throughout our history.”
Democrats, Celebs, and Others Criticize Recent Changes with USPS
A lot of people haven’t bought that explanation. Instead, they’ve argued that these changes are likely to hurt mail-in voting.
“We are 80 days out until the next election,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said. “I don’t think there’s any question that this is all related to the upcoming election. People in our community right now ought to begin writing letters and screaming and saying this is a misplaced political move.”
On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-Ny.) issued a scathing statement that accused Trump of manipulating “the operations of the Post Office to deny eligible voters the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election.”
“The President’s own words confirm: he needs to cheat to win,” the joint statement says.
The idea of Trump needing to “cheat to win” is one that has grown increasingly popular over the last few weeks, with many accusing the president of suppressing mail-in voting efforts in an attempt to win the election. Though statistics do not show any partisan lean, Trump has repeatedly claimed that widespread mail-in voting will secure the White House for Democrats.
“Trump’s calculated dismantling of USPS proves one thing clearly: He is WELL AWARE that we do not want him as our president,” singer Taylor Swift said Saturday. “He’s chosen to blatantly cheat and put millions of Americans’ lives at risk in an effort to hold on to power.”
“Donald Trump’s ineffective leadership gravely worsened the crisis that we are in and he is now taking advantage of it to subvert and destroy our right to vote and vote safely,” she added. “Request a ballot early. Vote early.”
Alongside big-name responses, many protested this weekend outside of DeJoy’s house in D.C., as well as outside of his North Carolina mansion. Many held signs reading, “Deliver de Mail, Depose DeJoy.”
Will Trump Approve USPS Funding?
In response to the criticism against him, over the weekend, Trump responded by working to redirect the blame back to Democrats.
On Friday, Trump backpedalled on his previous statement that he’d block billions of dollars of funding from going to the USPS as part of the next coronavirus relief package. Instead, he said he would approve that funding, but only if Democrats give Republicans what they want.
On Saturday, Trump then continued his attack on the USPS by calling the agency a catastrophe, defending DeJoy, and saying, “Obviously, if you’re going to do these millions of ballots out of nowhere, he’s going to obviously need funding. But the Democrats aren’t willing to provide other things, and therefore, they’re not going to get the funding for that.”
States Work to Accommodate Mail-in Voting
Even with a stalemate between Trump and Congress, many states have been busy making moves to accommodate for ballots that could reach election officials after November 3rd.
On Thursday, Pennsylvania election officials asked the state’s Supreme Court for permission to count ballots arriving up to three days after election day.
On Sunday, New Jersey governor Phil Murphy told Fox News that his administration is working to ensure that votes are counted accurately in November. His plan would include expanding access to secure mails sites, as well as expansions to other precautions that aim to deliver mail-in ballots on time. Also included within that would be a measure to extend the deadline in which mail-in votes could be received, as long as they are postmarked by election day.
It’s also likely that a coalition of states’ will take action regarding concerns surrounding the USPS. Reportedly, the attorneys general for states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Washington, and North Carolina are expected to launch a lawsuit against the Trump Administration later this week.
In other states, however, those rules might not actually be able to be changed. Last month, the Michigan appeals court denied a request that would have allowed mail-in ballots to be counted even after polls close on election day. The state’s Supreme Court later refused to hear that case when the decision was appealed again.
Pelosi Calls House Back Early
On a federal level, Sunday, Pelosi announced she was calling the House of Representatives back from its August recess early to address concerns that the USPS is being used to undermine the November elections.
While up to this point, the debate in Congress has been centered around funding, the House is now expected to vote on a bill that wouldn’t center around that, but rather, organizational issues at the USPS.
In her announcement, Pelosi said that bill would prohibit “the Postal Service from implementing any changes to operations or level of service it had in place on January 1, 2020.”
If there was any room for debate over whether or not Pelosi was specifically targeting DeJoy’s recently outlined overhaul, she didn’t leave that question open-ended. In fact, she even called him a “complicit crony” of Trump in that announcement.
Pelosi also said that DeJoy has pushed “sweeping new operational changes that degrade postal service, delay the mail, and… threaten to deny the ability of eligible Americans to cast their votes through the mail in the upcoming elections in a timely fashion.”
Mark Meadows Interview
Also on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Jake Tapper that USPS sorting machines won’t be taken offline between now and Election Day.
However, Meadow’s response in that interview was delivered in such a roundabout way that multiple news outlets have all reported the information differently. In fact, even Tapper didn’t seem to fully understand what Meadows meant.
“There’s no sorting machines that are going offline between now and the election,” Meadows said. “That’s something that my Democrat friends are trying to do to stoke fear out there. That’s not happening.”
