The confirmations of Biden Postal Board nominees Dan Tangherlini (D) and Derek Kan (R) this month have led to renewed hope among some that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy could soon be on the way out. But don’t hold your breath – DeJoy probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
DeJoy, whose disastrous tenure has been marred by conflict-of-interest scandals and frequent delays in mail and ballot delivery, has been able to keep his job thanks to the USPS Board of Governors. The nine-member Board is the sole entity that holds the power to hire and fire the Postmaster General. Until this year, Trump-appointed Republicans held the majority on the board, blocking any and all efforts to fire DeJoy or stymie his agenda (under a 2006 law, a minimum of 5 governors’ votes are needed to oust the Postmaster General).
With the confirmations of Kan and Tangherlini, the board’s partisan balance is now evenly split between Republicans (Derek Kan, Robert Duncan, Roman Martinez, and William Zollars) and Democrats (Dan Tangherlini, Lee Moak, Ron Stroman, and Anton Hajjar), who each hold four seats on the board. The ninth seat is held by independent vote-by-mail advocate Amber McReynolds, a Biden nominee.
Unfortunately, although the four Democrats and McReynolds will now comprise 5 out of the 9 Postal Governors, it doesn’t appear that efforts to fire DeJoy will gain any traction. Based on their records and public statements, most Board members are still likely to keep DeJoy in power.
The Trumpists: 5 Sure Votes To Keep DeJoy
All four Trump-era board members (including Democrat Lee Moak, who has backed DeJoy’s agenda and refused to tell Congressman Bill Pascrell whether he supports firing DeJoy) are likely to remain in the “keep DeJoy” camp. None of them spoke out or took action against DeJoy over the last two years (Duncan and Martinez, who have been at USPS longer than DeJoy, voted to hire him in the first place), so don’t expect them to have a sudden change of heart now.
Kan, as I wrote for this blog last month, is almost certain to join them. Before joining the Postal Board, Kan was an aide to Mitch McConnell. As a top political appointee in the Trump Department of Transportation, Kan even helped McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao abuse her powers for personal gain on multiple occasions. Between his stints in government, Kan has racked up a litany of revolving-door corporate ties, from infamous consulting giant Bain & Co to anti-worker rideshare giant Lyft to private equity and real estate firms like Oaktree Capital and Toll Brothers. During his confirmation hearing for the Postal Board – shared with Tangherlini – Kan avoided expressing any desire to fire DeJoy and only made vague pledges to examine some of his policies.
Together, the Trump Four plus Kan will likely give DeJoy the minimum 5 Board votes he needs to keep his job and block efforts to replace him. But it gets worse – even non-Republican Biden-nominees on the Board can’t be counted on to be members of the “Dump DeJoy” camp.
The Weak-Willed Biden Nominees: 2 Likely Votes For DeJoy
Dan Tangherlini, as I wrote for this blog last month, has several red flags in his record, starting with his co-founding of EdBuild, an educational services firm that collapsed amid a DC municipal government ethics scandal over a $57.2m no-bid contract to renovate DC Public Schools. Tangherlini also boasts the dubious distinction of having led the General Services Administration (GSA) when the agency awarded Donald Trump a lease to convert DC’s Old Post Office Building into the Trump D.C. hotel. While it is unfair to blame Tangherlini for being unable to predict what Trump would become, it is fair to ask why Tangherlini did not deny the lease on the grounds that Trump already had numerous bankruptcies to his name, had previously been sued for racial discrimination, and regularly stiffed his workers. A 2016 Buzzfeed News investigation, quoting GSA insiders, alleged that agency leadership had months to pull out of the deal after Trump abruptly changed the project’s design team and financial midway through negotiations, but chose not to out of a desire to avoid undoing months of work or picking a public fight with Donald Trump. Tangherlini also drew the ire of federal contract workers during his time at GSA, who stated he seemed “unlikely to help” combat wage theft in GSA-owned buildings. Tangherlini, a former real estate executive, has also made a troubling pitch to explore “efficiencies in postal real estate” since being named to the Postal Board (a privatization-friendly move that would likely secure DeJoy’s support). Like Kan, Tangherlini has avoided expressing any desire to fire DeJoy.
Public statements from another Biden nominee, independent vote-by-mail advocate Amber McReynolds, do not inspire confidence in her willingness to stand up to DeJoy. Despite what her background might suggest, McReynolds has been surprisingly gracious to DeJoy, whose logistical changes wrought havoc on mail-in-voting during the 2020 election. In an MSNBC interview last August, McReynolds offered vague praise for DeJoy’s privatization-friendly 10-year plan for USPS, saying only it “had significant multidimensional solutions and programs in it.” Worse, when asked about whether DeJoy should remain as Postmaster General or if there were plans to fire him, she told anchor Geoff Bennett that she “could not give you a direct answer at this point” and that plans to fire DeJoy “were not currently on the table.” Just last month, when asked about DeJoy’s involvement in the USPS’ commendable plan to mail Covid-19 tests (though notably, DeJoy owns stock in test-maker Abbott Laboratories), McReynolds praised his “logistics experience” as “crucial to the success of that project”.
