President Joe Biden recently purged his predecessor’s appointees from government boards and commissions, in what critics call an unprecedented break with tradition.
Appointees named by Donald Trump while he was president, among them former senior presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway and former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, were told bluntly by letter to resign or be terminated within a day.
Luke Rosiak, an investigative reporter for The Daily Wire, has extensively covered both the firings and the consequences of Biden’s actions.
“There are really serious problems that can happen when our long-term institutions, which are kind of designed to keep our country stable over the course of many decades, become beholden to a White House [administration] that may only be in office for four years,” Rosiak says.
Besides advisory boards for the various military academies, the Trump appointees targeted by Biden include the Equal Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Arctic Research Commission, and the National Board for Education Sciences, Rosiak reported.
Normally, members of such panels carry over for the remainder of their terms when a new president from either major party takes office.
Rosiak joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss his reporting and the implications of Biden’s departure from tradition and precedent.
We also cover these stories:
- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visits the Texas border again.
- Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., calls on Democratic leaders to ignore the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling and push on with including immigration policies in the $3.5 trillion spending package.
- Pfizer announces that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe for children ages 5 to 11 and generated a “robust” immune response in a clinical trial.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Doug Blair: Our guest today is Luke Rosiak, an investigative reporter working for The Daily Wire. Luke, thank you so much for joining us.
Luke Rosiak: Thanks for having me.
Blair: Yeah. So, before we get into your story that you wrote for The Daily Wire that really inspired me to reach out to you and arrange this interview, let’s get to know you a little bit more. How did you get into investigative reporting and then how did you find your way to The Daily Wire?
Rosiak: I always liked computers, and my background is kind of using data analysis to find the truth, to find the needle in the haystack, and to get information that other people haven’t been able to kind of maneuver. We’re kind of drowning in data to the point where there’s good stories buried that you can find using a little bit of technology skills. So technology was always my secret weapon in journalism. And I worked for a couple different jobs in conservative as well as nonconservative media over the years. And I recently started working for The Daily Wire. We’re starting a new investigative team, and we want to start doing these sort of deep dives.
Blair: The reason I arranged an interview with you is one of your investigative reporting pieces really piqued my interest. This piece that you wrote is titled “Biden Purges Trump Appointees From Numerous Boards in ‘Unprecedented’ Departure From Norms.” This was a pretty big story. So for our listeners who maybe aren’t aware of what happened, can you tell them what is the story behind that piece and then what some of the implications were?
Rosiak: Sure. So, across the federal government, there are all these sort of obscure boards and commissions and advisory boards. Some of them are just advisory in nature, but others … are actually governing boards. And it’s the kind of thing Washington insiders are well aware. Most of the people that actually run the government aren’t famous, right? It’s these little people, it’s these people you’ve never heard of, but they’re specialists in their field and they’re playing important roles.
So, there’s over a thousand of these commissions across the government that have different people appointed to them, and typically they’re appointed by presidents for terms that are like three years long. And those terms are staggered. It’s basically specifically designed to give some nonpartisanship or bipartisanship to the government, so that … everything is not politicized. You’ve got people that are appointed from various administrations, and once they’re on the board, they’re on the board.
What [President Joe] Biden came along and did, especially this month, is just kind of wiped out everyone that was appointed by [former President] Donald Trump to these various commissions, including, for example, the boards that oversee the service academies like West Point and the Naval Academy.
You can see why you would want nonpartisan or representatives of both parties on a board that’s overseeing how military service members are trained. It’s pretty important that those schools not become basically politicized or in service of one political administration.
So this is totally unprecedented, for a new president to come in and wipe out everyone who was appointed by a prior president, even if their terms didn’t expire for two more years.
Blair: When you use the word “unprecedented,” that obviously means that this is something that hasn’t happened before. Obviously, a lot of people might point to, “Oh, well the president before Biden did unprecedented things. The president before that might’ve done unprecedented things.” Are you saying that this was kind of weird even in the context of President Trump didn’t do this, and President [Barack] Obama didn’t do this, President [George W.] Bush didn’t do this?
Rosiak: I think you can go back even further than that and go back decades, if not 100 years in some cases. There may be outliers where an individual was removed for a specific reason, but in general, to come in and wipe out sort of systematically people whose terms have not expired just because of who they were appointed by, we’ve never really seen that before. It’s a dramatic—to use the term that a lot of people threw around when Trump was in office—it’s a huge departure from norms.
The question is, is it illegal? In a lot of cases it kind of seems to violate the spirit of the law, but it’s pretty clearly not illegal. The president technically has the ability to rescind nominations from previous presidents and put in his own people. In other cases it actually could be illegal. Some of these government agencies are actually independent. …
Obviously, a president’s going to put his own people in the Cabinet and he’s got his own appointees to top roles. Of course we all know that, no one objects to that. That’s how it should be. But there are other places that are designed to be a little bit independent. And some examples are the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the National Labor Relations Board, where you actually want to have some isolation from politics and sometimes some representation from both political parties.
