President Biden dismissed Social Security commissioner and Trump appointee Andrew Saul from his post Friday after he refused to resign.
As justification for releasing him, the White House claimed Saul “politicized” the subject of his work and that his performance in the role was unsatisfactory.
“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 said in a statement.
Saul’s deputy and fellow holdover from the Trump administration David Black agreed to step down Friday upon request. Biden selected Kilolo Kijakazi, the current deputy commissioner for retirement and disability policy, to serve as interim commissioner in the Social Security Administration (SSA) until replacements for Saul and Black are identified.
Social Security is one of the most expansive and longest-enduring federal social-insurance programs, maintaining a safety net of regular retirement, disability, and survivor’s benefits for millions of Americans. In the Social Security Administration, technically an independent agency, the leadership does not typically change with the establishment of a new administration.
Saul’s and Black’s terms were not set to expire until January 2025, making their removals premature, considering precedent.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, Saul said he has no plans to quit working in his current capacity, disputing the legality of his forced departure, which he called a “Friday Night Massacre.”
“I consider myself the term-protected Commissioner of Social Security,” he stated.
“This was the first I or my deputy knew this was coming,” Saul said of the White House email informing him of his firing. “It was a bolt of lightning no one expected. And right now it’s left the agency in complete turmoil.”
As further reasoning, the White House has cited recent Supreme Court rulings that expanded the president’s authority to remove the directors of independent federal agencies. Previously, the Social Security Act allowed an incoming president to fire the agency’s head only for cause.
During his short-lived tenure in the Biden administration, Saul received criticism from Democratic politicians, elder and disabled advocates, and labor unions upset with his management of the SSA. He believes, however, that he left a positive legacy marked by attempts to modernize and promote efficiency in its operations.
Congressional Republicans noted the unprecedented nature of Saul’s sudden dismissal Friday and feared it could damage the integrity of the agency.
“This removal would be an unprecedented and dangerous politicization of the Social Security Administration,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted.