Despite Postal Service pivot, Shapiro primes lawsuit; Wolf, Casey urge vigilance

By: - August 18, 2020 5:09 pm

Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Source: AG Josh Shapiro Flickr.

A trio of Pennsylvania’s top Democratic elected officials pushed Tuesday for full funding for the U.S. Postal Service, railing against postal delays that they say threaten not only the security of the November election, but the health and safety of millions of people.

“For generations, Pennsylvanians have relied on the Postal Service. … Now, we’re relying on the Postal Service to undergird our democracy,” Gov. Tom Wolf said during a conference call with home state journalists. 

Even as Wolf, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued that call, the man at the center of the firestorm, U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced he was rolling back personnel measures linked to late packages and envelopes until after the November election.

DeJoy, a major donor to President Donald Trump, and former logistics executive, said in a midday statement that he was taking those steps to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

The Postal Service’s woes have led Congress to call DeJoy in for questioning, and sparked lawsuits filed by more than 20 states challenging his policies.

In his statement, DeJoy also promised that retail hours at Post Offices will not change, “mail processing equipment and blue collection boxes will remain where they are,” and “no mail processing facilities will be closed,” he said.

Wolf, Casey and Shapiro welcomed the action, but stressed a need for continued vigilance. DeJoy’s words were one thing, they said, but they had to be followed up with action.

“This is nothing new for the Trump administration,” Shapiro said. “They consistently ignore the law and when they’re called on it, we win.”

On Tuesday, Shapiro and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, announced separate lawsuits against seeking to halt disruptions at the cash-strapped Postal Service. 

Since 2006, it has been hobbled by front-loaded pension and health care payments that wreak havoc on the institution’s balance sheet as the digital economy reshapes Americans’ lives.

Shapiro’s lawsuit focuses specifically on the very operational changes that DeJoy said Tuesday he was now delaying until after the election.

What postal delays and lawsuits mean for mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania

In the not-yet-filed suit, Shapiro argued that the policies were illegally instituted without consulting with experts and the public, as is required by federal law.

Similar arguments have been made to defeat a number of Trump administration initiatives, such as his effort to end DACA, a program that allows children of immigrant parents brought to America at a young age to live and work in the United States.

“This is how we’ve defeated the administration over, and over, and over again,” said Ferguson who announced a separate, but similar, lawsuit Tuesday.

Shapiro added that he’s not seen any evidence that the removal of postal boxes or mail sorting equipment have affected the flow of mail in Pennsylvania.

But his office has heard complaints from both urban and rural counties about mail delays, including from veterans seeking to fill their prescriptions.

“Mail-delivery is not a partisan thing,” Shapiro said. His lawsuit as of Tuesday only had Democratic backing, but Shapiro said he’s also been in touch with Republican attorneys general.

Shapiro’s assertion isn’t just backed by anecdotes. A poll released Tuesday also suggests that making the post office a political target might not work out well for rural, often Republican lawmakers.

The poll, by the centrist Niskanen Center and JMC Analytics, a Louisiana-based pollster, found that 57 percent of rural likely voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who “supported reducing the budget for the post office or privatizing it like FedEx.”

The poll surveyed 686 likely voters on August 13 and 14. All told, the poll’s sample included 56 percent Republican voters from three rural Pennsylvania Congressional districts — the 12th, 13th and 15th — which combined stretch roughly from Butler County in the west to just outside of Carlisle in Cumberland County.

That 57 percent top line featured a nearly even split of Republicans — 42 percent said they’d be more likely to support a candidate who’d privatize the postal service, and 43 percent said less.

“Trumps’ signaling to [Republicans] that there is something they should not like about the post office,” Rachel Bitecofer, a fellow at the Center said, “but they also know they also like the post office.”

Overall, 51 percent added they were concerned about the postal services’ new personnel rules, and just 24 percent said they’d noticed any changes to their mail delivery service. 

But people disapproving of Trump were more likely to say they had experienced mail delays, while Republicans were less likely to claim to depend on the postal service than Democrats.

All these responses, Bitecofer said, could be more a sign of the influence of partisanship rather than a sign of differences between the two parties.

“You can clearly see how much that impacts their perception or willingness to say, ‘yeah i’ll be affected if the post officer stops service,’” she told the Capital-Star. “It’s really quite powerful.”

The debate could all be for naught given the postal service’s announcement, which Reuters broke during Shapiro’s press conference on the lawsuit.

A reporter for the wire service asked Shapiro to comment. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he quipped, adding that he would only drop the lawsuit if and when the new policies were no longer affecting Pennsylvanians.

He was backed by his fellow Democrats later that afternoon.

“This is not an administration whose word you can trust,” Casey said Tuesday.

Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed reporting to this story. 

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.