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Blog Post | April 21, 2021

100 Days In and Biden Still has Trump Holdovers Left to Fire

2020 Election/Transition
100 Days In and Biden Still has Trump Holdovers Left to Fire

As the end of his first 100 days nears, Biden has signed into law COVID relief legislation, published his inaugural budget proposal, and begun rolling back some of the damage wrought by the Trump years. On the campaign trail, Biden rightfully described Trump as an “existential threat”. 

With the January 6th insurrection still fresh in our collective memory, de-Trumpification is a crucial part of protecting our democracy. But Biden has failed to remove many Trump appointees from their positions.  While some of the positions helmed by Trump appointees are relatively unimportant, others hold immense regulatory or policy-making powers. Regardless of the relative power amongst these positions, the individuals who hold them are uniformly incompatible with the restoration of effective and responsive government. The Revolving Door Project compiled this list of Trump officials Biden had yet to fire as of early February. Months later, these officials remain.

IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig

Charles Rettig has spent the majority of his career working in Beverly Hills as a tax attorney for wealthy clients fending off IRS audits. Since he has taken the reins of the agency he used to fight for a living, Rettig has reduced the number of audits performed on wealthy Americans while cutting taxpayer services. More details about Rettig’s malfeasance can be found here.

Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black

Both Andrew Saul and David Black have taken significant steps to impose new and onerous burdens on SSI recipients. Though the program already utilizes a supremely convoluted means test, Saul and Black have used their authority to make SSI even more unobtainable to those who need it. Saul has also ceaselessly attacked AFGE, the union representing the thousands of employees who work for the Social Security Administration. This dynamic duo later refused to release the information of SSI and Social Security recipients to the IRS to assist with the distribution of COVID relief checks, hampering the distribution of these crucial payments. Though they relented after pressure from Congressional Democrats, their attempt to delay or prevent the distribution of COVID relief payments to retirees and disabled Americans on SSI is more than enough justification for Biden to fire them both. 

FBI Director Christopher Wray

While FBI Directors have often served under presidents of different parties without incident, Wray is not an ordinary FBI Director. Wray, who was elevated to the role after Trump fired Director James Comey, was chosen for his anticipated loyalty to President Trump. Moreover, Wray’s performance as FBI Director has been atrocious; he has repeatedly denied the threat posed by white supremacist groups and the far-right, despite data from the agency he oversees displaying the danger these groups pose. Under Wray’s leadership, the FBI listed “black identity extremists” as the greatest domestic terror threat to the country, alongside “animal rights extremists”. The targeting of left wing political behavior labeled as “extremist” has a long history with the FBI and is concerning by itself. However, the targeting of made-up threats like “black identity extremists” and “animal rights extremists” also comes at the price of ignoring the threat posed by the far right. Under Wray’s leadership, far right and White Supremacist violence has become sadly commonplace. Much of this violence targets minority communities, be it the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg or the targeting of Latinos in the El Paso Walmart shooting. The most recent mass manifestation of the right wing terror allowed to spread under Wray was the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. With increasing hate crimes against Asian-Americans and other minority groups, Wray has shown himself incapable of protecting marginalized groups and must be replaced.

USPS Board of Governors and Louis DeJoy

Louis DeJoy is perhaps the first and only Postmaster General to become a household name, doing so in mid-2020 following disastrous declines in mail service, and subsequent reporting on his unusual rise to the highest post at the USPS. After taking control of the Postal Service, DeJoy has waged war on its career employees and overseen a massive decline in the reliability and speed of USPS delivery. Though Biden lacks the authority to fire DeJoy outright, he can fire the USPS Board of Governors who hired DeJoy. Firing the USPS Board is an unprecedented step, and Board members have “for cause” protection from removal. However, the Board’s hiring of DeJoy and approval of his erosion of USPS capabilities is more than sufficient reason for Biden to fire them promptly. Once the Board of Governors is dismissed and Biden’s three USPS nominees confirmed, the new Board will then have the authority to immediately remove DeJoy and replace him with a new Postmaster General.

Acting COO, Federal Student Aid at the Department of Education, Robin Minor

Minor was made the Deputy Chief Operating Officer of Federal Student Aid under the Trump administration after Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos reorganized the structure of the Federal Student Aid executive committee. After Mark Brown, the Trump Administration’s Chief Operating Officer resigned in March, Minor was made acting COO by Biden’s Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Despite being named acting COO by a Biden official, Minor gained prominence in the FSA executive committee under DeVos’ tenure, rising as a prominent opponent to federal student debt relief. Acting leaders can wield massive influence in their agencies, often serving for a year or more before being replaced. If Biden hopes to tackle the student debt crisis, he needs to fire the Trump official that currently runs FSA.

