President Biden on Friday fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul, a holdover from the Trump administration, after Saul refused a request to resign from his position.
A White House official confirmed that Saul’s employment was terminated. The move was first reported by The Washington Post.
David Black, Saul’s deputy who was also appointed to the position by former President Trump, resigned at Biden’s request, the official said.
Biden has named Kilolo Kijakazi as acting commissioner as he searches for a permanent replacement for the position. Biden’s nominee will need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Kijakazi is currently the Social Security Administration’s deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy and previously served as a fellow at the Urban Institute and a policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
According to the Post, Saul, who was confirmed in 2019 by a 77-16 Senate vote to a six-year term at the helm of the Social Security Administration (SSA), argued that the White House did not have the power to remove him.
“I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security,” Saul told the Post in an interview Friday afternoon, denouncing the “Friday Night Massacre.” He also said he intended to return to work on Monday remotely.
“This was the first I or my deputy knew this was coming,” Saul told The Post, referring to a Friday morning White House email. “It was a bolt of lightning no one expected. And right now it’s left the agency in complete turmoil.”
The White House’s move was bolstered by recent Supreme Court rulings and came a day after a Justice Department opinion concluded that the president “may remove the SSA Commissioner at will.”
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the single-director leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau violates the separation of powers and in June, the court ruled that the structure of the Federal Housing Finance Agency was unconstitutional.
The Social Security Administration was established in 1935 as an independent agency but was moved under the Department of Health and Human Services for some time before former President Clinton signed legislation restoring its independent status in 1994.
“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 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 White House official said.
House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Senate Finance Committee ranking member Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) issued a statement criticizing the move as a “partisan decision.”
“We are concerned that this politicization of the Social Security Administration is just the beginning of efforts to raise payroll taxes and seriously undermines bipartisan efforts to save Social Security for future retirees,” they said.
Other top Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), had warned against removing Saul.
Grassley tweeted earlier Friday that Saul “has bipartisan backing” and Biden firing him would be “outrageous.”
“DONT POLITICIZE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN,” Grassley tweeted.
Democrats, however, backed Biden’s decision.
“Every president should choose the personnel that will best carry out their vision for the country. To fulfill President Biden’s bold vision for improving and expanding Social Security, he needs his people in charge,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. “I will work closely with the president to confirm a new commissioner as swiftly as possible to lead this critical agency.”
Via The Hill