During the summer of 2020, there were few bigger Democratic super villains than Louis DeJoy.
The postmaster general was accused of masterminding an attempt to steal the election for former President Donald Trump by subverting mail-in voting in the midst of the pandemic. He was hauled up to Capitol Hill to defend his policies. When Joe Biden won, it was generally assumed that his days were numbered.
Now, nearly three years later, DeJoy isn’t just still standing atop the U.S. Postal Service, he’s become a critical player in Biden’s environmental agenda, striking a partnership with the president’s green guru, John Podesta, as USPS considers an environmental renaissance of its fleet.
It’s a remarkable change of script for one of the more memorable side characters of the Trump years. And it produced one of the most unlikely pairings in Washington D.C., something that the camps will privately acknowledge even as they’re loath to discuss it personally. Asked repeatedly about their good-natured relationship, both DeJoy and Podesta declined to comment.
The pair’s partnership centers around an effort to introduce 66,000 electric vehicles to the USPS by 2028, itself part of a broader initiative to add 106,000 new vehicles to USPS’ fleet. The initiative was buoyed by $3 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, a funding solution floated by the Biden administration, according to a person close to DeJoy who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the discussions.
During the press conference outside USPS headquarters last December to announce the initiative, DeJoy thanked Podesta for his “focus … in moving the ball forward” on the project. He noted that the two had met about five years earlier, for three or four hours, and wondered if Podesta remembered him.
Podesta’s response could be heard from a nearby distance. “You’re unforgettable!” he shouted. He later thanked DeJoy when it was his turn at the podium.
In the formal announcement of the USPS’ investment in electric vehicles, DeJoy expressed his gratitude for Podesta by name.
“The Postal Service’s vehicle initiative, and I personally, have benefited from the collaborative spirit of John Podesta, Senior Advisor to the President and leader of the Office of Energy Innovation, as well as leaders within the Council on Environmental Quality and the Climate Policy Office,” he said in the statement.
Privately, DeJoy has come to embrace the idea that he’s now a climate pioneer.
“What I hear him saying is the Postal Service is going to be the greenest delivery company in the nation, and that not using us to deliver packages is going to be like not recycling,” the person close to DeJoy said. “He jokingly says that between electric vehicles and reducing our transportation network and our own carbon footprint, he’s going to get the Nobel Prize for green.”
The electric vehicle issue was not the first time that DeJoy worked with the Biden White House. He partnered with the administration on the initiative to distribute Covid-19 tests through the mail and lobbied Republican lawmakers to support postal reform legislation championed by Democrats.
“He understands his role as non-partisan right now,” the person close to DeJoy said.
DeJoy’s critics find it hard to believe that he has assumed an apolitical nature. At the time of his selection, not long before the 2020 election, he was lambasted as a Trump mega-donor — a crony who not only was eager to boost private industry at the expense of the USPS. He also was accused of trying to sabotage the nation’s mail delivery in an attempt to thwart the election.
All of the USPS’ governors, at the time, were appointed by Trump, and DeJoy was a product of their selection. DeJoy’s wife was Trump’s pick for the U.S. ambassador to Canada, although she was never confirmed, and she served as the vice chair of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Shortly after Biden’s inauguration, dozens of lawmakers called for the president to appoint an entirely new board of governors.
DeJoy has not always been on the same page as the Biden administration, however. Earlier in 2022, the USPS announced its intention to acquire a smaller number of electric vehicles. But the White House was not pleased over the paucity of its green commitments.
The initial contact from the White House did not go well, according to the person close to DeJoy. The USPS believed the administration was attempting to force its hand. DeJoy emphasized there was only so much the USPS could afford and that the agency only had so much capacity to support electric vehicles.
The matter got bumped up the White House hierarchy. And, ultimately, the effort became a one-on-one negotiation between Podesta and DeJoy. The two spoke frequently, sometimes multiple times a week and began making progress. With some support from the administration, the number of electric vehicles the USPS could obtain grew.
“My sense is they got along immediately because they’re both sort of practical people, and they were both supportive of each other trying to get their job done, and they started talking about ways to do that,” the person close to DeJoy said. “My sense is they quickly found that each one of them was willing to help the other as long as the other understood what the parameters were.”
However, it’s unlikely that DeJoy will transform into a full-blown Democratic ally. The person added that he will certainly return to political involvement once he is a private citizen again. It’s also not entirely clear that he has fully moved on from the events that transpired in 2020, most notably the campaigns against him.
“I don’t know that you ever leave that behind. I mean, that kinda leaves a scar,” the person close to DeJoy said.
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