The DeJoy Critics: 2 Plausible Votes Against DeJoy
That leaves just two board members – Biden-nominated Democrats Anton Hajjar and Ronald Stroman – who could move for DeJoy’s ouster. And it is possible that both could do so. Hajjar is a former postal worker and the former general counsel for the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which has been outspoken against DeJoy’s appointment and his destructive policies. At times, Hajjar has brought this outspokenness to his work on the Postal Board. At a Board meeting last August, he blasted planned mail slowdowns in DeJoy’s 10-year plan and questioned why it was one of the first provisions to be implemented. Last November, before Biden announced he would not be renominating DeJoy-supporting Democrat Ron Bloom to the Postal Board, Hajjar fought against the Board majority’s decision to give Bloom another year as chairman.
Stroman, a former Deputy Postmaster General who resigned in protest after DeJoy was hired two years ago, is unquestionably anti-DeJoy. Shortly after his resignation, he criticized DeJoy’s mail slowdowns and lack of transparency with the public about operational changes. He was also a vocal critic of DeJoy’s handling of mail-in ballots, publicly questioning whether the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters who cast mail-in ballots was intentional. Since his confirmation, Stroman has been the Board’s most vocal opponent of DeJoy’s 10-year plan: last August, he issued a rare public dissent at a Board meeting calling the plan “strategically-ill conceived” and warning it would “create dangerous risks that are not justified by the relatively low financial return.”
Although both Hajjar and Stroman might like to see DeJoy gone, without backup on the board they are outnumbered 7-to-2. Even if McReynolds were to change her tune or Tangherlini were to emerge as an opponent of DeJoy, they would still be outnumbered 5-4 by the Trump-era holdovers and McConnell acolyte Kan.
DeJoy’s Campaign To Stay In Power
Meanwhile, DeJoy himself has been quietly defanging his opposition and going on a press tour to bolster his own job security. The successful passage in April of the Postal Service Reform Act (which repealed a destructive Bush-era mandate that had been artificially bankrupting USPS) required postal unions and Congressional Democrats to temporarily set aside calls for DeJoy’s ouster and work with him. DeJoy has taken full advantage of the fleeting halt in calls for his termination to advance his disastrous 10-year plan and a gas-guzzling anti-union contract for USPS’ next-gen fleet. The praise DeJoy has garnered from his longtime critics over the PSRA’s passage has helped him weather public outrage over his new ethics scandals and promise to continue raising postage rates.
To put it bluntly, DeJoy isn’t going anywhere unless a new career-ending scandal erupts (if that term even has any meaning in a post-Trump America). The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage (who has a wonderful infographic on the mechanics of firing DeJoy) called Kan a “longtime Mitch McConnell lieutenant” whose nomination ensures “DeJoy isn’t going anywhere for at least another year.” The Save The Post Office coalition – who have led the public fight against DeJoy since his earliest days on the job — concluded that neither Kan nor Tangherlini were likely to threaten DeJoy’s job security or the implementation of his 10-year plan. The libertarian Lexington Institute publicly supported both Kan and Tangherlini on the grounds that their nominations “stiff-arm[ed] progressives” and would allow “Louis DeJoy [to] stay as postmaster general for the next few years.”
So where does that leave the rest of us who want DeJoy gone?
Short of firing the entire board for dereliction of duty as Congressman Pascrell has suggested, the next opportunity to change the board’s makeup will be this December, when Trump-era Governors Moak and Zollars are termed-out. Biden must follow the Save The Post Office coalition’s advice and fill those two vacancies with “forward-looking governors more representative of the nation and the postal workforce” rather than DeJoy enablers. Biden would be within statutory guidelines to replace both Moak and Zollars with Democrats (Moak’s departure will bring the total number of Democrats on the board to three, well below the statutory limit of five) or replace one or both with forward-looking independents (hopefully, ones that are more critical of DeJoy than McReynolds is).
While it is by no means certain that replacing Moak and Zollars with two forward-looking governors would give the Board a reliable anti-DeJoy majority, it is among the only viable options Biden has left. If his party loses the Senate this November, the Moak and Zollars vacancies may be the last chance for a Democratic Senate majority to confirm Postal Board members for the foreseeable future – perhaps the final chance to fire Louis DeJoy at all.