Biden Fires Trump-era Social Security Commissioner

President Joe Biden makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on July 9, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
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July 9, 2021 5:22 p.m.

President Biden fired Trump-era Social Security Administration commissioner Andrew Saul on Friday.

A White House official confirmed to TPM that Biden had asked Kilolo Kijakazi to take over as acting head of the agency.

Kijakazi, a former fellow at the Urban Institute who joined the agency as a deputy commissioner in January 2021, will replace Saul.

A White House official told TPM that Saul refused to resign, as first reported by the Washington Post.

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David Black, a deputy commissioner, agreed to resign after being fired. Saul told the Post that he planned on returning to work on Monday.

Congressional Democrats had accused Saul of stymying Biden’s agenda, including through initiatives that would make it harder for people to quality for disability payments.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) described Saul and Black in February as “agents of the Trump Social Security agenda” and said that he was committing the agency to a “path of destruction.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Friday that he would be vehemently opposed to removing Saul.

After news of Saul’s firing broke, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee described it as political, and said that it was “just the beginning of efforts to raise payroll taxes and seriously undermines bipartisan efforts to save Social Security for future retirees.” It’s not clear how the firing is related to taxes.

Saul was accused of delaying the issuance of stimulus checks after the American Rescue Plan passed in March by failing to provide the IRS with information for Social Security beneficiaries.

“They are sabotaging the Biden administration by delaying relief checks,” Alex Lawson, head of Social Security Works, said in a statement at the time.

The White House official accused Saul of taking actions that “run contrary to the mission of the agency and the President’s policy agenda,” including removing a remote work policy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saul, a New York businessman who graduated from UPenn’s Wharton School the same year as Trump, is a former executive of a women’s clothing brand.

A former vice chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which manages New York City’s mass transit system, Saul allegedly impersonated a police officer during a cycling incident in 2012.

The move comes after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last year finding that the president has the authority to remove the heads of similar independent agencies.

“It was a bolt of lightning no one expected,” Saul told the Post of a Friday morning email informing him of his firing.

Saul said that he would show up to work on Monday remotely, from his home in New York.

The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel issued an opinion on Thursday granting the president the authority to remove the SSA Commissioner. It remains unclear what the consequences of Saul logging on from New York on Monday will be.

It does, however, echo a situation that took place in 2017, after Leandra English, an acting Consumer Financial Protection Board director and Obama-administration holdover, refused to depart to make way for Mick Mulvaney.

That resulted in a protracted legal battle, and English eventually resigned the next year.

This post has been updated.

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