Sep 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden cans Trump military academy holdovers

President Biden's lips are pursed as he stands before a microphone in a close-up shot
President Joe Biden. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Critics say President Biden's moves to clean house at America's military service academies creates a precedent that politicizes a traditionally nonpartisan — if patronage-heavy — system.

Driving the news: The White House's personnel office today sent letters to all six members of each of the three service academy visitors boards — overseeing West Point, Annapolis and the U.S. Air Force Academy — demanding they resign by 6pm or face termination.

  • Some refused and said they'd consider legal action.

The big picture: Appointees to those academies' visitors boards are generally permitted to serve out their terms regardless of their political affiliations even after a new president takes office.

Details: The officials targeted included H.R. McMaster, the former national security adviser and retired Army lieutenant general, who is to be honored as a distinguished graduate this weekend at West Point.

  • Other high-profile ex-Trump officials included Russ Vought as well as Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway, whom Trump tapped for the Naval and Air Force academy boards during his final weeks in office.

What they're saying: "It gives every future president the precedent to just wholesale purge all of these holdovers from the previous administration ... and now you dictate, from a political perspective, the outcome of some of these institutions," said Meaghan Mobbs, a West Point graduate who was asked to resign on Wednesday.

  • Spicer, Trump's first White House press secretary and a Navy reserve officer, said on his Newsmax show on Wednesday that he "will be joining a lawsuit to fight this."
  • Vought, the former White House budget director, tweeted he wouldn't resign because "it's a three-year term." A person familiar with his thinking told Axios he is "considering all legal options."

The other side: White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Biden, like any president, wants to "have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values."

  • Doug Lengenfelder, the acting chair of the Air Force Academy visitors board, told Axios, "I hope that in the future, she is treated exactly the way that she has treated others."
  • The retired Air Force colonel said he'd sent the White House his written refusal to resign with this explanation: "I am fully qualified for this position. ... There is no reason for this termination except the ugliest of politics."
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