“Are you saying that sorting machines have not been taken offline and removed?” Tapper asked in response. “Are you asserting that? That that did not happen?”
“I’m saying that sorting machines between now and the election will not be taken offline,” Meadows said. “Listen, I had postal under my committee—”
“They’re the ones that have been taken offline in the last couple of months?” Tapper repeated.
Over the course of the next few minutes, Tapper continued to ask Meadows to clarify his statement.
“That’s not this postmaster general that did that,” Meadows eventually said. “That was the previous postmaster general under Obama.”
“I get that,” Tapper said. “Why were these sorting machines taken offline? Why were they taken offline and why is the postmaster general imposing these new rules?”
“Get your producer to share where exactly those sorting machines were taken offline,” Meadows said. “Let him whisper in your ear, because what I’m telling you is you’re picking up on a narrative that’s not based on facts.”
Since this interview, many have wondered if Meadows was denying that sorting machines have recently been decommissioned or if he was talking about from that moment specifically until election day. Others wonder if he was trying to blame former President Obama for DeJoy’s new policy.
According to reports, postal workers have said that the USPS started removing those machines back in June. That’s the same month DeJoy was appointed postmaster general.
It’s also been reported that the postal service inspector general is reviewing DeJoy’s policy changes and potential ethics conflicts.
DeJoy is slated to appear before the House Oversight Committee on September 17, although there have been concerns that this could come too late and would be ineffective at forcing him to reverse the changes.
Because of that, on Sunday, the Oversight Committee announced that it plans to hold an emergency hearing on mail-in voting next week. It’s now invited DeJoy to testify early.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (The New York Times)
Debt Limit Bill Passes the House — Here’s What You Need to Know
The salient features of the package include changes to food stamp eligibility, an end to the pause on student loan repayments, and a controversial pipeline, among other measures.
Congress Passes Debt Deal
With the clock ticking, the House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a package to raise the debt ceiling after weeks of negotiations.
At the very top level, the deal suspends the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit until Jan. 2025 in exchange for a range of spending cuts and caps. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the bill would cut federal spending by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
One of the most talked about parts of the legislation is the measure that would end the multi-year freeze on student loan repayments and require borrowers to resume paying again in September.
The move will have a huge impact: 45 million Americans have student loans, totaling $1.6 trillion, making this the single biggest consumer debt Americans owe after mortgages.
Requiring people to repay their loans at a time when the economy is struggling and inflation continues to soar will put a dent in income for many folks. Joseph Brusuelas, the chief economist for consulting firm RSM US, told The Washington Post that households could see a $40 billion reduction in disposable income as a direct result of the policy.
Notably, the deal does not scrap President Joe Biden’s sweeping student loan forgiveness, as Republicans had proposed in an earlier draft. That matter is still playing out before the Supreme Court.
Changes to SNAP and TANF Benefits
Another major component that could hurt millions of Americans already struggling with high prices are the proposed cuts to food stamps — officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP.)
Specifically, the bill would expand the work requirements for SNAP eligibility. Under current eligibility rules, adults up to age 49 are required to either work or participate in a training program for a minimum of 80 hours a month with exceptions for people who are pregnant, live with children, or have certain disabilities.
The debt ceiling deal would raise the age of people who have to meet those work requirements to 54. That alone could risk hundreds of thousands of Americans losing their essential food assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
Ty Jones Cox, vice president of food assistance at CBPP, explained to The Post that many older adults work part-time or seasonal jobs and thus may not reach the 80-hour-a-month requirement.
Despite the fact that the cuts to food stamps were one of the biggest Republican sticking points and one they have widely touted, the debt deal does include some major expansions to SNAP eligibility.
In addition to expanding work requirements, it also creates new exceptions for those requirements that will be extended to veterans, homeless Americans, and people 18 to 24 who were previously in foster care.
In a tweet, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said the move represents the first time ever that people experiencing homelessness will not have to meet work requirements to qualify for SNAP.
As a result, the CBO estimates that the number of SNAP recipients would actually grow by 78,000 on average and increase spending by $2.1 billion.
In a similar vein, another part of the deal that could impact many Americans is a measure that would implement changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which is a program that provides temporary cash for families in need.
The legislation would overhaul a framework for state TANF programs that would effectively require states to expand work requirements. The actual effect will vary by state, but the CBO estimated that the move would slightly reduce the amount of money the federal government gives to states for the program.
An additional provision in this bill that has been getting a lot of attention — and a lot of backlash — would fast-track the building of a natural gas pipeline in West Virginia.
Completion of the 303-mile Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) — which would cut through federal forests and hundreds of dozens of waterways and wetlands — has been stalled by numerous court fights and environmental regulations.
