Speaker Nancy Pelosi is recalling the US House of Representatives early from its summer recess in a bid to protect the US Postal Service from efforts to block funding and suppress mail-in voting in November’s election.
Several states were also considering taking legal action to stop the service being run down to a level where it cannot deliver enough mail-in ballots in November, when almost half the country is expected to vote by post because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pelosi said the House would return later this week to vote on a bill prohibiting the USPS from changing its operations or service levels from what it had in place at the start of 2020. Previously, the House had not been scheduled to vote until 15 September.
She said late on Sunday that Donald Trump was trying to sabotage the election by manipulating the postal service, and called postmaster general Louis DeJoy “a complicit crony” by bringing in changes that degrades the service and delayed mail.
“Lives, livelihoods and the life of our American democracy are under threat from the president,” she said, calling for a day of action on Tuesday. “In a time of a pandemic, the Postal Service is election central. Americans should not have to choose between their health and their vote.”
Her comments echoed those of Bernie Sanders, who told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday that Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting and his administration’s efforts to block funds for the US post office amounted to “a crisis for American democracy” ahead of the November presidential election.
“What you are witnessing is a president of the United States who is doing everything he can to suppress the vote, make it harder for people to engage in mail-in balloting at a time when people will be putting their lives on the line by having to go out to a polling station and vote,” he said.
An unprecedented number of Americans are expected to vote by mail this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past few months, states across the US have seen record numbers of Americans request ballots and submit votes by mail in primary and other elections.
However, there is concern over whether the USPS, which is already facing a severe financial crisis, will be able get ballots to voters and return them to election offices in time to have them counted.
Congressional Democrats announced on Sunday that DeJoy and Robert Duncan, the chair of the postal service’s board of governors, had been invited to a 24 August hearing of the House oversight committee. The hearing will investigate the recent removal of mailboxes and shutting down of sorting machines nationwide.
After protests outside DeJoy’s home in Washington at the weekend Saturday calling for him to resign, Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said the USPS board of governors should remove DeJoy if he “refuses to come before Congress”.
Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, had no scheduling updates for the Republican-controlled Senate, a spokesman said.
But Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate locked in a tight re-election race, said on Twitter that the Senate should return this week to consider legislation to provide the USPS Service up to $25bn in coronavirus funding.
DeJoy has strongly denied any political interference, and Trump said in a press briefing on Saturday that DeJoy is, in fact, trying to “make the post office great again”.
But last week, Trump openly admitted he was blocking $25bn in proposed aid to the post office because he wanted to make it harder to vote by mail.
Several Democratic state attorneys general told Reuters they were in discussions about potential legal action to stop postal service changes that could affect the election outcome.
“It is outrageous that Donald Trump would attempt to undermine the US Postal Service for electoral gain,” Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healy told Reuters, adding that the Republican president’s actions raised constitutional, regulatory and procedural questions.
Healy said that counterparts in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington and other states were conferring about the matter.
North Carolina’s attorney general, Josh Stein, declined to say how many states were participating in the legal discussions, adding that his state’s residents could request ballots now and general ballots would be sent to voters starting on 4 September.
“There are many states that share this concern about what the president and the postmaster general are doing to the postal service, and are reviewing all legal options available to us to protect the integrity of these elections,” Stein said.