By Jessie Seigel/Washington, D.C.
Donald Trump promised us he would “drain the swamp” and, in this, Donald Trump was a man of his word. During his presidential campaign and his four years in office, Trump drained every conceivable swamp in the country, and brought the reptiles inhabiting that primordial ooze to power in Washington, D.C.—from the convicted (now pardoned) criminals Michael Flynn, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort to most of the corporate members of Trump’s cabinet, who have put public funds in their own pockets, to the Proud Boy berserker wannabes and their ilk.
In the waning days of his Administration, Trump has busied himself and his minions with finding some way—any way—to stay in power. He has considered confiscating voting machines and ordering new elections in swing states. He has found some Republicans in the House and at least one in the Senate to challenge certification of the Electoral College results by Congress on January 6. Trump is encouraging the Proud Boys and others to come to D.C. on that day and go “wild,” which could be used as a pretext to declare martial law or deploy the military domestically pursuant to the Insurrection Act. At the same time, Trump is denying his successor access to crucial cooperation from government agencies like the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget; and using his last days to replace any remaining veteran professionals with subservient yes-men lackeys who might be willing to aid him in his dreams of a coup.
President-elect Biden, Vice President-elect Harris, and their transition team have mostly ignored Trump’s ravings about election fraud as well as his coup-like rumblings. They have moved coolly and steadily forward with the transition between administrations despite Trump’s refusal to allow many government agencies to meet with Biden’s transition team.
Publicly, Biden and Harris are trying, in their calm, confident manner, to reassure the nation that the transition will be orderly and that democratic normalcy will be reestablished. We must hope that, privately, they are developing plans to deal with Trump’s obstruction if he attempts further and more violent disruptions—something beyond calling Trump out on his actions.
But let’s assume that nothing cataclysmic will occur and Biden’s entrance into the White House on January 20 will be peacefully uneventful. In his efforts to undo all the damage Trump has caused during the last four years, Biden will still face obstruction in the Senate regardless of whether the coming Georgia senatorial run-off election leaves Republicans in the majority or minority. That is obvious, for obstruction is what the Republicans do best.
Less obvious is the obstruction Biden may face within administrative agencies.
Agency jobs vary as to tenure and job security. Political appointees to cabinet posts generally change when a new administration comes in. A political appointee’s staff is hired by the appointee and do not automatically keep their jobs when the appointee leaves. They generally leave when their bosses do. On the other hand, nonpolitical civil service employees have seniority protections and attorneys and others in excepted service have some civil service-like protections as well.
When political appointees leave an agency, they often try to find nonpolitical positions for members of their staff, so that those staff members can remain at the agency, with job security. This in itself is not nefarious. However, sometimes this effort has been used to embed in the government long-term adherents of a prior administration’s agenda after that administration has departed. If Trump appointees install loyalists in government positions from which they cannot easily be extracted, it will allow them to obstruct Biden’s efforts and subvert our democracy from within the agencies. Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reportedly urging Education Department employees to resist the Biden Administration.
Biden’s Administration simply must find and root out such embedding of Trump disciples. And where the incoming Administration cannot remove them, it must sideline them. Give them an office and no work of importance related to policy.
Joe Biden is going to have his work cut out for him. Let’s hope that he has the fortitude to drain Trump’s supersized swamp.
Jessie Seigel is a fiction writer, an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. She has twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her work. But, Seigel also had a long career as a government attorney, in which she honed her analytic skills. Of this double career, Seigel would say, “I guess my right and left brains are well balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.