Rep. Adam Schiff on what USPS needs to deliver ballots, when Congress might extend unemployment aid

During the Democratic National Convention, former President Barack Obama warned voters that President Donald Trump threatens the very essence of American democracy. He urged people to vote — and vote early — as the U.S. Postal Service might not be able to deliver November ballots on time.

KCRW speaks to Burbank Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff about the U.S. Postal Service and the upcoming election.

KCRW: You have called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to resign. But he has walked back most, if not all, of the changes he made to USPS. Do you still want him to step down? 

Adam Schiff: “I do want him to step down. And I think it's important to note that while he has said he's going to freeze essentially the changes he was making, he did not say that he was going to reverse them by reinstalling the sorting machines that were taken out of service by putting back those blue postal boxes where they belong. So a lot of damage has already been done, and he certainly hasn't been an advocate for the Postal Service and the money that it needs. 

I think when you add to the fact that he got his job because of being a mega Trump donor, and has a profound conflict of interest, owning sizable shares in competing shipping companies, he is certainly the wrong man for the job. And I do worry that he has been working hand in hand with the president to disenfranchise millions of voters who will have to vote by absentee because of the pandemic.”

There are a couple of stories in the New York Times and the Washington Post analyzing late mail delivery and finding that it hasn't really changed much from previous periods.  Do you think that will actually affect the election?

“What I'm hearing from my constituents is very different. Business people are writing to me, saying that they rely on the Postal Service for delivery of their lightweight packages. It's not economical for them to use commercial carrier services, and they're having to wait weeks. Their customers are getting upset, they're going to lose business. I'm hearing from veterans who are having difficulty getting their medicines on time. And just thousands of people concerned about what this means in terms of our election. So there are a lot of people experiencing delays that they are not used to, that they haven't seen before. 

And I think the overtime changes, as well as the equipment changes, are having an impact. I don't see how it could be otherwise. We haven't conducted an election under these circumstances, apart from some of the primaries, but nothing on the scale of the turnout we expect in November. And I don't want to find us learning after the fact that yes, these changes have been really detrimental.” 

Now that these changes are being rolled back, there will still be overtime and the mail sorting machines will be in place. Does that fix the problem or could it still negatively impact the election? 

“No, I'm still very concerned about it. I think he needs to reverse the changes that were made. I think he needs to put back in place the equipment that he took out of service. And I do think the Postal Service needs a lot of resources, and it needs them now to make sure that it can quickly and efficiently deliver these ballots. 

After all, the postmaster sent letters, I think to 46 states, saying that lots and lots of votes may not get counted because they can't make the schedules. Now in part, that may be the result of some of the states with very strict and short timetables. And I think the states need to do their part to allow people more time to return their ballots. 

But clearly the Postal Service needs additional support to be able to meet the incredible demands of an election with massive turnout during a pandemic. And so this Saturday, we're going to vote, I think, to restore the Postal Service to the condition it was in January, but also to fund the Postal Service so that it can improve delivery before November.” 

This is the $25 billion in funding that the House wants to pass for the Postal Service. 

“Yes, $25 billion for the post office. We also included $3 billion in the Heroes Act for the states, for the specific purpose of helping them prepare for what we expect will be just a mammoth amount of absentee ballots. 

They're also struggling, I think, to find poll workers. They've closed down a lot of polling stations. Now in some places, this has been deliberately designed to discourage people of color from voting by closing.... But in other cases, we need to make sure this is not a resource problem with states that are already experiencing incredible budget shortfalls.”

Would this be standalone legislation or part of a larger COVID relief bill? 

“I think the Postal Service measure is a standalone measure that we'll take up on Saturday. Where we'll go from there in terms of the other priorities and the Heroes Act. I leave to the speaker to negotiate for us. 

But I can tell you that I feel a real sense of urgency. Unemployment checks have run out for millions of people. I think it's unconscionable that Mitch Mcconnell sat on our bill for three months and did nothing to prevent this crisis, thinking that if he took it right to the brink, that somehow we could do little and he could get away with it. Half of his conference, half of the Republicans in the Senate don't seem to want to do anything more to help the American people, don't seem to want to provide any more resources for testing or tracing. I just think that's unconscionable.”

