President Biden on Friday fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul, a Trump-era holdover who had been accused of mismanaging the delivery of COVID stimulus payments and union bashing.
He was asked to resign his post but was fired when he refused, according to a White House official.
Republicans immediately accused Biden of politicizing the role, as the White House leveled the same charge at Saul.
‘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 S.S.A.’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,’ said the official.
Andrew Saul was appointed to a six-year term as Social Security Administration commissioner in 2019 by President Trump. On Friday he was fired by President Biden after refusing to resign
A White House official said: ‘Andrew Saul refused to to resign as requested, and he was notified his employment as commissioner was terminated immediately’
Democrats and unions have been demanding the removal of Saul for months. They celebrated news of his dismissal on Friday evening
His deputy, David Black, resigned on Friday upon request.
However, Saul, 74, told the Washington Post that he would report for work on Monday morning by logging on remotely from his New York home.
‘I consider myself the term-protected commissioner of Social Security,’ he said, added that an email asking for his resignation was the first of the administration’s plans for him.
‘It was a bolt of lightning no one expected,’ he said. ‘And right now it’s left the agency in complete turmoil.’
Kilolo Kijakazi, currently the deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy at SSA, has been appointed acting commissioner in the meantime.
Staff were informed of the changes by email on Friday afternoon.
It follows a Justice Department legal opinion that Saul could be removed despite a statute saying he could only be fired for malfeasance or neglecting his duties. It found that a recent Supreme Court ruling meant that he could be fired at will.
Saul, a wealthy Republican donor and former women’s clothing executive, was nominated in 2018 by President Trump.
His removal follows a turbulent six months during which Democrats on Capitol Hill and campaigners for the disabled and elderly urged the Biden administration to fire him.
Saul’s nomination in 2018 drew immediate criticism for his lack of experience in the complex field of Social Security benefits and his association with the right-wing Manhattan Institute
As word of Saul’s dismissal began to percolate through Washington Republicans said his removal would represent a ‘dangerous politicization’ of the Social Security Administration
He clashed with unions representing the 60,000 employees who work for the S.S.A. and was accused of dragging his feet during the roll-out of COVID stimulus payments to millions of disabled Americans by being slow to share files with the Inland Revenue Service.
Republicans said Social Security beneficiaries had the most to lose from the dismissal.
As word spread, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell tweeted: ‘This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration.’
And in a joint statement, U.S. Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo and U.S. House Ways and Means Ranking Member Kevin Brady, said: “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.’
As commissioner, Saul oversaw one of the biggest spending government departments. It pays out more than $1 trillion each year to some 64 million beneficiaries.
Trump nominated him for the post in April 2018 bu Saul’s involvement in the conservative Manhattan Institute, which has repeatedly called for cuts to Social Security benefits, drew immediate criticism
‘Like so many of Donald Trump’s nominees, Andrew Saul is utterly unqualified for the position to which he has been nominated,’ said the campaign group Social Security Works at the time. ‘He has no background in Social Security whatsoever.’