Aug 3, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: 2024 GOP hopefuls back Trump's plan to purge civil servants

Illustration of an elephant trunk snatching a worker

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Several possible 2024 Republican presidential candidates tell Axios they support former President Trump's plan to make it easier for the president to purge federal workers.

Why it matters: Trump need not win his party's nomination — nor even run again — for the next GOP president to try to reimpose the executive order known as "Schedule F." Democrats, increasingly concerned, are scrambling to block that possibility.

These moves follow Axios' publication last month of an in-depth series by Jonathan Swan detailing how allies of the former president are already plotting the return of Schedule F in 2025 were Trump re-elected.

Driving the news: Six Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), introduced legislation on Tuesday to "secure the civil service" and protect career officials against future efforts to reimpose the deeply controversial Trump-era order, which was rescinded by President Biden at the start of his term.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who chairs the subcommittee overseeing the federal civil service, last week published an op-ed in The Washington Post calling on Congress to act. He has sought to amend this year's defense bill to prevent a future president from resurrecting Schedule F.

What we're hearing: Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told Axios they support using a measure like Schedule F to reform the federal bureaucracy and strip civil servants from their positions in crucial government agencies.

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) wouldn't speak to Schedule F specifically, but they showed openness to the approach and told Axios they think more needs to be done to hold career officials and federal agencies accountable.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence, former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) declined to comment for this story.

The one dissenting voice: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who has openly opposed another Trump term.

  • "This is another unneeded distraction ahead of a critically important election," Hogan told Axios. "While Americans are hurting, Republicans should be talking about reducing the cost of living, getting our economy back on track, and stopping violent crime, not harkening back to the dark days of the end of 2020."

Between the lines: Those aligned with Trump on Schedule F say the apolitical civil service is a myth — and assert that the bureaucracy is stacked with liberals out to block conservatives from exercising policy muscle won fairly in elections.

  • Others see that argument as cover for a power play to destroy the civil service, disrupt continuity of government, trigger mass resignations, establish loyalty tests, politicize the bureaucracy and send a chilling effect through virtually every U.S. agency.
  • The impacts could go well beyond typical conservative targets such as the Environmental Protection Agency and IRS, also touching the Justice Department, FBI, State Department and Pentagon.

What they're saying: Pompeo tells Axios that "Schedule F was a step in the right direction: We need to do more to hold the D.C. bureaucracy accountable. Great employees need to be rewarded and underperformers shown the door."

  • "With our security and economy at risk, we need effective institutions. Americans don't want bureaucrats or ideologues; we want competence," he said.

Cruz: "I support creative efforts to root out the deep state... I think there is enormous abuse from radicals who are burrowed into our agencies. And I'm glad to see that the Trump White House was thinking creatively about how to combat that. I think they should have done more sooner," Cruz said.

  • "I think any Republican president should work to ensure that there are appointees in the administration who will carry out the policy priorities that the American people voted for. ... Taking on the entrenched bureaucracy is incredibly important."

DeSantis: "To be frank, this is simply not an issue here like it might be in D.C.," DeSantis' press secretary Christina Pushaw told Axios.

  • "I would add, however, that Governor DeSantis has spoken out many times against unaccountable power-mad bureaucrats like [NIAID Director Dr. Anthony] Fauci because their agenda is harmful for Americans and would destroy Florida if it were implemented here."

Hawley: "I would be open to considering [Schedule F]. … I think the bureaucracy is way too big and generally unaccountable to anybody."

  • "The bureaucracy runs this government, Congress does not does not run the government. … They are unelected, and they are really insulated from democratic accountability. … I think it's a huge, huge problem. Constitutionally I think it's a problem and just from a workability standpoint. Is [Schedule F] the right solution to that? I don't know. But I certainly think that it's asking the right question."

Rubio said he doesn't know enough about Schedule F to speak to that specific strategy, but added: "Are people working in government that don't do a good job? Absolutely. The VA [Veterans Affairs] is a great example. Unfortunately, there are people there that have not done a good job."

  • "There should be accountability that civil service should not exist to shield bad workers."

Scott told Axios he supports term limits for bureaucrats and more turnover among civil servants and that he thinks presidents and governors should have more control over "finding people who will do the job."

  • Scott said during his time as Florida governor, he saw that some civil servants refused to "enforce the law," adding: "You gotta enforce all the laws. If you don't like them, go to the legislature. ... It's not your job in the executive branch."
  • His "Rescue America" plan calls in part for slashing the federal workforce by 25% — and cutting the size of the IRS staff in half — while imposing pay caps and 12-year term limits on federal workers.
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