During his four-year tenure in the White House, President Donald Trump packed powerful federal regulatory agencies with dozens of right-wing loyalists who are well-placed to stall or undermine the agenda of President-elect Joe Biden from the moment he takes office.
But according to a report (pdf) released Monday by the Revolving Door Project, there is an immediate and perfectly legal solution available to Biden if he's willing to act: Clean house of all political officials who were installed because of their allegiance to Trump.
While noting that many political appointees typically step aside once the president who hired them departs, the Revolving Door Project points out that "a powerful minority will, by default, continue in office," leaving them positioned to slow-walk or even "sabotage" Biden's agenda.
"Biden has the power to remove the top two officials at the Social Security Administration, who have been waging a regulatory war on people with disabilities. He needs to use it."
—Social Security Works
"Some of these figures are beyond the next president's reach, protected by provisions that stipulate they can only be removed 'for cause.' (Of course, if 'cause' for termination is ultimately ascertained, it ought to be acted upon.) Many, however, can be removed on a president's first day in office, even if that is not routine," reads the four-page memo. "These figures are only protected by norms—norms that the Trump administration has itself undermined."
The Revolving Door Project, an initiative of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) that aims to ensure executive branch officials serve the public interest, pointed to a number of officials whom Biden has the authority to terminate immediately upon assuming the presidency.
Those officials, according to the report, "include the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Comptroller of the Currency, the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and taking Seila Law v. CFPB as precedent, the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), and the commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA)."
Citing the new memo, progressive advocacy group Social Security Works urged Biden to make use of his power and remove top SSA officials "who have been waging a regulatory war on people with disabilities."
"Biden has the power to remove the top two officials at the Social Security Administration," the group said. "He needs to use it."
Biden has the power to remove the top two officials at the Social Security Administration, who have been waging a regulatory war on people with disabilities.
He needs to use it. https://t.co/icIR2ohaRZ
— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) November 23, 2020
Though top Trump-appointed officials at other key agencies such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Postal Regulatory Commission cannot be removed without cause, they can be demoted, stripped of the "power to set an agency's agenda and otherwise steer its course," and replaced, the Revolving Door Project noted.
"Putting that position in a Democratic commissioner's hands, even when Democrats lack a majority on the commission, could allow the agency to begin to reorient right away," the group said.
Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said in a statement Monday that it would be a major "unforced error" if Biden fails to use his authority to remove or demote Trump loyalists standing in the way of his policy agenda, which—if Democrats fail to take control of the Senate by prevailing in both Georgia runoffs in January—will rely heavily on executive and regulatory actions.
"Holdovers from the Trump administration may actively sabotage the Biden administration's initiatives from their powerful perches (this is not without precedent)," said Hauser. "Even if, however, they do not set out to undermine the new administration, it is doubtful that these will be the best figures to carry out Biden's ambitious agenda."
"A Biden administration's success will hinge substantially on the energy and creativity of all its appointees," Hauser continued. "With that in mind, the next administration must consider all possibilities, including unconventional but legal removals, to get the federal government working for the public interest as quickly as possible."