The House of Representatives, meeting in a rare weekend session, approved a bill Saturday forbidding the U.S. Postal Service from making "any change" that would limit service until after the November elections.
The bill, approved on a largely party line vote of 257 to 150, reflects the fear among Democrats that President Donald Trump is seeking to sabotage mail service for his political advantage. It would prevent postal officials from removing mail boxes from street corners, shutting down mail sorting machines or blocking overtime pay for postal workers. Despite strong opposition from GOP leaders, 26 Republicans voted in favor of the bill.
The emergency measure would also provide $25 billion as needed to fund the postal service, an amount requested earlier this year by the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Despite bipartisan support, the bill is not likely to be taken up by the Senate. The White House threatened a presidential veto in a statement issued Friday that described the House bill as "an overreaction to sensationalized media reports."
The pandemic has left millions of Americans considering voting by mail this year rather than standing in line at local polling places. It's an option welcomed by voting rights advocates, but repeatedly criticized by Trump as being vulnerable to fraud.
Democrats say they were alarmed by reports of mail piling up and the potential for delays in the delivery of prescription drugs and Social Security and unemployment checks as well as absentee ballots. Postal workers pointed to orders to cut overtime pay and remove high-speed mail sorting machines as a means to save money. Critics put the blame on the Trump administration's newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina businessman and a prominent Republican donor.
DeJoy testified before a Senate committee Friday and said the Postal Service is "fully capable" of delivering mail ballots securely and on time.
"This sacred duty is my No. 1 priority between now and Election Day," he said. He also said the postal service cutbacks were underway before he was appointed in June.
But Democrats were not reassured. They noted that DeJoy didn't specify that he would rescind the recent changes that have prompted widespread complaints.
On the House floor Saturday, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., called DeJoy the "chief of chaos and voter suppression" and said the postmaster had helped manufacture a crisis at the postal service to undercut the public's trust in voting by mail.
"This is not a partisan issue. The American people don't want anyone messing with the postal service," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y.
Last weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called lawmakers back to Washington and said DeJoy had "proven a complicit crony" in the "president's campaign to sabotage the election by manipulating the postal service to disenfranchise voters."
Other California Democrats told reporters they had received an "onslaught" of complaints and concern over the threats to the postal service.
"I have never seen such a reaction from the public, concern from citizens about their perception that the election is being interfered with and that interference came straight from the White House," said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. "I don't think the American people are out of line demanding their representatives protect a fundamental part of their democracy."
For their part, Republicans accused Democrats of spreading a "conspiracy theory" that the delivery of the mail or voting by mail is in danger. They said the postal service said it could easily handle an increase in mail this fall.
Republicans said the real problem with the postal service is that it has been running a huge deficit because of the decline of first-class mail -- which in turn calls for cutting costs, including reducing overtime pay for postal employees.
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said the Democrats' only response is "to throw more money at the problem." He also slammed Democratic leaders for holding a vote Saturday on the postal legislation, two days before a House oversight committee is to scheduled to question DeJoy.