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Republican Sen. James Lankford Speaks Ahead Of Postmaster General's Testimony

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

DeJoy has said in recent days he's going to hold off on more changes until after the election but still faces questions about the changes so far. And the lawmakers who will face him today include Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who's on the line once again. Senator, welcome back.

JAMES LANKFORD: Thank you. Good to be back with you again.

INSKEEP: You know, we've heard from somebody in your state, Jeff Bradley, president of the American Postal Workers Union in Tulsa, spoke of sorting equipment being removed. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF BRADLEY: The less machines we have, the less mail we can do. Well, now we're hearing those machines are supposed to come back in. We're hoping they will hook those machines back up and we can run that mail. We will wait and see. I'm also hearing from the clerks that are saying at their area offices and the stations mail is not being processed as soon as it should be. It's sitting overnight at times.

INSKEEP: What do you want to know, Senator, from Louis DeJoy about the concerns your constituent raised there?

LANKFORD: Yeah, there's several issues that are there. One is Louis DeJoy has been very clear that the post office spends billions of dollars in overtime, where before the letter carriers actually leave, they'll wait a little bit longer, stay at the station longer to see if additional mail comes in and then to be able to take that out earlier. Louis DeJoy's statement has been that he wants people to be able to leave on time. And if the mail gets in there late, it will actually come the next day on that. That's a pretty standard practice to try to figure out how to be able to get it. It still arrives on time, but we want to know the details.

The sorting machine issue, there have been questions about it. And for a very long time, there have been questions about older sorting machines. Obviously, mail - first-class mail especially - has dropped significantly over the last 10 years. In fact, it's dropped about 35 billion pieces a year just in the last 10 years. So there's a lot of old sorting machines that aren't used often and trying to figure out what to be able to do to be able to manage. Do you continue to maintain those? Or do you stick with the ones that are the newer? We need to just find out the process, what he's trying to do on efficiency there.

INSKEEP: When you've heard complaints from across the country about mail suddenly being delayed, not being delivered on time, does that make sense to you?

LANKFORD: No, we haven't heard a lot of complaints about mail suddenly not being delivered on time. I still hear the same thing that I've always heard. People put something in the mail, and it may take five days. It may take two days. It may take seven days. Mail does not have a promised delivery date. It has an average delivery date for first-class mail. And if people use different methods for mail, as far as not first-class, then it has other timing. So if they're delivering packages, there are certain dates and times guaranteed. If they're dropping a letter in, it has an estimated time.

INSKEEP: Senator, I appreciate what you're saying here because you're saying that, to you, everything that's happening at the post office is normal business and normal effort to improve business. And a lot of the things that we do here - we should be clear - are anecdotal, not statistical. But people are clearly concerned across the country. They may be people who politically disagree with you, but they're Americans who are concerned. I'd first like to know, has the president invited that suspicion by constantly raising completely false concerns about the security of mail-in balloting?

LANKFORD: You know, I think people can just weigh their own perspectives on that based on statements the president has made. I think there are legitimate questions about mail-in ballot, if ballots are just mailed to every household, the households that are not requesting them. In Oklahoma, we have absentee ballots. I've voted by mail multiple times when I'm away because I request an absentee ballot. That's verified in our system. We have a notary that does it and then mail it back in...

INSKEEP: Senator, if I could just interrupt for a second, we've just had a lot of reporting on this. The security for mail-in ballots is quite similar to absentee ballots. I don't want to say it's the same thing by a different name, but it is very close to the same thing by a different name. There's one layer of security after another. We've had voting officials in various states on the program describing this. Why would you say there's still some concern about mail-in that's worse than absentee ballot, particularly given that the president himself has voted by mail?

LANKFORD: Sure. And again, I don't have a problem with people voting by mail. They need to have every option to be able to protect their constitutional right. But if you live in an apartment and you're not requesting a ballot and you're just mailing a ballot to every person, there could have been two or three people that have lived in that apartment that literally ballots would show up for two or three people because their mail hasn't been forwarded to that individual. There would be other individuals that would receive a ballot that weren't planning to vote, but now there's an extra ballot that's sitting out there...

INSKEEP: Which still has to be matched - forgive me - which still has to be matched up with a registered voter when it's sent back in, right? I mean, this is not actually a problem. I'd like to ask just...

LANKFORD: No, not every state requires a notary. Not every state requires that. And so that becomes the challenge. In many states, they have great protection systems and layers. In other states, they do not. So the simple statement of every state all does this the same way is not true. So the key aspect about this on the mail is to try to figure out how to be able to get mail in. Now, going back to the post office system, some of this started by Louis DeJoy sending out and the post office sending out to states saying some of you are actually doing a request for a ballot so close to the election itself that the ballot can't get out to the voter and get back in time. And so the post office is actually where this started, by saying, please make sure you allot enough time to be able to do this because many states send their ballot out...

INSKEEP: Can you see how people would be concerned, then, if the post office is saying, we're cutting back service, and we're also saying, we might not get the ballots delivered on time to be counted? That's going to raise suspicions in people's minds, no?

LANKFORD: They're not cutting back service. They were making a statement to states to say when you mail things on marketing mail, which takes 10 days to get out with a cheaper marketing mail rates, if you mail the ballots out with marketing mail seven days before the election and you expect that ballot to be received by that person and mail back, they can't physically make it that fast. It's not in their normal route. So I think this began with a simple statement for the states, please prepare well. Mail it out early enough that it will be received that that person has enough time to be able to get back as well.

INSKEEP: Sen. Lankford, one quick question here. We know that when the president wants something, he doesn't stop. He doesn't respect boundaries. That's not a criticism. He just doesn't really believe in boundaries. He's asked FBI directors for things. He's asked attorneys general for things. Do you want to know how, if at all, he's communicating with the postmaster general?

LANKFORD: Sure. I think it's a reasonable question to be able to find out if there's been a back-and-forth. I'm pleased that you actually ran a statement saying that the president didn't select this postmaster general. They were selected unanimously by the board of governors. And, by the way, the board of governors were selected unanimously by the Senate. And the six board of governors...

INSKEEP: Wait. Wait. Wait. Appointed by the president - right? - and confirmed by the Senate. Is that right?

LANKFORD: That's correct. That's correct, so a normal process. But as you have seen very well, whether it be an ambassador's or cabinet member, these are all been very, very contentious to be able to walk through all the different selections of the president. But in this case, all of those board of governors all had all six unanimous.

INSKEEP: Sen. Lankford, thanks for your time. Jim Lankford of Oklahoma on NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.