Why did President Biden fire the head of Social Security Administration?
President Biden sacked Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul on Friday after he refused to resign, his deputy complied with the White House request.
Andrew Saul was appointed by former President Donald Trump to a six-year term that was due to expire January 2025. However, congressional Democrats have been pressuring Biden to remove the holdover from the previous administration fearing that he would do lasting harm to the agency that provides economic security to around 64 million Americans.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) is an independent agency that manages benefits to seniors, the disabled and low-income Americans and normally the Commissioner doesn't change with a new administration. However, The Washington Post reported that a recent Supreme Court ruling and a memo by the Justice Department on Thursday affirming Biden’s authority “to remove the SSA Commissioner at will,” gave the President the green light.
“Foxes in the henhouse”
Calls for President Biden to remove Andrew Saul and his Deputy David Black have been coming for months. Perhaps none louder than New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell Jr, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight and a member of the Subcommittee on Social Security “to protect Social Security and preserve this crown jewel.” In a letter to President Biden “it is unacceptable that the two officials most entrusted with protecting and sustaining this cherished program have instead used their offices to destabilize and actively harm it.”
There is a long list of grievances against the Commissioner and his Deputy. They were accused of trying to “boot” disabled elderly Americans from the program by making it harder for them to meet eligibility requirements. Increasing the number of reviews of recipients’ cases and shift hearings from impartial judges to staff attorneys. As well as blocking non-English speakers from accessing the program.
Saul is also accused of harming the agency’s workforce by among other things using union-busting tactics in his battle with labor unions that represent the agency’s 60,000 employees. A White House statement said that he had failed to repair SSA’s relationships with those labor unions. Additionally, he cancelled telework policy which as many as 25 percent of staff used and didn't cooperate with the unions in developing covid-19 workplace safety planning.
More recently, Saul and Black were blamed for millions of benefit recipients having to wait nearly a month to receive their $1,400 stimulus check after the IRS started sending them. The Internal Revenue Service was waiting for updated files from SSA to make the payments.
“Friday Night Massacre”
Saul said of his dismissal in an interview Friday afternoon “It was a bolt of lightning no one expected.” He compared it to the events that unfolded when former President Richard Nixon ordered his Attorney General to fire the Special Prosecutor investigating Watergate calling it a “Friday Night Massacre.”
He made clear his intention to stay on in his post “I consider myself the term-protected commissioner of Social Security,” Saul said. He has not said if he is considering legal action but plans to return to work on Monday, albeit remotely.
President Biden named as Andrew Saul’s replacement Kilolo Kijakazi, the current deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy. She will be the acting commissioner until a permanent nominee can be chosen to lead the Social Security Administration.