Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is facing calls to resign Tuesday, a day after the New York Times reported on threats he made to government employees for not sufficiently backing President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama.
The saga dates back to September 1, when Trump tweeted that Alabama, along with several other states, “will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated” by Dorian. Twenty minutes after Trump’s tweet, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service tweeted that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”
The experts were right, but Trump dragged out the story last week, insisting that Alabama was at one point in Dorian’s path. And on Friday morning, Ross attempted to help his boss out. According to the Times, Ross called Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, and insisted that he do something about the NWS’s public contradiction of Trump. Jacobs balked at the demand, but when Ross reportedly threatened his job (an action that the Commerce Department denies), Jacobs conceded.
Friday evening NOAA put out an unsigned statement saying that the tweet from NWS Birmingham, by this time a week old, was “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”
Almost immediately, the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General launched an investigation, the Times reports:
The National Weather Service “must maintain standards of scientific integrity,” the inspector general, Peggy E. Gustafson, wrote in a message to NOAA staff members in which she requested documents related to Friday’s statement. The circumstances, she wrote, “call into question the NWS’s processes, scientific independence, and ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency.”
And just as quickly, calls for Ross’s resignation began. Democratic representatives Don Beyer and Paul Tonko were among the first to say Ross should step down. “Wilbur Ross does not deserve the trust of the American people or a place in the Cabinet and he should be dismissed immediately,” Beyer wrote. Several other Democrats in the House have joined them.
In a tweet, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticized Ross’s “thuggish” behavior and compared him to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. He stopped short of calling for his job, though.
Outside the government, groups such as the Sierra Club called for Ross to go. “His actions, on behalf of Donald Trump, threatened to instill panic simply to give cover for Trump,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. “Obviously, this shameless abuse of power could have devastating results now and in the future, demonstrating that Ross is unfit to continue in the cabinet and that he does not care that he is supposed to represent the American public above Trump’s fragile ego.”