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Biden clears out Trump picks at the Social Security Administration

Following a Supreme Court ruling, Biden fired Trump's top officials at the Social Security Administration. Andrew Saul, however, doesn't intend to leave.
Image: Social Security Check
Blank Social Security checks are run through a printer at the U.S. Treasury printing facility.William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

In recent months, President Joe Biden and his team have made incremental progress, moving Trump appointees out of positions in a variety of federal departments, from the Pentagon to the EEOC to the National Security Agency.

But ousting the former president's Social Security chief was a little different. NBC News had this report late Friday:

President Joe Biden on Friday fired Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul after he refused a request to resign, a White House official told NBC News. Saul, who was appointed to lead the agency by President Donald Trump, was notified that his employment was terminated immediately, according to the official.

Team Biden apparently requested that Saul and David Black, the agency's deputy commissioner, resign. Black agreed and stepped down, but Saul balked, which led to his firing.

For many Democrats and their allies, Saul won't be missed. As a White House official explained on Friday, "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 [Biden's] policy agenda."

Saul was a curious choice to lead the agency in the first place: Trump's 2019 nominee was a prominent Republican donor who served as a trustee at a conservative think tank that has called for cuts to Social Security benefits.

But what makes this development especially unusual is that there was some question as to whether the president had the legal authority to oust the head of the Social Security Administration, which is a semi-independent agency, and whose commissioner has not traditionally been seen as a politically appointed position. As far as the White House is concerned, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Biden a green light.

Last month, the administration received a boon in the form of Collins v. Yellen, a Supreme Court decision that found that the law providing a similar "for cause" protection to the Federal Housing Finance Agency director unconstitutionally constrained the president's ability to oversee political appointees. Following the decision, the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel published a 17-page opinion on Friday finding that the Supreme Court decision also applies to the Social Security commissioner.

Saul, however, apparently disagrees. In fact, the Trump appointee told the Washington Post late last week that, as far as he's concerned, Biden can't fire him. Saul added that he intends to keep working this morning, as if his ouster hadn't happened.

I don't know enough about the inner workings of the Social Security Administration, but I assume the relevant officials have canceled his login and limited his access to the building. I also assume Saul will soon file some kind of lawsuit testing the legality of the White House's decision.