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World News

U.S. House to vote on $25 billion postal infusion, mail-in ballot safeguards

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House of Representatives Democrats on Wednesday unveiled legislation that would require same-day processing for mail-in ballots and give the cash-strapped Postal Service a $25 billion (£19 billion) infusion while erasing changes pursued by the agency’s new leader, an ally of Republican President Donald Trump.

The Democratic-led House is scheduled to vote on the legislation on Saturday, though there is little chance for passage in the Republican-led Senate. The bill would prevent the Postal Service from implementing policies to alter service levels that were in effect at the beginning of this year.

Democrats and Republicans engaged in a war of words over the legislation and the management of the Postal Service.

Democrats and other critics have accused Trump of trying to impair the Postal Service to suppress mail-in voting as he trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Ninety House Democrats urged the removal of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, saying in a letter to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors that he had used his stewardship to “sabotage” the agency.

“DeJoy has implemented policies that have slowed delivery times to unacceptable levels and resulted in undelivered mail,” the Democrats wrote.

Meanwhile, House Republican leaders urged their rank-and-file to vote against a bill they have dubbed the “USPS Conspiracy Theory Act.”

FILE PHOTO: A U.S Postal Service badge is pictured during a news conference about the postal service in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Republican Representative James Comer said DeJoy was “taking prudent steps to improve an unsustainable (USPS) business model.”

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the Postal Service has enough cash on hand, including a $10 billion line of credit approved by Congress earlier this year. McEnany also said the White House is open to supporting $25 billion in funding for the U.S. Postal Service but wants aid for Americans unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic included.

Congressional Democrats, Republican lawmakers and the White House have been at an impasse in talks over the latest pandemic relief legislation.

Under intense criticism, DeJoy announced on Tuesday that he would put on hold until after the election cost-cutting moves at the Postal Service that Democratic lawmakers and state attorneys general argued could imperil mail-in voting. DeJoy said he suspended all “operational initiatives” through Election Day to “avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail.”

DeJoy, who has been a major political donor to Trump, assumed the job in June.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released after she spoke with DeJoy that the suspension “is wholly insufficient and does not reverse damage already wreaked.”

Pelosi said DeJoy “admitted that he had no intention of replacing the sorting machines, blue mailboxes and other key mail infrastructure that have been removed and that plans for adequate overtime, which is critical for the timely delivery of mail, are not in the works.”

The Postal Service long has faced financial woes with the rise of email and social media, losing $80 billion since 2007, including $2.2 billion in the three months ending June 30.

Separately, Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, asked the Postal Service Board of Governors to release all materials related to the selection of DeJoy and for “additional information” regarding the role of Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin in the search and selection process.

Trump has repeatedly and without evidence claimed that mail balloting is vulnerable to fraud. Voting by mail is nothing new in the United States, and Trump himself plans to vote by mail in Florida this year.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the White House was not involved in the Postal Service changes. The Treasury Department and the Postal Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by David Morgan, Susan Cornwell, David Shepardson and Richard Cowan; Editing by Will Dunham

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