Construction has gone millions of dollars over budget and violated many clean water laws. According to the environmental group Appalachian Voices, MVP has made more than 500 violations in two states.
The debt deal would speed up permitting for the project, make it basically impossible for environmental groups to bring legal challenges for government approvals, and shift jurisdiction away from regional courts that have continuously ruled against MVP.
The pipeline has been championed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who has raked in three times more money from pipeline companies than any other member of Congress, according to Open Secrets.
Manchin’s vote will be essential to passing the debt deal in the narrowly divided Senate, and Biden promised him he would expedite the pipeline in exchange for his vote on the sweeping climate spending bill last year that the senator had single-handedly held up.
Other Notable Measures — and What Was Left Out
MVP is not the only provision in the legislation that has angered environmentalists. The deal would also streamline environmental permitting for huge energy projects, including ones on fossil fuels.
There are a number of other notable measures included in the package, including proposals to cut $20 billion in funding for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and claw back around $27 billion in COVID relief funds.
The bill would also mandate that significant expenditures be offset with pay-as-you-go spending reductions, as well as cap non-defense discretionary spending — a broad category that includes funding for education, national parks, and scientific research.
Also worth noting are the issues that were left out of the deal. Specifically, the package does not touch military spending or entitlements Republicans had floated cutting like Social Security and Medicare.
That is significant because those areas make up the country’s largest expenses by far — totaling nearly 80% of last year’s budget alone and costing $4.9 trillion.
Much of Biden’s domestic agenda was largely spared from the sweeping cuts and caps Republicans initially wanted. As a result, many experts have noted that the debt deal ultimately is not expected to bring down the U.S. deficit.
Deutsche Bank analysts estimated that the annual deficit reduction will only be “a few tenths of a percentage point.”
A Mixed Bag for McCarthy
Beyond having sweeping implications for America, this debt ceiling deal also has high political stakes — especially for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.).
The package was arguably the biggest test of his career as speaker, and while he did ultimately achieve his goal of passing a bill that cut spending and proved he could pass bipartisan legislation, it came at a cost.
The final version of this debt bill was significantly whittled down from the first one House Republicans passed as their starting point for negotiations, and he was only able to get it through the chamber with significant help from Democrats.
The entire deal nearly fell apart before it got to the House floor because far-right Republicans moved to block the measure from consideration in a major snub to McCarthy, forcing Democrats to swoop in.
Once the bill was finally put to a vote, it passed with more support from Democrats than Republicans. Democrats voted 165 in favor and 46 against, while 149 Republicans backed the measure and 71 opposed it.
That is still a solid 2-to-1 ratio of Republican support for McCarthy, but numerous members of the far-right wing of his party have threatened to oust him as speaker over the debt deal, including some who have specifically said they would do so if the bill passed with more support from Democrats than Republicans.
The debt deal now moves to the Senate, where both Democratic and Republican leadership have pushed for their members to fast-track the bill so it can get to Biden’s desk by Monday — the deadline to suspend the debt ceiling.
A couple of Senators on both sides are threatening to slow down the bill with amendments. While Republicans are calling for more spending cuts, Democrats want to remove the provision expediting the MVP pipeline.
However, because any amendments require a 60-vote threshold, these proposals are mostly symbolic. Especially because any changes would force the bill back to the House — and there is not enough time.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (Axios)
Texas State Senate Sets Date for AG Ken Paxton’s Impeachment Trial
The House impeached Paxton on 20 articles, including bribery, abuse of public trust, and dereliction of duty.
The Texas State Senate on Monday adopted a resolution outlining how the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) will play out in the upper chamber.
The proceedings, which will be over seen by the Lieutenant Governor, will start no later than Aug. 28. The move comes after the House voted to impeach Paxton on Saturday 121 to 23, with a majority of Republicans voting in favor. The historic vote marks just the third time a public official has been impeached in Texas’ nearly 200-year history. The most recent impeachment was nearly five decades ago.
The decision follows a tumultuous week for Texas Republicans and further highlights the growing rifts within the party.
The divisions first came to a head last Tuesday when Paxton called for Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R) to step down after he presided over the floor while seemingly intoxicated. Mere hours later, the Republican-led General Investigating Committee announced that it had been investigating Paxton for months.
On Thursday, the committee unanimously recommended that Paxton be impeached and removed from office, prompting a full floor vote over the weekend.
Articles of Impeachment
In total, 20 articles of impeachment were brought against Paxton, including bribery, abuse of public trust, dereliction of duty, and more.
