Postmaster General Louis DeJoy knows how much a first-class stamp costs, and that’s about all. “What about to mail a postcard?” asked Representative Katie Porter of California. DeJoy didn’t know. “I’ll submit that I know very little about a postage stamp,” he added. Which is a problem, since he’s now in charge of the United States Postal Service. Porter’s takeaway — that DeJoy doesn’t seem to know much about the agency he runs — was one of the few constructive moments in a hearing that repeatedly tilted over into farce.
Congressional hearings are always an opportunity for theater and Monday’s Oversight session was no exception. Democrats berated DeJoy for his financial conflicts of interest (which he insists he does not have) and for his inability to answer basic questions about the operational changes he’s made since he became postmaster general. Surly and aggressive at alternate turns, DeJoy insisted, over and over, that he simply made the trucks run on time.
DeJoy appeared defensive, even surprised, when Representative Jamie Raskin asked him if he’d release the results of his background check before entering his new role. Republicans, meanwhile, had few questions for him at all: Louis DeJoy Good, Donald Trump Fine, GOP Great sums up their general attitude. And that might actually be one of the most salient lessons of Monday’s interminable hearing: It inadvertently reinforced the degree to which the GOP has entirely become the party of Trump.
The USPS is a popular agency with the American people, and although a conservative faction has long called for its privatization, the agency has historically enjoyed a level of bipartisan support. To an extent, it still does. Washington’s Republican secretary of State Kim Wyman has criticized Trump for his verbal attacks on the USPS and has requested increased funding for the agency. But next to congressional Republicans, Wyman almost sounds like a liberal. Clay Higgins of Louisiana shouted into his webcam that Democrats were “harassing” DeJoy. “This is exactly why America does not trust Congress,” he fumed. “Our cities are on fire, violent mobs roam our streets at night, the Chinese have crushed the American economy with the virus. And the Democrats are talking about a mailbox conspiracy.”
Higgins, to be clear, is full of garbage. American cities are not on fire and violent mobs do not roam the streets. The Chinese did not purposely inflict the virus on the U.S., as appears to be his implication, nor are they responsible for crushing our economy. (The fault for that lies with Republican senators who won’t come to the table on an economic rescue package.) But as bizarre as Higgins sounded, he wasn’t that out of step with his comrades on Oversight. Representative Mark Walker, a Republican from North Carolina, called DeJoy a victim of “cancel culture.” Greg Palmer of Alabama complained that “anarchists” have besieged American cities. They did not appear particularly concerned by the possibility that DeJoy’s mail delays might negatively impact their constituents. For them, the hearing was principally an opportunity to score points on Democrats.
Democrats themselves aren’t immune from the allure of performance art. And deployed at the right time for the right reason, a tendency toward the dramatic can be effective. Representative Ayanna Pressley spoke with audible emotion when she reminded DeJoy that the USPS, for a long time, was one of the only sources of a living wage for Black Americans. That was authentic and necessary; it cut through the GOP’s blustering and reminded onlookers that the USPS has a long history in American life.
But for long periods, Monday’s hearing just sounded like noise, and that’s a disservice to the USPS and to people who rely on it. The agency faces a complex crisis and DeJoy, who took over in June, isn’t responsible for the pandemic or the recession or old legislation that weakened the postal service before anyone had ever heard of coronavirus.
What is clear, however, is that business acumen alone does not qualify a person to run a massive public institution. And DeJoy still hasn’t satisfactorily answered questions about possible conflicts of interest with his old employer, XPO Logistics, or what he may or may not have been told by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, or the removal of mail-sorting machines. The refrain he sang on Monday — that he just made the mail trucks run on time — is itself a mischaracterization. The Republicans who serve on Oversight seem prepared to let that go. Trump himself certainly doesn’t seem to care. But delayed mail means delayed medications, and if it goes on, lives will be at stake. That ought to matter.