Why did Joe Biden fire Andrew Saul? Trump-era Social Security Commissioner fights back
President Joe Biden has fired the Trump-era appointee Andrew Saul, who was the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA). Naturally, the move has led to a lot of contention in Congress, with Republicans slamming Biden for "politicizing" the role. Meanwhile, Saul has refused to acknowledge his firing and claimed he would return to work "on Monday morning" from home.
Since taking office, Biden has been on the warpath against Trump-era appointees and occasionally even his own staff. In March, he kicked up a storm after firing several White House staffers for marijuana use, even if they were from states where it was legal. In January, he fired US Agency for Global Media head Michael Pack, who sought to turn Voice of America into a propaganda outlet for Trump. The president's hires have also become a bone of contention, given their questionable past. In February, former Manhattan prosecutor Nicholas McQuaid was named as the acting head of the Department of Justice's (DoJ) criminal division.
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A strong indication of the dysfunction at the highest levels of Federal government, Saul's firing has become just the latest in the long line of divisive changes. Politics aside, there is the important question of why Saul was fired - that step is usually a last resort and comes after a contentious Justice Department ruling.
Why was Andrew Saul fired?
The short answer is, he was fired after he refused to resign. According to one White House official, he was initially asked to resign by the president but refused to do so. Interestingly, Saul's deputy David Black resigned on July 9 on request, meaning his exit was far more low profile. Saul, though, chose to drag out the battle and is still in denial over his firing. "I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security," he told The Washington Post.
According to the Post, Saul will be back at work on Monday, July 11, albeit remotely from his home in New York City. It is unclear how he will do that since he has been fired and will likely lose access to his email, and other vital credentials. Saul was initially asked to resign after "taking actions that run contrary to the mission of the agency," a White House official told the Post. According to that official, Saul was fired for numerous decisions that the president felt weren't in the best interests of the SSA.
For one, Saul ended the SSA's telework policy, that reportedly around 25% of the workforce were using even post-pandemic. The official also said, Saul "has undermined and politicized Social Security disability benefits, not repaired S.S.A.’s relationships with relevant federal employee unions and reduced due process protections for benefits appeals hearings." Notably, Saul dragged his feet on rolling out the Covid-19 stimulus checks and was slow to share the data with the IRS.
The controversy around Saul also stems from his firing, which the DoJ argues was legal despite a statute to the contrary. Reportedly, the commissioner could only be fired for "malfeasance or neglecting his duties". However, the DoJ ruled, based on a Supreme Court ruling that Saul could be fired at will by the president.
Dems, GOP divided over firing
A longtime Republican donor, Saul was appointed by Donald Trump in 2018 and would have normally served until 2025. However, right from the start, Democrats were strongly opposed to his appointment. They argued that the clothing executive had no experience in social security, much like many of Trump's appointees. Nonetheless, Trump and the GOP went ahead and appointed Saul. Since Biden took over, Democrats have reportedly been campaigning for his removal.
It appears those efforts have paid off, even if the GOP didn't want it to. Shortly after his firing was announced, Sen Chuck Grassley tweeted, "Social Security Commissioner Saul has bipartisan backing / I’m hrg Pres Biden may oust him which wld b outrageous Saul was confirmed by Senate in 2019 w a vote of 77 to 16 to 6yr term that doesn’t expire til January 19, 2025/ DONT POLITICIZE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also stepped in, retweeting Grassley and saying, "I agree with @ChuckGrassley. This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration."
Social Security Commissioner Saul has bipartisan backing / I’m hrg Pres Biden may oust him which wld b outrageous Saul was confirmed by Senate in 2019 w a vote of 77 to 16 to 6yr term that doesn’t expire til January 19, 2025/ DONT POLITICIZE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) July 9, 2021
I agree with @ChuckGrassley. This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration. https://t.co/Y33G4YoZKf— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) July 9, 2021
Meanwhile, Democrats have hit back and celebrated the news. "Commissioner Saul was given the opportunity to strengthen Social Security. Instead, he focused on making it harder for Americans to receive benefits. This is welcome news," tweeted Sen. Bob Casey. Sen. Sherrod Brown said, "I was the first Member of Congress to call for the removal of Commissioner Saul and Deputy Commissioner Black. I'm glad the Biden Administration agrees - we must protect and expand Social Security."
Commissioner Saul was given the opportunity to strengthen Social Security. Instead, he focused on making it harder for Americans to receive benefits. This is welcome news. https://t.co/19EDfbgUwj— Senator Bob Casey (@SenBobCasey) July 9, 2021
I was the first Member of Congress to call for the removal of Commissioner Saul and Deputy Commissioner Black.— Sherrod Brown (@SenSherrodBrown) July 9, 2021
I'm glad the Biden Administration agrees - we must protect and expand Social Security.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen tweeted, ".@POTUS is right to remove Social Security Commissioner Saul & Deputy Commissioner Black. They undermined its core mission and repeatedly attacked the employees essential to its success. This is a much needed change."
.@POTUS is right to remove Social Security Commissioner Saul & Deputy Commissioner Black. They undermined its core mission and repeatedly attacked the employees essential to its success. This is a much needed change. https://t.co/gQiHgE9Iyt— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) July 10, 2021
Reportedly, Saul was told of his firing on July 9 afternoon and the rest of the SSA shortly after. In his place, Kilolo Kijakazi has been appointed as acting commissioner. Before being promoted, Kijakazi was the deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy.