A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation on Wednesday to close loopholes that protect senior presidential appointees from being fired or disciplined under the Hatch Act.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.) said the new provisions, if passed, would directly target Trump administration officials who have repeatedly violated the Hatch Act, which bars officials in the executive branch from using their authority for political activities.
The coalition pointed to senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway, who has been reprimanded for her regular attacks on Democratic presidential candidates and her other partisan stumping.
“Kellyanne Conway’s more than 25 flagrant violations of the Hatch Act and the President’s refusal to terminate her highlight a glaring failure in our system of oversight for federal employees,” Speier said in a statement on Wednesday. “If Ms. Conway wants to provide political spin on TV, she has the right to do so — but not on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Democrats have so far been stymied in their efforts to hold Conway accountable for her actions. Earlier this month, the Office of Special Counsel declared that she should be removed from federal service, naming her as a “repeat offender” of the Hatch Act who regularly flouted the rule of law.
“Ms. Conway’s violations, if left unpunished, would send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act’s restrictions,” the OSC said. “Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law.”
The Trump administration, however, declined to terminate her, instead firing back and accusing the OSC of “weaponizing” the law amid pressure from the media and liberal activists.
The president is currently the only person who can fire or punish senior White House aides under the Hatch Act, as they receive a special exemption from disciplinary action under current law. The new law would give OSC the power to take direct action against such aides and carve out the ability to impose fines against potential violators. The president would also be required to issue a public response to any Hatch Act violation within 30 days and say why they did or didn’t follow any disciplinary recommendations.
Blumenthal lambasted the president’s repeated protection of Conway, saying that in any other White House, she would have been fired for “her near-constant, flagrant violations of ethics law — but not this one.”
“The fish rots from the head, and since we clearly can’t expect the Grifter-in-Chief to discipline his lackeys, the Office of Special Counsel need real tools to ensure accountability instead,” the senator tweeted.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee has also been attempting to get Conway to appear before lawmakers to speak about her alleged Hatch Act violations. But the White House has blocked her from testifying, declaring her “absolutely immune” from doing so.
Amping up tensions, the Oversight Committee voted to subpoena Conway on Wednesday and signaled it is willing to hold her in contempt if she fails to appear.
“There are rarely issues that come before our committee that are so clear-cut, but this is one of them. This is about right and wrong,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the committee, said after the vote. “Contrary to claims Ms. Conway and President Trump have made, this is not a conspiracy to silence her or restrict her First Amendment rights. This is an effort to enforce federal law.”
Conway is not the first member of the Trump administration to be reprimanded under the law. In November, the Office of Special Counsel named six White House officials who flouted the Hatch Act, often by using their social media accounts to tout Trump or his campaign slogan.