I'll start with the good news: After last year's string of crises at the U.S. Postal Service, there's real hope that 2021 could reverse the beloved and beleaguered agency's fortunes.
The bad news: The steps it will take for that to happen will require coordination among Democrats in the House, the Senate and the White House, which — as of now — isn't quite lined up. And the biggest question hanging over it all is what to do with Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.
Before we get to him, let's run through the task ahead for Democrats. Even without the coronavirus pandemic, the Postal Service has spent over a decade in the red, thanks mostly to a 2006 law that required it to pay for its employees' retirement benefits upfront. Wouldn't you know it, that was also the last year the Postal Service was profitable, as the rise of digital communication, online bill paying and the Great Recession ate away at its bread and butter.
Everyone already knows their roles in fixing this problem. President Joe Biden has four open seats to fill on the Postal Service Board of Governors, which would give his appointees and the current chairman a majority on the nine-seat body. The House needs to pass the legislation that House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., unveiled Wednesday, which would transfer retired postal workers into Medicare, get rid of the health benefit fund and require the Postal Service to set up annual performance targets for deliveries. And the Senate needs to both confirm Biden's appointees and get any House-passed legislation onto his desk.
It seems simple in theory. And yet, somehow, DeJoy's fate hangs over it all. That it's even a question is surprising given how central he was to the chaos at the Postal Service last year. He took the reins in the shadow of President Donald Trump's repeated attempts to kneecap the Postal Service ahead of the election. The appointment of DeJoy, a former shipping executive, was deemed suspicious from the jump, more so after his changes to the Postal Service's delivery procedures caused a major backlog and a spike in delays that mired people's bills and medications in the quagmire.
And, if I'm being honest, I still find him extremely sus. Not least because his reported plan to overhaul the Postal Service would involve eliminating first-class mail and implementing higher postage rates, which really doesn't seem like a way to get more people to want to send things through the mail.
Democrats have been calling for DeJoy's resignation for months, accusing him of purposefully gumming up the works to support Trump's re-election. But now, apparently, there's interest in working with him to fix the long-term problems plaguing the Postal Service. Maloney is reported to have been working with DeJoy to craft the legislation she introduced in hope of garnering Republican support.
GOP backing would definitely help the bill's odds of making it through the Senate. But there are still House Democrats who would rather get DeJoy out of the agency altogether. Biden doesn't have the power to fire him — only the Board of Governors does. That's why the anti-DeJoy club hopes Biden will get rid of all six current board members and appoint a clean slate who would give the postmaster general a first-class send-off.
It seems simple in theory. And yet, somehow, DeJoy's fate hangs over it all.
The White House announced on Wednesday that Ron Stroman, Anton Hajjar and Amber McReynolds will be nominated to fill the open board seats. If confirmed, the appointments would greatly diversify the board, which Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., rightly told DeJoy looks like "a millionaire white boys' club." But it'll be interesting to see whether Senate Democrats like Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who have called for the clean-slate approach, will make firing DeJoy a litmus test for the candidates.
Meanwhile, DeJoy doesn't seem likely to go down quietly. When asked how long he intends to stay in his role, he responded: "A long time. Get used to me." And should he be removed once Biden's appointees are in place, Maloney's bill could shed the support it needs to become law.
I'm wary of DeJoy, but the longer-term goal of getting the Postal Service back on track feels like the more immediate priority. Congress broke the Postal Service over a decade before he became postmaster general. Any changes he has made can be overturned under new management; only Congress can undo the harm that it has caused. Now, what if, once the needed legislation has Biden's signature, the board decides that he isn't the right person to carry out the needed reforms? Well, that's a perfectly valid decision, and I doubt many of the nearly 500,000 postal workers would be upset to see him go.