Biden Fires Trump Appointee as Head of Social Security Administration

Biden Fires Trump Appointee as Head of Social Security Administration

Biden Fires Trump Appointee as Head of Social Security Administration

Biden Fires Trump Appointee as Head of Social Security Administration

President Biden fired President Donald J. Trump’s appointed head of the Social Security Administration on Friday, setting off a possible legal showdown over who rightfully holds the position.

Mr. Biden asked on Friday morning for the resignations of Andrew Saul, the agency’s commissioner, and David Black, a deputy commissioner. Mr. Black resigned as requested, but Mr. Saul refused and was notified by the administration that he had been fired, an administration official said. He has vowed to fight Mr. Biden’s move as illegal.

Mr. Biden moved to appoint an acting commissioner, Kilolo Kijakazi, while the administration looks for permanent successors for the two jobs. Ms. Kijakazi has been the deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy at the agency.

The firing was the latest bid by Mr. Biden to oust a Trump-appointed director of an independent executive agency. Such agency chiefs are appointed to fixed terms, and have historically enjoyed a high degree of insulation from political dismissals, but recently that deference has eroded.

When Mr. Trump acted to remove the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Supreme Court affirmed his power to do so. In June, Mr. Biden removed the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, after the court ruled that he had that authority.

Mr. Saul did not immediately return a message seeking comment. As of Friday evening, the Biden administration had removed his biography from the commissioner’s page on the Social Security Administration website. The developments were reported earlier by The Washington Post.

Democrats have sought to oust Mr. Saul from his position since the early days of Mr. Biden’s administration.

Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Social Security subcommittee, called for Mr. Saul’s resignation in February. Mr. Brown said Mr. Saul had sought to issue regulations meant to reduce access to Social Security disability benefits — including denying benefits to an estimated 100,000 potential recipients who do not speak English fluently.

“Social Security is the bedrock of our middle class that Americans earn and count on, and they need a Social Security commissioner who will honor that promise to seniors, survivors and people with disabilities now and for decades to come,” Mr. Brown said on Friday. “Instead, Andrew Saul tried to systematically dismantle Social Security as we know it from within.”

The Democratic chairman of the Finance Committee, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, also welcomed the move.

“Every president should choose the personnel that will best carry out their vision for the country,” Mr. Wyden said. “To fulfill President Biden’s bold vision for improving and expanding Social Security, he needs his people in charge. I will work closely with the president to confirm a new commissioner as swiftly as possible to lead this critical agency.”

A White House official said Friday that Mr. Saul had undermined Social Security’s disability benefits, terminated a telework policy at the agency and alienated federal employee unions over work force safety planning amid the pandemic.

In March, three top Democrats on the House’s Ways and Means Committee called for Mr. Saul’s ouster, accusing him of “aggressive anti-union activities” and the pursuit of benefit cuts that would hurt vulnerable Americans.

Congressional Democrats also accused Mr. Saul of delaying stimulus payments for some Americans by not sending necessary files to the Treasury Department. Mr. Saul’s agency said it did not receive funding to do that work.

Republicans seized on the firing, portraying it as a political decision.

“Social Security beneficiaries stand the most to lose from President Biden’s partisan decision to remove Commissioner Andrew Saul from leadership of the Social Security Administration,” Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, and Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a statement.

“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 said.

Mr. Biden campaigned on increasing Social Security benefits for many Americans and moving to shore up the program’s finances, funded by higher payroll taxes on workers who earn $400,000 or more.

But his $4 trillion agenda has thus far excluded those efforts, which were also excluded from his first formal budget request as president. Administration officials have suggested privately that Mr. Biden will wait to push Social Security changes later in his term, once he has completed work on infrastructure and other efforts to remake the American economy with a larger role for government.

Mr. Brady and Mr. Crapo alluded to that proposal in their reaction to the firing. “We are concerned that this politicization of the Social Security Administration is just the beginning of efforts to raise payroll taxes,” they said, “and seriously undermines bipartisan efforts to save Social Security for future retirees.”

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