Biden fired the general councils of both of those groups. Now, that could be illegal. Those are independent agencies. They really are supposed to have some separation from the administration. And it’s kind of unclear, it’s kind of a gray area, and that’s largely because other presidents haven’t done this.
Blair: Right. So how are these justifications being kind of put out there? Is the Biden administration trying to say that these [individuals] are unqualified? Is the Biden administration trying to say they’re political appointees? What is the justification being given for these terminations?
Rosiak: White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki addressed it, in particular, … some of this stuff didn’t get much attention, but the military service boards really did, and that’s where you had some people that were kind of well-known political figures like Sean Spicer and I think Kellyanne Conway was on one of those boards, too. And so that’s what they really used to say, “Oh, these are Trump lackeys, and we had to get rid of them.”
Now, are they unqualified? That’s what they said, is that they’re unqualified. I mean, Sean Spicer went to the Naval Academy. He has a long record of military service. I don’t know that you can say he’s unqualified. He’s a high-profile political figure, sure. Kellyanne Conway, I don’t know.
But No. 1, I mean, being conservative doesn’t mean you’re unqualified, obviously. The president has the right to appoint his people, especially if you are qualified. … Most of them aren’t political figures at all. Most of these—so there’s this group called the Arctic Research Commission and it conducts research involving, I don’t know, Alaska stuff, geopolitical affairs involving Russia, and things like that. But it’s largely kind of this group populated by scientists and things like that.
So there’s this guy, Thomas Emanuel Dans, and he was—well, basically, actually, several Trump appointees were wiped out of this group. But the thing is, the ARC, the Arctic Research Commission, was populated almost entirely by Obama appointees during the entirety of the Trump administration.
So here you can see kind of proof that other administrations haven’t violated these norms and politicized these obscure agencies, because some of these members were actually, of the Arctic Research Commission, were actually critical of Trump. And so while Trump was in office, he’s got these government officials who are talking bad about him publicly, but he didn’t fire them because it would be a huge departure of norms.
So this is the kind of thing that people were always implying that Trump was going to do: He’s going to politicize the bureaucracy, he’s going to inject politics into places it’s really important are beholden to norms and are separated from politics. He didn’t do that. And kind of the best case study, the best example of that is how many people were openly undermining Trump while he was in office. The fact that he didn’t fire those people shows that he wasn’t actually violating those norms.
And so here we have Biden purging groups as obscure as the Arctic Research Commission from people that sometimes are just scientists or whatever. They’re not Trump lackeys. They’re not high-profile people.
But the other interesting thing that we should make sure to mention because it’s really funny, originally the Biden administration didn’t want to do these firings, because they know it’s really weird. It’s really sketchy to fire all these people. So what they did is they said, “Well, let’s just not have any of the groups meet. If we’re going to have to have a Trump person in the room, let’s just not meet at all.”
That’s kind of a big deal because [we have] these groups … for a reason. One of the groups is tasked with overseeing questions of science in education. It reports to the Department of Education. So, they just didn’t meet for all of this year because they had a couple Trump guys on the board who were professors and stuff like that, but they just didn’t want them in the room.
Think about that. I mean, we’re dealing with coronavirus. The schools are shut down. Everyone’s trying to assess, how do we deal with coronavirus in the classroom? The science requires a lot of review. We want to make sure it’s unbiased, we want to make sure it’s not being used to push a political agenda. Well, we’ve got a committee expressly for this purpose, and it just didn’t meet for all of 2021.
That’s what’s kind of shocking here, is the venom, sort of the personal animosity toward Trump. But not just Trump, but just random people that may be tangentially linked to him through some appointment to an obscure board was so great that they were willing to just cease operations of certain government boards to avoid any, even the slightest, influence of anyone tied to Trump.
Blair: Yeah. I’m really glad you brought that up because one of the parts of your piece that really stuck out to me was this idea that the Biden administration kind of basically would rather that nothing would actually happen as opposed to working with the Trump appointees. The one that really struck me was the [National Board for Education Sciences], that as the pandemic basically forced these schools to stay closed and there were debates over masking and debates over, “Can we do anything other than virtual learning?”, there was no discussion going on. And it sounds like, from what you’re saying, this was a pretty common tactic.
Rosiak: Yeah, and that’s kind of what’s unclear here, is the question is, did they just wipe out every single person that was appointed by Trump? We don’t really know, and I haven’t been able to get an answer to that. I mean, there’s a database of these appointments, but it’s just not been updated at all. I’ve contacted the people in charge, they haven’t really gotten back to me.
Was this systematic? So when … Jen Psaki says, “Well, we’ve just removed some unqualified people,” are they just saying that anyone appointed by Trump is automatically unqualified, even though some of these people are professors at Johns Hopkins University and things like that? It’s kind of hard to argue that they’re unqualified in many cases, unless your definition of unqualified means anyone who might be conservative.
