Democrats scramble to protect federal workers ahead of midterms, possible Trump return in 2024

By | September 8, 2022

House Democrats are expected to pass legislation next week that would make it harder for the president to change procedures within the federal workforce, a sign that Democrats are hedging their bets against the return of former President Donald Trump.

Trump has only hinted at the possibility of running again in 2024, and it is unclear whether he will mount a successful comeback two years from now. But for House Democrats, the writing on the wall is a bit clearer – polls consistently show Republicans are likely to take back control of the House during the midterms. According to Fox News power rankings, Republicans are expected to win the House this November but on a slimmer margin than previously forecast, while neither party can yet claim a majority in the Senate.

That means Democrats may have just a few months left before the midterm elections to shape policy as they see fit, and one of their priorities is protecting federal workers from actions that a potentially re-elected Trump, or other Republican, would likely take. 

Just before Trump left office, he signed an executive order setting up a new classification of federal workers known as Schedule F. The order instructed federal agencies to place thousands of workers into this category, which would strip them of the due process rights afforded to most federal workers and make it easier for them to be fired. 

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For the Trump camp, it was a last-ditch effort to “drain the swamp” of officials who resisted his policy prescriptions. But Democrats saw it as a political attack against the government’s merit-based civilian workforce system that has been in place for 150 years, and a return to the patronage or “spoils” system of managing the federal workforce. 

President Biden rescinded Trump’s order, but in possible preparation for another run at the White House, Trump said in March he wanted to make “every executive-branch employee fireable by the president.” 

Next week, Democrats will try to prevent that from happening. Lawmakers will start working on the Preventing a Patronage System Act, which would prevent any job in the federal service from being reclassified outside the regular merit system without the consent of Congress. 

The goal is to require any future president to get permission from Congress before they implement a Schedule F plan, with a potential Trump return to the White House at the top of their minds. In a July op-ed for the Washington Post, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., accused Trump of planning to “replace vast swaths of government experts with his own army of tens of thousands of loyalists.” 

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“This is a direct threat to democracy and the rule of law,” Connolly wrote. “The only reason for Trump to do this is to make it easier to fire federal employees who dare to disagree with him.” 

Connolly and other Democrats are so worried about the possibility of Trump’s return that next week’s vote will be the second time the House has approved this language. A similar restriction was placed into the annual defense policy bill earlier this year, but Connolly says it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

“Trump and his cronies have made clear that they want to dismantle the merit-based civil service,” Connolly said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “I am committed to stopping this attack on our democracy and thank House leadership for bringing this legislation to the floor. We must keep all options on the table.” 

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Republicans fought the legislation when it was considered in committee in 2021 and argued that the way federal officials resisted Trump is a good example of why the president needs more authority to fire officials when they oppose the will of the American people. 

“[I]n recent years – and particularly during the Trump administration – increasing numbers of civil servants in policy-related roles have resisted the policy and political direction of the duly elected president,” Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee argued. “As Professor Jennifer Nou of the University of Chicago Law School recounts, civil servants during the Trump administration ‘reportedly created support groups to oppose the Trump administration and signed up for workshops on how to resist.’” 

“This is unacceptable in a government that is intended to be responsible to the voters – not the whims or ideological leanings of career civil servants,” Republicans warned.