Mitch McConnell has close ties to the US Postal Service board chairman, a Kentuckian
Here’s what to know about Robert M. Duncan, who goes by Mike, and his deep roots in the Bluegrass State:
Who is Mike Duncan?
Duncan is the chairman and CEO of Inez Deposit Bank in Inez, Kentucky, and earned degrees from two colleges in the commonwealth: The University of Kentucky and University of the Cumberlands.
Previous reporting in The Courier Journal described Duncan as a confidant of McConnell’s and asa “longtime fundraiser for and ally of” the senator. A 2009 Courier Journal article showed McConnell calling him a “good friend” and “valued partner.”
A spokeswoman for McConnell told The Courier Journal in an email Thursday that McConnell recommended Duncan to President Donald Trump, who nominated him to serve on the USPS board of governors a few years ago.
McConnell introduced Duncan at an April 2018 hearing before a Senate committee that was considering his nomination.
“I’ve known Mike for a very long time. I’m glad that President Trump has nominated such an intelligent, able and experienced individual to once again serve our country,” McConnell said at the time. “As a businessman, a public servant and a dedicated mentor to young people, Mike is an outstanding choice to help oversee the world’s largest postal organization.”
“(In) a small coal community like Inez, community banks are a critical resource, and Mike’s local focus has helped the area for a very long time,” he also said. “With proven leadership and dedication, Mike has gained a keen understanding of the needs of rural Americans.”
The Senate confirmed Duncan to the USPS board for a shortened term in August 2018 and then unanimously voted to reconfirm him for a longer term in December 2019.
The Courier Journal emailed a request for comment to Duncan and left a voicemail for him Thursday afternoon but hadn’t received a response as of Friday morning.
It likewise didn’t receive a response to a request for comment it emailed to a member of the USPS’s media relations staff.
Duncan has been closely involved in GOP politics at the state and national level for many years. He’s Kentucky’s Republican national committeeman and previously served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The Senate Leadership Fund is laser-focused on working to ensure the GOP maintains control of the Senate, which is necessary if McConnell is going to keep his job as majority leader. (Democrats hope to flip enough seats this fall to demote McConnell back to minority leader.)
“Mike Duncan has been a member of the boards of directors of American Crossroads and Senate Leadership Fund for a number of years, and he continues to serve in that role,” Senate Leadership Fund Communications Director Jack Pandol told The Courier Journal. “Our boards, like most boards, oversee organizational policies, financial management, senior executive compensation and management performance — but are not involved in directing day-to-day operations or projects.”
Duncan also previously worked for former President George H.W. Bush’s administration and used to serve on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s board of directors. And he’s the current chairman of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
Duncan’s ties to Rand Paul
McConnell isn’t the only congressional lawmaker from Kentucky with whom Duncan is friends.
A 2005 Courier Journal article said Duncan is a longtime friend of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul counts Duncan as a friend, too.
Paul joined McConnell in introducing Duncan at that 2018 Senate hearing concerning his nomination to the USPS board and said he’s a “mutual friend” of both Kentucky senators.
“Mike and I have known each other not for as long as Sen. McConnell and Mike have known each other, but for several years,” Paul said then. “And I think he’ll be a great pick.”
The Courier Journal sent a request for comment to Paul’s spokeswoman Thursday but had not received a response as of Friday morning.
The Senate, under McConnell’s leadership, also confirmed Duncan’s son, Robert M. Duncan, Jr., to a prominent position in federal government.
Trump nominated Robert M. Duncan, Jr., to serve as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky in 2017, and the Senate confirmed him to that post later that year.
A spokeswoman for McConnell told The Courier Journal Thursday that McConnell and Paul jointly recommended Robert M. Duncan, Jr. — who spent over a decade working as an assistant U.S. attorney in that district — to Trump.
The Courier Journal sent a request for comment to Robert M. Duncan, Jr.’s spokeswoman Thursday afternoon but hadn’t received a response as of Friday morning.
US Postal Service controversy
While Duncan has served on the USPS board for the past two years, the recent controversy over cost-cutting and operational changes the Trump administration instituted at the Postal Service has put a spotlight on choices he and other board members have made.
In particular, the board’s unanimous decision in May 2020 to name Republican megadonor Louis DeJoy as the Postal Service’s postmaster general has been questioned by prominent Democrats.
DeJoy has presided over cuts to service and other changes at the Postal Service that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats say could jeopardize the agency’s ability to deal with a deluge of mail-in ballots this November.
DeJoy has said his goal is to ensure the Postal Service is sustainable in the long term.
Many Americans would rather not vote in person as the coronavirus spreads across the country, and Democrats say voters could be disenfranchised if the Postal Service can’t handle tens of millions of ballots.
Kentuckians have felt the impact of recent cost-cutting measures at the Postal Service.
Dozens of people told TheCourier Journal this month that they’ve had problems with shipping and receiving mail lately. And Art Campos, the president of a local union that represents about 700 USPS workers, said delivery delays in the area were due to changes DeJoy made.
However, McConnell said this week that the Postal Service’s ability to manage mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election isn’t imperiled.
“How we vote is determined at the state level all across America, and I want to make it perfectly clear that whatever way a given state chooses to vote, those votes are going to be counted,” McConnell said at an appearance Thursday in Kentucky. “The Post Office is not in trouble. We’re going to make sure that they are able to deliver our ballots on time.”
The Postal Service recently told election officials in various states that some voters’ ballots might not be delivered this fall with enough time for them to be tallied for the election.
But DeJoy, who will appear alongside Duncan before the House Oversight Committee on Monday, said this week that the USPS will be able to provide the necessary service. He also said he would suspend changes to the agency’s operation until after the election.
DeJoy testified Friday before a Senate committee and told lawmakers: “I want to assure this committee and the American public that the Postal Service is fully capable and committed to delivering the nation’s election mail securely.”
When is the vote?
The House is expected to vote Saturday on legislation that would block changes the Trump administration already made to the Postal Service and provide billions in funds for the agency.
McConnell told The Courier Journal Tuesday that he doesn’t think the Senate is likely to approve a bill that solely addresses the Postal Service, but the anticipated House bill could be an opportunity to make progress on stalled negotiations over a new coronavirus relief package.
Democrats have been pushing for $25 billion in additional funding for the Postal Service during those talks and included it in a roughly $3 trillion relief bill the House approved in May.
McConnell and other GOP leaders want to pass a less expensive proposal, although some Senate Republicans, including Paul, have suggested the federal government has spent enough as the national debt continues to climb.
McConnell said earlier that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin previously indicated the Trump administration is prepared to spend as much as $10 billion to ensure the Postal Service “is on good firm footing going into the November election.”