But there’s an element of secrecy around this, to the point where we’ve seen enough examples where it seems to be essentially systematic, but we don’t know. Is this a complete wipeout of everyone or not?
And the government, I contacted the White House as well, because they were sending letters to these people that were super curt. They were just kind of very kind of crazy letters that were like, “You will resign by the end of today, or else you will be fired at 6 p.m.” No other explanation. And so I contacted the lady from the White House personnel office whose name was on these letters, she didn’t get back to me either.
But it’s a big deal. I mean, you don’t have to like Trump. Of course, he’s a previous president. Biden doesn’t have to come in and somehow—basically, this is just, for 100 years, the other president, you have to deal with people that have been appointed to fixed terms. That’s just what you do.
[Bill] Clinton didn’t wipe out people, George Bush didn’t wipe out people, Donald Trump didn’t wipe out people that Obama appointed. This is just the way that it’s always been done, and it was clearly set up by Congress to be this way for a reason.
And so when Biden is doing this, it really is rewriting norms, and it’s a scorched-earth approach to governing. And obviously, you’re essentially a precedent, that you have to assume that other presidents are going to do this, including Republican presidents.
And I don’t know if that’s really a good thing for any of us because, yeah, when I think about how the military service academies are governed, or when how science, the potential for politicization of science in education, you do want people from both sides.
You can say, “Well, maybe there’s ideological bias here.” It can be helpful to have Republicans around in certain cases like the Equal [Employment] Opportunity Commission, where there’s civil rights issues at play. There are different perspectives in the world. You don’t need to totally purge them. It’s OK to have, on advisory boards, one guy who maybe offers the conservative perspective. Congress did set it up that way for a reason.
Blair: Right. I’m so glad that you brought up that word, it’s precedent, and these ideas that we had these rules and we had these precedents in place for a reason. You kind of started speaking to those consequences of the norms and precedents being broken, but could you maybe expand a little bit more on what you view as some of the worst aspects of, well, we’ve crossed the Rubicon here, the dam is broken, now what?
Rosiak: Well, yeah. … I think that it’s so bizarre, because this is everything that people implied was going to happen under Trump but never really happened. And those concerns, if true under Trump, would’ve been cause for concern for sure.
You don’t want to politicize the everyday bureaucracy of the government. You don’t want to inject politics into every single cranny, as if the guy sitting around studying snowfall in the Arctic has to do with Donald Trump. It’s a poisonous way to view things. …
It’s ironic because Trump was undermined by a lot of people in the civil service. When Republicans talk about the deep state and things like that, I mean, they were kind of acting partisan. And he could’ve fired them but he didn’t, because it really would’ve been inappropriate. It’s inappropriate for bureaucrats to act partisan on their own, but it’s also inappropriate for presidents to push politics onto them.
But yeah, I think it’s just the politicization of every aspect of life is something that I think is super poisonous to Americans. Sean Spicer talked to us at The Daily Wire and he said the service academies and in general the military was kind of one of the last aspects of American life that wasn’t poisoned by this obsession with politics, and it was really important to keep it that way. It was nice to keep it that way. But it’s also important for the government. …
The military absolutely should not be politicized, just constitutionally speaking. It’s very important to keep it separated from partisan influence. And you’ve heard, we’ve seen stories about them doing things like teaching critical race theory at West Point and even teachers that have said some communist-sounding things at the Air Force Academy.
There are really serious problems that can happen when our long-term institutions, which are kind of designed to keep our country stable over the course of many decades, become beholden to a White House that may only be in office for four years. This was set up by Congress for a reason, we’ve got to keep it that way.
But now we’re in a position where if a Republican takes the White House and they don’t do this, in some sense it’s going to be like, are they just being weak? So really it’s a scorched-earth approach to governing. It’s poisoning our culture at a time when we probably have too much politics already coming into corporations and sports and everything. And it’s not a return to normalcy, which is kind of what Biden billed himself as providing if voters chose him.
Blair: I think that’s a really interesting thing to think about, and I think there is a lot to think about from this conversation. Unfortunately, Luke, we are running a little bit low on time, so I wanted to give the last word to you. If our listeners would like to read this piece, “Biden Purges Trump Appointees From Numerous Boards in ‘Unprecedented’ Departure From Norms,” or some of your other work, where should they go?
Rosiak: You can find it on thedailywire.com. And do check us out. We’re starting to do more investigative reporting over at The Daily Wire. … The company’s bringing new things all the time, we’re expanding, and a lot of exciting stuff going on over there at The Daily Wire.
Blair: Excellent. Well, Luke, thank you so much for joining us. That was Luke Rosiak, an investigative reporter working for The Daily Wire. Luke, as I said, thank you so much.
Rosiak: Great to be with you.
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