Noted
October 27, 2020

President Trump signed an executive order last week that could turn tens of thousands of nonpartisan career civil service jobs into "excepted service" positions, stripping federal scientists, public health experts, attorneys, regulators, and other policy professions of civil service protections. These career employees would essentially become political appointees whom the president could fire without cause or recourse.

Ronald Sanders, appointed by Trump to head the Federal Salary Council, cited this order when resigning Sunday, telling The Washington Post on Monday, "I don't want to sound too corny here, but it was just a matter of conscience."

Trump's order "is nothing more than a smoke screen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the president, or failing that, to enable their removal with little if any due process," Sanders wrote in his resignation letter. "I simply cannot be part of an administration that seeks ... to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance. Career federal employees are legally and duty-bound to be nonpartisan; they take an oath to preserve and protect our Constitution and the rule of law ... not to be loyal to a particular president or administration."

Sanders, a lifelong Republican who has worked in federal personnel positions over four decades, said in his letter he "cannot in good conscience continue" to serve a president who "seeks to make loyalty to him the litmus test for many thousands of career civil servants." On MSNBC Monday night, Rachel Maddow applauded his letter a "very, very rare Trump administration profile in courage."

Trump's executive order "would be a profound reimagining of the career workforce, but one that may end up as a statement of purpose rather than anything else," the Post notes. "The order fast-tracks a process that gives agencies until Jan. 19 to review potentially affected jobs. That’s a day before the next presidential inauguration. An administration under Democratic nominee Joe Biden would be unlikely to allow the changes to proceed." Peter Weber

January 7, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence official swore in Kelly Loeffler, a wealthy Republican donor and businesswoman, as Georgia's new U.S. senator on Monday. She is replacing former Sen. Johnny Isakson, 75, who resigned in December amid poor health. About 20 senators were present for the Senate ceremony, including one Democrat, Doug Jones (Ala.).

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) chose Loeffler over President Trump's favored candidate, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), a move widely seen "as a bid to court suburban and female voters, many of whom have reacted to Trump's harsh rhetoric and hard-right policies by moving away from the GOP," The Associated Press reports. Facing criticism that she is too moderate, Loeffler toured Georgia on a "pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military, and pro-wall" platform before moving to Washington. She has pledged $20 million of her own fortune to win the seat in November.

Loeffler, 49, told AP after being sworn in that she has not spoken to Trump since her appointment was announced, adding that she is "going to work very hard" to "earn the trust and support of the president." Loeffler has already said she will not vote to convict Trump in his impeachment trial. "I don't think there was due process followed in the House proceeding," she told AP, providing no details. She is now the ninth female Republican in the Senate; 17 of the chamber's 47 Democrats are women. Peter Weber

July 8, 2019

Four-star Adm. William Moran unexpectedly announced his retirement Sunday, two months after the Senate confirmed him as the U.S. Navy's top uniformed officer and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff starting Aug. 1. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer said in a statement that "Moran recently brought to my attention that over the past two years he maintained a professional relationship with an individual who was held accountable and counseled for failing to meet the values and standards of the Naval profession," and "that relationship has caused me to call his judgment into question."

Spencer did not identify the individual, but other officials said Moran had sought public affairs counsel from retired Cmdr. Chris Servello, removed as top spokesman for current Navy Chief of Operations Adm. John Richardson in 2017 after making unwanted sexual advances on female junior officers while dressed as Santa at a 2016 Christmas party. He was allowed to retire last May. "It's hard not to feel disappointment and disbelief," Servello told The Associated Press. "This is terrible news for the Navy, and beyond that, I don't have anything to add."

After a Pentagon inspector general found last October that Richardson had been too slow in removing Servello, Spencer had said he was "completely confident" in Richardson's abilities and found he had done an "outstanding job."

Richardson will now stay on as the Navy's top admiral past his scheduled retirement Sept. 1, until Spencer submits a new candidate for President Trump's approval and nomination. Moran's sudden resignation comes amid churn at the Pentagon, which hasn't had a Senate-confirmed defense secretary since December, AP notes. Acting Secretary Pat Shanahan withdrew from consideration in June, and Trump hasn't formally nominated current acting Secretary Mark Esper, the former Army secretary. There is also no confirmed deputy defense secretary, and other top military positions are about to turn over. Peter Weber

May 22, 2019

On Monday, the Republican majority in Tennessee's state House voted 45-24 in favor of a historic vote of no confidence in House Speaker Glen Casada (R), following a series of scandals including sexually explicit text messages about women he exchanged with his male former chief of staff. Casada said he won't resign. In neighboring Mississippi on Tuesday, it was House Speaker Philip Gunn (R) who called for the resignation of a member of his caucus, Rep. Doug McLeod (R), arrested on Saturday on allegations he punched his wife because she didn't undress quickly enough when he wanted to have sex.

"I have attempted to contact Rep. McLeod to request his resignation, if in fact, these allegations are true," Gunn said in a statement. "These actions are unacceptable for anyone."

According to a report from the George County Sheriff's Department, when deputies knocked on McLeod's door in Lucedale on Saturday night, the lawmaker was visibly drunk and holding an alcoholic drink. When they said they were there responding to reports of a domestic assault, the deputies reported, McLeod said, "Are you kidding me?" The report says McLeod's wife had a bloodied nose and there was blood on the bed and bedroom floor, and a second woman told the deputies she had locked herself and the wife in her room after the incident, McLeod had pounded on the door, and when she refused to open it, he had threatened to "kill her [expletive] dog."

McLeod, arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, "is free on bail," and "he didn't immediately respond to requests for comment," The Associated Press reports. "The 58-year-old McLeod has represented George and Stone counties since 2012. He's unopposed for re-election this year." Peter Weber

May 14, 2019

Yleem Poblete, a prominent Iran hawk, is resigning as assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, The Washington Post reported Monday night, citing U.S. officials and congressional aides. The State Department didn't offer an explanation for Poblete's departure, but she has repeatedly clashed with her boss, Undersecretary of State Andrea Thompson, the Post reports.

Poblete's views are much more closely aligned with National Security Adviser John Bolton than with Thompson's, former national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, the Post reports. One high-profile clash between Poblete and Thomson was over the State Department's report in April on compliance with arms control accords.

Poblete's office writes the report, and Reuters reported in April that U.S. intelligence agencies and some State Department officials were "concerned that the document politicizes and slants assessments about Iran," raising fears that "the administration was painting Iran in the darkest light possible, much as the George W. Bush administration used bogus and exaggerated intelligence to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq." Poblete had unconventionally "sought to include information such as news stories and opinion pieces in the report," two sources told Reuters.

The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, reimposed punitive sanctions, designated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East to counter a purported Iranian threat, and ordered a revised plan to send up to 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East to fight Iran, The New York Times reported Monday night. There have been other signs that the Trump administration hasn't been listening to impartial analysis on Iran.

Poblete's vacancy will leave a hole as the U.S. deals with major arms control threats, but some nonproliferation experts argued she wasn't helping advance arms control, anyway. Peter Weber

April 29, 2019

U.S. Southern Command said Sunday that Navy Rear Adm. John Ring has been relieved of duty as commander of the task force that runs the Guantanamo Bay prison camp "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command." The head of Southern Command, Adm. Craig Faller, informed Ring of his firing on Saturday at the command's headquarters in Florida. Ring's deputy, Brig. Gen. John F. Hussey, replaced him as acting commander.

Ring took command of Guantanamo Bay in April 2018 and had been scheduled to rotate out of the assignment the week of June 11. Col. Amanda Azubuike, a spokeswoman for the Southern Command, said Ring was fired after a month-long investigation that began in mid-March; she declined to give details. He "will be temporarily assigned duties elsewhere" in the Southern Command, Azubuike said.

Guantanamo Bay, a U.S. prison camp on Cuba opened in 2002, held nearly 700 detainees at its peak in mid-2003. It now holds about 40 detainees. There are also 1,800 military and civilian personnel at the base. Peter Weber

April 12, 2019

The Senate confirmed David Bernhardt as interior secretary on Thursday by a vote of 56 to 41. The former oil and gas lobbyist had been acting secretary since Jan. 2, and before that he was deputy to his predecessor, Ryan Zinke. The Interior Department manages nearly half a billion acres of public lands. Most Democrats voted against Bernhardt, pointing to his previous work representing many of the oil companies and water utilities he is now in charge of regulating, as well as his policies at Interior, which they say have favored industry and weakened protections against threatened species.

Republicans noted that he had extensive experience at Interior, including as the department's solicitor under former President George W. Bush. Before Thursday's vote, Zinke held a 40-year record for the highest number of "no" votes — 31 — for an interior secretary's confirmation, the liberal Center for American Progress notes. Peter Weber

April 5, 2019

The White House sent Congress paperwork Thursday night to withdraw the nomination of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement director Ron Vitiello, who will remain acting ICE director until President Trump picks a new nominee, The Associated Press reports. Vitiello had been scheduled to travel to the California-Mexico border with Trump on Friday, but on official told AP that Vitiello is no longer going.

"One Homeland Security official insisted it was nothing but a paperwork error that had later been corrected," AP reports. "But other, higher-level officials said the move did not appear to be a mistake, even though they were not informed ahead of time."

Vititello began his law enforcement career with the U.S. Border Patrol in 1985, and he had risen to Border Patrol chief when Trump tapped him to be acting ICE head in June 2018. Trump nominated him as permanent director in August, he had his Senate confirmation hearing in November, and he'd cleared one of two committees. ICE is charged with enforcing immigration law inside the U.S., including arresting immigrants in the country without permission. Peter Weber

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