WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump is expected to nominate a fifth Republican to governing board of the U.S. Postal Service, potentially solidifying GOP control over an agency that has generated intense political interest during the coronavirus pandemic and 2020 election.
Roy Bernardi, a former mayor of Syracuse, N.Y., and a deputy secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the George W. Bush administration, would fill one of three openings on the nine-member board and become the fifth Republican member, if confirmed by the Senate. By law, no more than five members may be of the same party, and traditionally, the party in control of the White House takes over the majority as governors’ seven-year terms expire.
The nomination sets up a potentially charged and rapid confirmation fight in the Senate for a position that tends to be nonpolitical in nature and pass without opposition. Two other governors confirmed this year, Republican William Zollars and Democrat Donald Lee Moak, sailed through the process before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, with senators of both parties deeming them qualified for the roles.
Bernardi, 78, runs a political consulting firm in northern Virginia. In July, he donated, $250 to the Trump campaign, and another $250 to the GOP through online fundraising platform Win Red, according to Federal Election Commission records. Governors earn a $30,000 salary and $300 per day when traveling for in-person meetings.
He did not respond to requests for comment, but told the Syracuse Post-Standard in an interview that he no longer works full time and was looking for ways to participate in government.
“The board of governors for the Postal Service struck me as something I could contribute to,” Bernardi told the newspaper. “As we all know, the Postal Service has its challenges.”
The U.S. Postal Service did not speak specifically to the nomination, saying it would “welcome all qualified members to the board – a decision reserved for the president and the Senate, who are tasked with nominating and confirming board members,” according to an email from agency spokesman David Partenheimer.
Moak and Zollars were confirmed after the Postal Service was turned into a partisan piñata. Shortly after taking office, Trump tasked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with establishing a Republican majority on the governing board that would give the White House unprecedented sway over the mail agency, according to people involved with the process, who spoke on the condition on anonymity to discuss internal operations freely. Mnuchin used those appointees – with whom he met before their nominations were submitted to the Senate – to put pressure on then-Postmaster General Megan Brennan, who retired in June.
The governors replaced Brennan with Louis DeJoy, a major GOP donor and former Republican National Convention finance chair. Mnuchin had leveraged emergency pandemic funding in the spring in exchange for approval of the new postmaster general, along with other terms that empowered the Trump administration to dictate postal policy, according to several people with detailed knowledge of the negotiations.
Over the summer, Trump stated publicly that he wanted to deprive the Postal Service of pandemic funding to hamper its ability to deliver ballots during the November election.
President-elect Joe Biden was primed to take office with three open seats on the nine-member board; if all his nominees were Democrats, it would have given his party a one-seat majority, and potentially the votes to replace DeJoy. Biden also could have replaced Democratic governor Ron Bloom, whose term expired this month; he can serve in a one-year holdover role until a successor is confirmed.
Bernardi’s confirmation would spoil those plans, though it is unclear whether the Senate will go through the approval process before Trump leaves office, especially with lawmakers rushing to get a pandemic stimulus bill done. A spokesman for Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said it was highly unlikely that the panel would schedule more hearings or meetings before the chamber adjourns to end the year, and Bernardi’s nomination would have to be resubmitted to the new Congress.
Control of the committee would then hinge upon the results of Georgia’s Jan. 5 election. Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Purdue were forced into runoffs after failing to capture 50% of the vote during the general election last month. Their Democratic challengers, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively, would both have to win to tie the chamber, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast tie-breaking votes.
Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., would chair the committee in the event of Democratic victories in Georgia. If the GOP maintains the majority, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would take control. A spokesperson for Portman declined to comment.
DeJoy’s tenure has been rocky from the start. He implemented a slew of cost-cutting initiatives that degraded mail service from July through October, when federal judges ordered the Postal Service to call off the plans over fears that they could undermine the agency’s ability to deliver ballots.
More than 65 million Americans cast their votes through the mail, pushing postal operations to the brink. The agency skipped ballot tracking steps to expedite the delivery of votes from processing centers to election officials, part of court-ordered extraordinary measures for election season. Those procedures remain in place for the Georgia runoff.
Democratic lawmakers and mail-and-package-industry groups have bristled at the governors’ handling of DeJoy, a former supply-chain logistics executive who had no postal experience before taking office in June. They say that the entirely Trump-appointed board has failed to rein in DeJoy and his aggressive tactics, and that it has cost the American people and hurt the agency’s and reputation.
Labor groups have also voiced concern that DeJoy’s moves are edging the mail agency closer to privatization, a longtime policy objective in some conservative circles.