President Biden fired the commissioner of the Social Security Administration, a holdover from the Trump administration, after he refused to resign Friday.
Andrew Saul told The Washington Post, which first reported on his dismissal, that he planned to be at work as usual Monday and described his firing as a “Friday Night Massacre,” a reference to the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate scandal.
“This was the first I or my deputy knew this was coming,” Saul told the paper. “It was a bolt of lightning no one expected. And right now it’s left the agency in complete turmoil.”
Saul was nominated by Trump to head the independent agency for a six-year term ending in January 2025. He was confirmed by the Senate in a bipartisan vote in June of 2019. He insisted Friday that “I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security.”
Saul’s removal followed a Justice Department legal opinion that found he could be removed at will due to a recent Supreme Court ruling, despite a statute that says he could only be fired for neglecting his duties or malfeasance.
In a statement, a White House official said 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.”
The Associated Press reported that Deputy Commissioner David Black, another Trump holdover, had agreed to resign. Biden named Kilolo Kijakazi as acting commissioner while the administration conducts a search for a permanent commissioner and deputy commissioner. Kijakazi currently is the SSA’s deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy.
Congressional Republicans accused Biden of politicizing the agency, which pays out billions of dollars per year to more than 60 million Social Security beneficiaries, including seniors and the disabled.
Senate Finance Committee ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas), issued a joint statement calling Biden’s decision “disappointing” and claiming “Social Security beneficiaries stand the most to lose from President Biden’s partisan decision to remove Commissioner Andrew Saul.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the personnel move an “unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration.”
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), whose committee would vet any nominee to succeed Saul, said in a statement that “every president should chose the personnel that will best carry out their vision for the country.”
“To fulfill President Biden’s bold vision for improving and expanding Social Security, he needs his people in charge,” Wyden added, pledging to work to confirm a new commissioner “as swiftly as possible.”
With Post wires