Should Obama fire Sebelius for violating the Hatch Act?
posted at 3:21 pm on September 14, 2012 by Ed Morrissey
That’s what Rep. Joe Walsh tells the Daily Caller, fresh off of a report from the Office of Special Counsel that found the HHS Secretary had campaigned while on official duty — a big no-no. On the law, Walsh has a point:
Illinois Republican Rep. Joe Walsh told The Daily Caller he thinks President Barack Obama shouldn’t treat Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius any differently than any other Hatch Act violator — and that the president should terminate Sebelius’ employment immediately.
“As the president who said he had ‘put in place the toughest ethics laws and toughest transparency rules of any administration in history,’ I would expect nothing less than for the president to quickly dismiss Ms. Sebelius,” Walsh told TheDC. “Her actions were not just a violation of the Hatch Act — they were a violation of the people’s trust who believe that their tax payer dollars are not being spent to help promote party politics.”
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) said Wednesday that Sebelius violated the law when she publicly endorsed Obama’s re-election and North Carolina Lieutenant Gov. Walter Dalton’s gubernatorial primary in a multi-way race during a taxpayer-funded public event on Feb. 25, 2012. The standard penalty for violating the Hatch Act is termination. But, the White House has suggested that Obama will offer Sebelius special treatment and let her keep her job.
According to OSC, any “employee who violates the Hatch Act shall be removed from their position, and funds appropriated for the position from which removed thereafter may not be used to pay the employee or individual.”
Obama so far has shown no inclination to fire Sebelius. Should he? I’m skeptical that the Hatch Act was intended to seriously cover Cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees. The law itself doesn’t exclude anyone except the President and Vice President, but the grounds for determining violations seems pretty opaque when it comes to parsing the highly political activities of Cabinet secretaries in particular.
In this case, Sebelius was giving a speech at a Human Rights Campaign “Gala,” which is hardly apolitical, and extemporaneously told the crowd that Democrats should be elected to office to support their cause. That certainly was the intended subtext of Sebelius’ appearance at the event, was it not? HHS ended up reclassifying the event as “political” and the expenses reimbursed from private political sources after the complaint was filed, but Sebelius’ mere presence at the event was political from the start. She’s a politician, and a high-ranking one, while being a federal employee based on her appointment by the President and confirmation by the Senate.
And that’s really the point. Everyone understands that Sebelius is a politician, and any statement she makes is seen through that prism. At least as I understand the Hatch Act, the intent was to keep people like Sebelius from using career employees for political purposes, and to keep career civil servants from conducting political activities under the radar. That’s why the allegations last month that Illinois state employees funded with federal monies were forced to take part in a political rally are truly serious potential violations of the Hatch Act, and need to be prosecuted fully. Sebelius acting like a political hack at an obviously political event is hardly news, and hardly a problem now that the taxpayers have been reimbursed for her expenses.
I’d rather that we don’t start setting precedents to attack Cabinet Secretaries over arguable Hatch Act violations to litigate issues in court that should be pursued politically. That knife has two edges.
Let’s put this up to a vote. Should she stay or should she go?