Louis DeJoy had a defiant message on Wednesday for those craving to see him ousted as U.S. Postmaster General: “Get used to me.”
The comment came after Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) asked the embattled U.S. Postal Service chief how long he would remain as Postmaster General—“long time,” DeJoy spat back—during a Wednesday hearing in the House Oversight Committee.
That exchange was indicative of the entire proceeding, which was frequently chippy, combative, and fueled by Democratic lawmakers’ outrage over DeJoy’s handling of the USPS at a time of worsening mail delays and difficult questions about the service’s long-term viability.
DeJoy’s crack to Cooper made Democrats’ blood boil even more. But he may have a point, at least for now: because the postmaster general is installed by the service’s board of governors—and not by the president—it means that President Joe Biden, or Congress, cannot fire DeJoy even if they wanted to.
His removal would only be possible when Biden fills Democratic vacancies on the USPS Board of Governors, which has the authority to hire and fire postmasters general. Confirming those spots in the Senate will take time, though the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Biden has identified three nominees to move forward.
In the meantime, though, Democratic lawmakers are working with DeJoy on urgent legislation to reform the agency’s finances and employee pension burden, even while many publicly call for his resignation.
To many Democrats, DeJoy’s performance on Wednesday on Capitol Hill may make that balancing act harder: they found much to dislike not only in what the postmaster general said, but how he said it.
“I gotta say—I just don’t think the postmaster gets it,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), a member of the Oversight Committee who questioned DeJoy on Wednesday about the agency’s delivery standards. “I think it’s time for him to go.”
“I thought he approached a lot of our questions with that exact same attitude, which was one of sneering condescension,” Krishnamoorthi told The Daily Beast after the hearing, invoking DeJoy’s response to Cooper. “That’s not gonna fly, man. Not gonna fly.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the second time in DeJoy’s short tenure that he has been subjected to a high-profile grilling in the House Oversight Committee. Shortly after taking the USPS’ top job in June 2020, delays and irregularities quickly began to mount—a particularly alarming development for lawmakers on the eve of an election in which more voters than ever planned to vote by mail.
In a contentious August 2020 hearing, Democrats interrogated the former logistics executive and GOP mega-donor on everything from cuts in overtime hours to the price of a stamp. Questioning from Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) produced a memorable DeJoy response: “I will submit that I know very little about postage and stamps.”
By the time House Democrats called DeJoy back to Capitol Hill this week, their worst fears about the USPS delays’ impact on the voting system had failed to materialize. But they still had plenty of questions about DeJoy’s stewardship of the USPS: in October, the USPS inspector general issued a report finding that the changes DeJoy made to delivery schedules and protocol led to the worsening delays. Already battered by the pandemic, the USPS limped into a busy holiday season, and is now providing the poorest service that many longtime observers of the agency have ever seen.
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), a member of the Oversight panel, was a 29-year veteran of the USPS before she came to Congress. She told The Daily Beast after the hearing that she has never seen the service in such dire straits as it is now: “I don’t think we’ve ever confronted this,” she said.
The unprecedented delays are happening around the country. In Washington, D.C., just 40 percent of all first-class mail arrived on time by the end of December 2020—compared to nearly 90 percent the same time the year before. Chicago residents are receiving holiday packages a month-and-a-half late. Lawmakers are inundated with calls and emails from frustrated constituents looking for answers; this week, 33 senators signed a letter to DeJoy asking him to explain the recent delays.
DeJoy apologized for those delays at the top of Wednesday’s hearing. “We must acknowledge that during this peak season we fell far short of meeting our service goals,” he said. “I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays"
But Lawrence expressed concern about DeJoy’s forthcoming “strategic plan” to get the USPS through this difficult stretch. Though the postmaster general has not revealed specifics, he testified on Wednesday that he will propose cuts to delivery standards, including the standard that local mail be delivered within two days. Democrats believe that would be a disastrous move at a time when the USPS is struggling to compete with private-sector competitors, particularly if it is coupled with consumer cost increases, which DeJoy has suggested.
“To say that’s what’s bold and needed… that’s not leadership,” said Lawrence. “He has to prove himself. He heard us loud and clear, that he needs to prove himself.”
The Michigan Democrat stopped short of saying that DeJoy deserved removal, and told The Daily Beast that she and other Democrats are working with the USPS on postal reform legislation. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) was supportive of working with DeJoy to pass reforms.
In the wake of the new political reality in Washington, the postmaster general has begun to attempt outreach to Democratic lawmakers. Lawrence said that during the last administration, DeJoy did not take her calls or respond to her—but after the 2020 election, they had a “cordial” call.
Other Democrats see any charm offensive as too little, too late. Krishnamoorthi said he is supportive of working with whatever USPS leadership is in office in order to pass reforms, but argued that DeJoy should go as soon as is possible.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA), a senior member of the Oversight Committee, issued a statement after DeJoy’s hearing hailing Biden’s nomination of three appointees to the USPS Board of Governors—and explicitly stated his hope they would remove DeJoy. “These nominations are an important first step toward reforming the Postal Service,” said Connolly. “My hope is the newly constituted Board will do the right thing and bring in a new, qualified Postmaster General.”
A majority of the nine-member board would be required to support DeJoy’s removal. Currently, there are four Republican appointees, and two Democratic appointees. If all Biden’s choices are confirmed, Democrats would hold a majority on the board.
The Republicans on the Oversight Committee had questions for DeJoy about mail delays, but largely cast him as a victim in an anti-Trump Democratic crusade. Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the top Republican on the panel, compared the party’s concerns about USPS delays—and Trump’s potential role in those delays—to the Trump impeachment investigation he said was predicated on “baseless conspiracies.”
Far-right Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), meanwhile, suggested that the root cause of USPS delays was actually the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the summer, and read articles from fringe outlets like the Gateway Pundit to prove his point. And Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA) raised the unfounded belief in widespread conspiracies about election fraud while saying it was not time to get into “specifics.”
At one point, tempers flared when Connolly said that Republicans who voted to object to the Electoral College certification on Jan. 6 had “no right to lecture” anyone on the dangers of partisanship.
Democrats left more concerned about the fate of the USPS, however, than the state of things in Congress. “It’s not some theoretical concept,” said Krishnamoorthi. “It’s not some abstract issue, it’s real for every single one of us… I’ve gotta tell you, people are starting to work around the mail, which is a scary concept.”