Their ascent would give Democrats a 5-4 majority for the first time since 2016. But that bloc may not be in sync when it comes to DeJoy — unseating him is a priority for many congressional Democrats — or the postal chief’s cost-cutting agenda: Board Chairman Ron A. Bloom proclaimed his support for DeJoy as recently as Wednesday, while the board’s other Democrat, Donald L. Moak, has stayed mum.
Meanwhile, 50 House Democrats have called on Biden to fire the entire board and start over with nine new governors. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is the lone member of the upper chamber to echo that call. But the postal union that advocated for Bloom’s and Moak’s nominations during the Trump administration is urging lawmakers to drop that effort to ensure that two governors viewed as critical to the union’s goals remain on the panel.
As a result, there is growing concern among some Democrats that a reconfigured board may not be enough to change the direction of the mail service, according to House and Senate aides who spoke anonymously to discuss ongoing negotiations and party strategy, which has cast doubt on legislative efforts to enact broader postal reform.
The board candidates are steeped in postal experience and have expertise in voting rights and organized labor. Ron Stroman, a Democrat, is the recently retired deputy postmaster general and led the Biden transition’s Postal Service review team. Democrat Anton Hajjar is the former general counsel to the American Postal Workers Union. Amber McReynolds, a political independent, is the chief executive of the nonprofit, nonpartisan National Vote at Home Institute and a former elections director in Denver.
Upon them rests the hopes of the White House, congressional Democrats and mailing industry executives up in arms about DeJoy’s cost-cutting agenda, which advanced with board support. The “Delivering for America” plan he unveiled last month aims to erase a projected $160 billion in losses in the next decade by raising prices, slashing administrative costs and steadily moving the agency away from the mail business and toward package shipping.
It features significant investments in parcels that have drawn praise from both parties — including a plan to purchase as many as 165,000 low- or zero-emission mail trucks built to accommodate more packages — but Democrats in particular have raged over proposed delivery slowdowns.
Democrats wary of Bloom and Moak’s support for DeJoy have in recent days pushed colleagues in Congress to press the governors to increase oversight of the postmaster general, and to be open to the possibility of dismissing him as Congress works to pass postal reform legislation, according to six House and Senate aides. Conversations also are underway with the Biden administration to encourage the president not to nominate Bloom for a second seven-year term, they say. Bloom’s term expired in December, but he is serving in a one-year holdover until his successor is nominated and confirmed.
“There’s a growing number of people who say, maybe you don’t need to fire all the board, but you need to be able to create a majority to fire DeJoy,” said one House aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss caucus strategy. “And there’s another group saying, when we get enough Democrats on the board, that will be enough to maybe slow down some of the things DeJoy is doing.
“If the White House looks at Bloom, they’ll see labor is behind him and ask, what’s wrong with him? But if they peel back the curtain, they’ll see he’s an enabler.”
Postal Service representatives, who field Bloom’s media requests, did not respond to questions from The Washington Post.
“I do think there is a movement to name the other people on the board to vote [DeJoy] out,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said last week at a news conference discussing postal banking legislation. “So hopefully he will not be the postmaster general when this bill passes. If he is, Congress will give him lots of instructions on what to do.”
Postal Service spokesman David Partenheimer said in an emailed statement that the agency was grateful to Biden for submitting the nominations, and that it was “best served by having Governors who bring diverse insights, unique perspectives, leadership and professional experiences to help inform our decision-making.”
Bloom during a House hearing in February said the board believed DeJoy was “in very difficult circumstances [and] is doing a good job.”
In an interview with the Atlantic on Wednesday, he said DeJoy “earned my support, and he will have it until he doesn’t. And I have no particular reason to believe he will lose it.”
Bloom’s support — and the ambiguity of Moak’s position — for the postal chief has agitated Democrats and animated a conflict between liberal lawmakers and the governing board. Many lawmakers, aides say, are dubious of working with DeJoy to reimagine the Postal Service and are just as skeptical about the board.
Moak bristled at questions about the board’s relationship with DeJoy in January emails with the office of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), one of the board’s fiercest critics. Days earlier, Pascrell had urged Biden to fire the board for cause, becoming the first in Congress to do so.
Moak responded by asking other House and Senate contacts to connect him with Pascrell’s office to discuss the Postal Service’s performance and set up a phone call with the congressman, but the exchange quickly grew acrimonious, according to messages The Post obtained through an open records request. Pascrell’s office asked The Post not to name the staffer in the conversation out of concern the person would be harassed.
Pascrell’s staff sent Moak nine detailed questions about the agency’s finances, performance during the election and internal politics of the board. When Moak responded that most of the questions had already been answered, Pascrell’s office suggested that the governor was “not interested in a good faith discussion.”
Moak wrote back to say he was “disappointed” that Pascrell had not consulted with the governors before calling for their removal and instead “took the approach to cherry pick and misrepresent the issues.”
In response, Pascrell’s office wrote: “The Congressman is deeply disconcerted by the destruction and degradation of USPS over the course of the past year by Postmaster General DeJoy and the public silence of the Board of Governors in the face of it. … To that end, an additional question we’d appreciate you clearing up for us tomorrow: will you move to fire Postmaster General DeJoy for his arson, and if not, why not?”
Moak declined to answer. “If you spent more time working to solve problems than create them perhaps we would be further along,” he responded in part. He concluded the message, “Good luck tomorrow — you will need it.”
“Maybe I could have worded it different,” Moak said in an interview Wednesday. “I’m signing it with the idea that we’re going to have the conversation. ‘Good luck tomorrow — you’ll need it,’ meaning you need to be prepared for the questions because I’ve learned more about the Postal Service and have really dove into it in order to help effect change and do the right thing.”
Pascrell in a statement said the correspondence with Moak validates his call for the board’s removal.
“I was the first to call for the postal board to go because rebuilding USPS starts with removing and replacing the failed leadership at the top,” Pascrell said. “The exchange from this board member only proves my point. The entire board and then Mr. DeJoy should be handed their walking papers. Their unquestioning support for this postmaster general is unacceptable.”
The National Association of Letter Carriers, the Postal Service’s largest union, has stepped in to defend both Bloom and Moak. Union President Fredric Rolando wrote to Pascrell and Reps. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) in March to “strongly oppose” their removal from the board. He suggested “a bitter partisan fight” over DeJoy and the governors would undermine the prospects of postal reform legislation.
Thursday’s hearing could preview how Biden’s nominees would work with the existing board members. Senate aides say some Republicans may use the hearing to perpetuate falsehoods about mail-in voting — including debunked allegations of widespread fraud during the 2020 election. For all the attention Democrats have paid to the Postal Service’s struggles, party leadership has implored members to keep their questions tame and not attempt to extract promises from the nominees on their plans for the agency or DeJoy’s future.
“I think the more you talk about firing Louis DeJoy, the harder it is to get these people confirmed,” said one Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy. “Republicans will argue that Democrats just want to get these people confirmed to fire this man who has put forward a reasonable plan to save the Postal Service.”
The board historically has operated by consensus, rarely showing internal discord or scripting their staid quarterly open meetings. During the coronavirus pandemic, with public attendance restricted, governors could be heard on webcasts turning through pages of prewritten remarks. Most business is done in private executive sessions.
Democrats hope Biden’s nominees, if confirmed, could at minimum change the way the board conducts its business and increase transparency with Congress, mailing industry officials and the public.
“The board makes decisions based on repeated conversations and hashing these things out,” said another Senate aide. “So having these voices in there, they’re focused on public service. They each bring significant different perspectives to the board. Having them in those conversations would change things.”