Republicans seem game to provide more relief, but not $600 a week. Are you willing to accept something less than $600 a week, and is that better than nothing? 

“I'm not going to negotiate against myself. So I'll let the speaker have the negotiations. … What we are seeing is a debate about real values here. And that is which party is putting a value on helping people in need, which party is putting a value on being guided by science, in terms of testing and tracing. And which party is saying the virus is going to go away on its own and the more you test, the more you find out people are sick, so we don't want testing. This is the choice right now and it couldn't be more stark.”

A lot of people are frustrated that the two sides can't come together and get something done. The House is coming back into emergency session Saturday. But if the two sides can’t find a way to compromise, it would leave many Americans in anguish.

“You're absolutely right. And we should come to yes and get to yes on a deal. But I think people have to recognize there's one party that really doesn't want to do that at this point. And if they did, if they were sincere about getting to yes and reaching a compromise, then why would McConnell sit on a bill for three months until unemployment ran out? But that's exactly what he did. So yes, I agree. The party should come together. But if one party is not acting in good faith, one party really says we've done enough, we're not interested. We're just trying to give ourselves cover. That's a very hard thing to negotiate with.”

Your party is coming together this week at the DNC, and you were pretty much the face of impeachment when it came to President Trump, one of only three presidents to be impeached. Why hasn't that case been made at the convention? 

“I think what they're focused on really is the need to vote this president out of office. There's no impeachment remedy between now and November. The only way we're going to get rid of this president is by voting him out. And I think what they have referred to, and this gets back to the impeachment, is they've frequently talked as Barack Obama did about the president's enablers in Congress. And you know it's the House and Senate Republicans that refused to vote to impeach someone they knew was guilty as charged. 

And as we talked about during the trial, if he was left in office, knowing that he was guilty, the damage he could do just in the months before the election could be tremendous. Well, now we have 170,000 Americans dead, in significant part, because of the incompetence and the malignant narcissism of this president. 

So I think the case has been made. I think, at the convention, people are talking about not only removing the president through the only means we have left, but also removing the president’s enablers.”

If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win, she will have to vacate her Senate seat representing California. Would you say yes if Governor Newsom asked you to fill Harris’ seat?

“You'd be hard pressed to find a House member that wouldn't say yes to that kind of an offer. But I think the governor is exactly right. We need to focus on making sure that he has that choice to make in November, that in fact, Kamala Harris is our next vice president and Joe Biden is the President of the United States. 

We were confident. And regrettably, tragically too confident four years ago that Hillary Clinton was going to win. And we dare not make that mistake again. So all efforts right now ought to be bent towards making sure we register people to vote who are still not registered and turn every eligible voter out in November. And then we can worry about who gets to fill that seat.”

But I'm hearing that you would take the governor's call.

“I would always take a call for the governor. But, but again, I've just got to focus on doing my part to expand our majority in the House. That's mission number one for me, but also flipping the Senate and making sure that this President is a one term nightmare only. 

And by the way, I thought President Obama laid out the case as powerfully as you could, really in shocking terms, but quite accurate terms.

Both in the need to remove this president, the damage that he's done the country, but also the role that young people have right now in seizing hold of their future and turning out to vote.” 

Why do you say shocking? 

“He has been very restrained over the last four years about saying anything about the current president, let alone anything critical. And that's a big part of who he is. I mean, he is not only I think someone with great respect for the institution, the traditions of his office, but a very civil person. So for him, to speak out the way he did was just extraordinary. 

And I think that that speech really covered the entire ground, about our founding and our Constitution, the aspirations embodied in that imperfect document, our imperfect realization of those ideals, the need to strive for realization of what America and its promise stand for, how this president is completely in over his head and cannot learn, will not learn the damage it's doing to us. 

But also in classic Obama fashion, an appeal to the future, an optimistic appeal, and appeal to young people as the change agents. So I think in that one speech, you can find everything you need to know about this election and what's at stake.”

— Written by Jennifer Wolfe and Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski