House lawmakers passed legislation Thursday that says only Congress – and not the White House – can reclassify the employment status of federal workers, in a vote that was aimed at preemptively protecting the federal workforce from the possible return of President Donald Trump.
Democrats called up the Preventing a Patronage System Act just weeks after reports that Trump would renew his effort to make more federal workers accountable to political leaders, a continuation of the ‘drain the swamp’ theme from his successful election in 2016.
Just before Trump left office, he created a new Schedule F for tens of thousands of federal workers, which would make them at-will employees and thus easier to remove. President Biden scrapped that order, but Democrats this week called up their legislation in order to protect federal workers from any White House that tries that move again.
‘Employees transferred to Schedule F would have been stripped of workplace protections and converted to at-will employees,’ Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said on the House floor in support of the Democrats’ restrictions. ‘If the order had been fully implemented, it could have harmed tens of thousands of federal employees.’
Democrats made it clear they were particularly worried about Trump’s return. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who sponsored the bill, said Trump wanted to ‘seize the reins of federal government’ and remove thousands of federals workers who disagreed with him.
‘Blind loyalty and ideological purity tests must never determine who we trust with securing our nation’s borders, fortifying federal IT systems, caring for seniors and veterans, fighting public health threats, or responding to natural disasters,’ he said.
Republicans argued that the next Republican who wins the White House shouldn’t have to contend with a hostile federal bureaucracy the way Trump did.
‘We should all be in favor of policies making it easier to remove civil servants who refuse to follow the will of the voters,’ Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said during floor debate. ‘That’s what Trump’s executive order did.’
‘We must be able to deal with poor performers in the federal government, and our Democrat friends want to protect them and make federal workers a protected class,’ said Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. ‘That is absolute insanity.’
‘My colleagues on the other side of the aisle want to preserve and entrench bureaucracy to step over the will of the people so that this town can decide the well-being of the American people,’ added Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. ‘It’s about power, it’s about the entrenchment of power among bureaucrats.’
Democrats argued that there are already policies in place to remove poorly performing federal workers, and that Republicans are looking to return to the spoils system of decades ago, when a winning political party could reward itself by stocking the government with friends and allies.
Democratic arguments easily carried the day in the Democratic-led House – it passed in a 225-204 vote that saw just six Republicans support the bill along with every Democrat. The bill now heads to the Senate.