Director of Investigations, Partner Enforcement and Consumer Protection Unit at the Department of Education, Lisa Bureau

Lisa Bureau began her work with the Department of Education in 2019, when Betsy Devos’ Federal Student Aid Chief Mark Brown led her division. Though Mark Brown has since departed and Biden’s Secretary of Education has selected a new acting COO of Federal Student Aid, Bureau has remained in her position. Bureau’s position as an investigator for the Department of Education’s Student Aid office is of particular concern considering her past work as a lawyer for for-profit colleges fending off Department of Education probes and enforcement. Biden should not be employing someone who has made their living protecting for-profit colleges at the expense of America’s students. 

Acting Comptroller of the Currency Blake Paulson

Blake Paulson was designated as the acting Comptroller of Currency by Trump Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin days before Biden took office. As an acting official, Biden’s Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen has the authority to replace Paulson at any time, needing only to designate another official to act as “first deputy comptroller”. Despite the easy route to replacing Paulson and the importance of his position, Yellen has failed to do so, letting the Trump-connected Paulson continue to serve months into the Biden Administration. Though Paulson has avoided the attention earned by many other more high profile Trump officials, it is not for lack of trying. Paulson has continued to use his power over an obscure but extremely powerful regulatory apparatus to continue Trump administration policy objectives. Most notably, Paulson argued against an effort by Senate Democrats to repeal a Trump Administration banking rule that could allow payday lenders and other financial actors to skirt state interest rate caps. Still lacking a nominee for OCC, Biden must at least respond to this continuation of Trump policy by removing Paulson as acting head of OCC and replacing him with a replacement more likely to get the ball rolling on Democratic banking regulation priorities. 

US Attorneys

The power and independence held by US attorneys means that they can play an outsized role in criminal justice reform, and in holding local law enforcement to account for civil rights violations. Firing US attorneys is common in presidential transitions and Biden has called for almost all Trump-appointed US attorneys to resign. Despite this, the influence of the Trump administration lingers in many offices. In Minnesota for example, the acting US attorney, W. Anders Folk was hired by the Trump-appointed US attorney in 2018 and immediately designated her First Assistant. Now, despite Biden dismissing Minnesota’s Trump-appointed US attorney, her influence lingers in the office as Folk, her handpicked successor, manages operations. Folk is not the only one; Trump appointee-selected lawyers continue to lead many of the country’s 93 US attorney offices. If Biden is serious about criminal justice reform and on cracking down on violent police departments, he must ensure that any trace of Trump influence is scrubbed from our justice system. 

Financial Stability Oversight Council Member Thomas Workman

Thomas Workman is a member of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, another crucial financial regulatory body tasked with preventing another Great Recession-style economic collapse. Workman previously worked as a CEO of an insurance industry trade group prior to assuming the post on the FSOC. Insurance industry trade groups eager for decreased regulation celebrated Workman’s nomination.

Director of Federal Housing Finance Agency Mark Calabria

Mark Calabria, a former advisor to Vice President Mike Pence, spent his career working at conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute where he advocated for financial deregulation. Among his favorite targets is the Dodd-Frank Act, which was passed in 2010 as a regulatory measure designed to prevent another Wall Street-created economic collapse. Despite this, he now works as the Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the regulatory agency tasked with oversight of the housing market whose collapse triggered the Great Recession. It should be noted that there is some debate over whether the Director of the FHFA can be fired without cause. The statute that established the FHFA was written to protect its Director from removal except for cause but a 2020 Supreme Court decision in Seila Law v CFPB held that the same protections for the CFPB director were unconstitutional. It is our view that this decision applies to the FHFA and that Mark Calabria can be fired. 

National Security Education Board Member Sebastian Gorka

Sebastian Gorka became famous on the first day of the Trump administration after wearing a pin of a Hungarian Nazi group to the President’s inaugural ball. Though this was his first time in the global spotlight, Gorka had already made a name for himself on the far-right where he portrayed himself as an academic while writing for the notoriously xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist Breitbart News (Gorka’s PhD work has since been called into question). Gorka served as a Deputy Assistant to the President in 2017 and made news again after having his security clearance revoked. Trump later named Gorka to the National Security Education Board in July 2020 where he continues to serve today.

Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Member Darren Beattie

A former Trump speechwriter, Darren Beattie was dismissed from the White House after he attended a conference of white nationalist groups. Though Beattie’s white supremacist affiliations were apparently too overt for the Trump White House, they did not preclude Trump from later appointing him to serve on the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad. That Commission is tasked primarily with promoting and protecting Holocaust memorials, historical sites and museums. The dark irony of this fascist working internationally to promote recognition of the horrors of the Third Reich inspired outrage by prominent Jewish groups. Yet Biden has yet to remove Beattie from his post.

Header image: “Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

2020 Election/Transition

More articles by Henry Burke

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