While there is a wide range of allegations, many first surfaced in Oct. 2020, when seven of Paxton’s top aides published a letter they had sent to the Attorney General’s director of human resources.
The letter accused Paxton of committing several crimes and asked the FBI to launch an investigation, which it did.
The staffers claimed that Paxton had abused his office to benefit Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and friend of Paxton’s who donated $25,000 to his 2018 campaign. Many of the impeachment articles concern Paxton’s alleged efforts to try and protect Paul from an FBI investigation he was facing in 2020.
Specifically, Paxton is accused of attempting to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing legal opinions that benefitted Paul, improperly obtaining undisclosed information to give him, and violating agency policies by appointing an outside attorney to investigate baseless claims and issue subpoenas to help the developer and his businesses.
In exchange, Paul allegedly helped Paxton by hiring a woman the Attorney General was having an affair with and paying for expensive renovations to Paxton’s home. According to the articles, that swap amounted to bribery.
Beyond Paxton’s relationship with Paul, many impeachment articles also concern how the top lawyer handled the 2020 letter.
In particular, Paxton is accused of violating Texas’ whistleblower law by firing four of the staffers who reported him in retaliation, misusing public funds to launch a sham investigation into the whistleblowers, and making false official statements in his response to the allegations.
The Attorney General also allegedly tried to conceal his wrongdoing by entering into a $3.3 million settlement with the fired staffers. The settlement is especially notable as House leaders have explicitly said they launched their probe into Paxton because he had asked the state legislature to approve taxpayer money to pay for that settlement.
Additionally, the impeachment articles outline several charges relating to a securities fraud case that Paxton was indicted for in 2015 but has not been charged in. The charges there include lying to state investigators and obstructing justice.
Paxton, for his part, has denied the allegations. On Saturday, the Attorney General issued a statement seeking to politicize the matter, claiming his impeachment was “illegal” and a “politically motivated scam.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press) (The New York Times)
Trump Lawyer Notes Indicate Former President May Have Obstructed Justice in Mar-a-Lago Documents Probe
The notes add to a series of recent reports that seem to paint a picture of possible obstruction.
Corcoran’s Notes on Mar-a-Lago
Prosecutors have 50 pages of notes from Donald Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran that show the former president was explicitly told he could not keep any more classified documents after he was subpoenaed for their return, according to a new report by The Guardian.
The notes, which were disclosed by three people familiar with the matter, present new evidence that indicates Trump obstructed justice in the investigation into classified documents he improperly kept at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
In June, Corcoran found around 40 classified documents in a storage room at Mar-a-Lago while complying with the initial subpoena. The attorney told the Justice Department that no additional documents were on the property.
In August, however, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago and discovered about 100 more.
The Guardian’s report is significant because it adds a piece to the puzzle prosecutors are trying to put together: whether Trump obstructed justice when he failed to comply with the subpoena by refusing to return all the documents he had or even trying to hide them intentionally.
As the outlet noted, prosecutors have been “fixated” on Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, since he told them that the former president directed him to move boxes out of the storage room before and after the subpoena. His actions were also captured on surveillance footage.
The sources familiar with Corcoran’s notes said the pages revealed that both Trump and the Nauta “had unusually detailed knowledge of the botched subpoena response, including where Corcoran intended to search and not search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as when Corcoran was actually doing his search.”
At one point, Corcoran allegedly noted how he had told the Nauta about the subpoena prior to his search for the documents because the lawyer needed him to unlock the storage room, showing how closely involved the valet was from the get-go.
Corcoran further stated that Nauta had even offered to help go through the boxes, but the attorney declined. Beyond that, the report also asserted that the notes “suggested to prosecutors that there were times when the storage room might have been left unattended while the search for classified documents was ongoing.”
Adding to the Evidence
If real, Corcoran’s notes are very damning, especially considering other recent reports concerning Trump’s possible efforts to obstruct the documents probe.
A few weeks ago, The New York Times reported that Corcoran had testified before a grand jury that multiple Trump employees told him the Mar-a-Lago storage room was the only place the documents were kept.
“Although Mr. Corcoran testified that Mr. Trump did not personally convey that false information, his testimony hardly absolved the former president,” the outlet reported, referencing people with knowledge of the matter.
“Mr. Corcoran also recounted to the grand jury how Mr. Trump did not tell his lawyers of any other locations where the documents were stored, which may have effectively misled the legal team.”
Additionally, the only reason that Corcoran handed over these notes was that he was under court order to do so. Corcoran had refused to turn the materials over, citing attorney-client privilege.
A federal judge rejected that claim on the grounds that there was reason to believe a lawyer’s advice or services were used to further a crime — meaning prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to prove Trump may have acted criminally.