President Biden fired Andrew Saul, the Trump-appointed commissioner of the Social Security Administration, on Friday after Saul refused a White House request that he resign. Saul, a 74-year-old former women’s apparel company executive, has run the SSA since 2019, and before that was a top GOP donor and board member of a think tank that advocated for cuts to Social Security benefits.
Saul, whose term was supposed to run until 2025, dismissed his own dismissal on Friday, telling the Washington Post that he considers himself “term protected,” will challenge the legality of his ouster, and intends to show up to remote work on Monday. He also said he was blindsided and claimed the move had left the SSA in “complete turmoil.” The Social Security Act attempts to insulate SSA commissioners from politics by dictating that they can only be fired by a new president for cause. The Biden administration sought to provide plenty of justification on Friday.
The White House claimed in a statement that Saul had “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 Post adds that:
Saul’s firing came after a tumultuous six-month tenure in the Biden administration during which advocates for the elderly and the disabled, and Democrats on Capitol Hill pressured the White House to dismiss him. He had clashed with labor unions that represent his 60,000 employees, who said he used union-busting tactics. Angry advocates say he dawdled while millions of disabled Americans waited for him to turn over files to the Internal Revenue Service to release their stimulus checks — and accused him of an overzealous campaign to make disabled people reestablish their eligibility for benefits.
In addition to putting forward apparent cause for Saul’s termination, the Biden administration claimed a recent Supreme Court ruling gave Biden the legal right to make the change. Twice in the past year, the Court has ruled that a president had the authority to remove powerful agency heads who had seemed to be protected by law from such a move. In the most recent ruling, last month, Justice Elena Kagan even suggested in an opinion that the next agency head to face “the chopping block” would be the SSA commissioner.
It’s possible that Saul’s attempt to stick around will lead to another SCOTUS ruling. The Trump holdover wasn’t the only one upset about Friday’s news, either. Some congressional Republicans decried the move, as well, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who claimed that Biden’s firing of the Senate-confirmed Saul “would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization” of the SSA.
More than a trillion dollars in benefits are paid out to some 64 million senior, disabled, or low-income Americans annually by the Social Security Administration.
Saul’s Trump-appointed deputy, David Black, did resign at the request of the White House on Friday. Biden named the agency’s deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy, Kilolo Kijakazi, as acting SSA commissioner to replace Saul. She will fill the role until a permanent replacement can be nominated and confirmed.