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GOP lawmakers mad Biden fired Social Security head for damaging agency

Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul is refusing to accept his removal.

By Josh Israel - July 12, 2021
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Andrew Saul

President Joe Biden fired former President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Social Security Administration on Friday, accusing him of damaging the agency. Congressional Republicans are livid, suggesting that his ouster will imperil Social Security.

Andrew Saul, who was appointed to a six-year term as Social Security commissioner in 2019, is a wealthy investor and longtime Republican megadonor. His deputy commissioner, David Black, resigned Friday at the request of the president; Saul refused to resign or to accept his firing.

“I consider myself the term-protected commissioner of Social Security,” Saul told the Washington Post on Monday. “I quite frankly feel I’m doing an excellent job there.”

House and Senate Republicans reacted angrily to the removals.

“Andrew Saul is a dedicated public servant who was confirmed by a bipartisan supermajority,” complained Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Monday. “This unprecedented and unjustified move by Joe Biden puts Social Security at risk.”

“The @WhiteHouse should not ignore the law & put politics over people by removing @SocialSecurity Commissioner Saul & Deputy Black just to replace them with partisans,” said Indiana Sen. Todd Young. “These political games will undermine trust in govt and hinder our continued economic recovery from the pandemic.”

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley called Saul’s ouster “outrageous” and tweeted, “DONT POLITICIZE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN.”

“Saul and his team have admirably focused on service to beneficiaries, and steered the Social Security Administration through the pandemic with success,” Grassley said in a statement on July 9. “People don’t want their retirement and benefits politicized, they just want an agency that works. We had that under Commissioner Saul.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Grassley’s views, tweeting that the removal constitutes “an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration.”

In a joint statement, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, the ranking members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, respectively, also claimed that the removals would harm beneficiaries and politicize the agency.

“It is disappointing that the Administration is injecting politics into the agency, given that Commissioner Saul was confirmed with bipartisan approval, worked closely with both parties in Congress, and provided smooth benefit and service delivery during the largest management challenge ever faced by the agency,” they wrote. “We are concerned that this politicization of the Social Security Administration is just the beginning of efforts to raise payroll taxes and seriously undermines bipartisan efforts to save Social Security for future retirees.”

The White House released a statement Friday explaining the move:

Since taking office, Commissioner Saul has undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits, terminated the agency’s telework policy that was utilized by up to 25 percent of the agency’s workforce, not repaired SSA’s relationships with relevant Federal employee unions including in the context of COVID-19 workplace safety planning, reduced due process protections for benefits appeals hearings, and taken other actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President’s policy agenda.

Saul could not immediately be reached for a comment. The Washington Post reported that he planned to continue to do his job — by teleworking from his home in New York — on Monday.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee overseeing Social Security, had urged Biden to remove Saul and Black on Feb. 19:

Saul and Black are incapable of carrying out Democrats’ vision of protecting and expanding Social Security. As agents of the Trump Social Security agenda, they cut the benefits that hardworking Americans have earned, attacked the Social Security Administration’s employees, denied beneficiaries due process, and needlessly increased disability reviews during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one has been safe from their path of destruction.

While Social Security commissioners are appointed for a six-year term, the law expressly grants the president the authority to remove them “pursuant to a finding by the President of neglect of duty or malfeasance in office.”

Moreover, two recent Supreme Court rulings have determined that the president may fire some executive branch appointees without having to show cause.

In June 2020, the court held that a restriction on presidential power to remove the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was unconstitutional and that “its Director, in light of our decision, must be removable by the President at will.”

Just last month, the court issued a ruling that allowed Biden to fire the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency without cause.

In a July 8 memorandum, the Department of Justice noted both rulings and concluded, “The President can remove the SSA Commissioner at will.”

In March, 50 Democratic lawmakers urged Biden to remove the current members of the Postal Service Board of Governors, all six of whom were appointed by Trump.

Despite changes to the Postal Service instituted by Trump’s appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that one federal judge called a “politically motivated attack,” and criticisms from the agency’s inspector general that his actions had “negatively impacted the quality and timelines of mail service nationally,” the governors have not fired DeJoy.

Like Saul, DeJoy is a Trump-era holdover and a major Republican donor.

Despite Saul’s claims that he is still charge, the Social Security Administration’s website currently lists Kilolo Kijakazi as acting commissioner.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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