President Joe Biden fired the commissioner of Social Security Friday after the official refused to resign.
Commissioner Andrew Saul had been asked to resign and was fired after he refused Biden’s request, an anonymous White House official told The Associated Press.
Deputy Commissioner David Black had agreed to resign from his post following a similar request.
Both Saul and Black had been appointed by President Donald Trump.
As the head of the independent agency, Saul’s six-year term was not scheduled to end until January 2025, The Washington Post reported.
“I consider myself the term-protected commissioner of Social Security,” Saul said during an interview Friday afternoon.
“This was the first I or my deputy knew this was coming. It was a bolt of lightning no one expected. And right now it’s left the agency in complete turmoil.”
Kilolo Kijakazi, the deputy commissioner for retirement and stability policy, has been tapped to be acting commissioner while the Biden administration searches for permanent replacements for Saul and Black.
The White House pointed to a recent Supreme Court ruling that the president had the authority “to remove the SSA Commissioner at will” and said Biden was within legal right to oust Saul.
Saul had clashed with advocates for the elderly and the disabled, labor unions and Democrats on Capitol Hill during the first six months of the Biden administration.
“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,” a White House official said in a statement.
Republican lawmakers were quick to accuse Biden of politicizing the Social Security agency, adding that Saul was confirmed by a bipartisan Senate vote in 2019, according to the AP.
Saul was confirmed by a Senate vote of 77-16.
“This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted prior to Saul’s firing.
I agree with @ChuckGrassley. This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration. https://t.co/Y33G4YoZKf
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) July 9, 2021
Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Kevin Brady called Biden’s decision “disappointing” in a joint statement.
“It is disappointing that the Administration is injecting politics into the agency, given that Commissioner Saul was confirmed with bipartisan approval, worked closely with both parties in Congress, and provided smooth benefit and service delivery during the largest management challenge ever faced by the agency,” the ranking members said.
“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.”