And the first Biden Cabinet departure is ... who?

JOSH REYNOLDS

No, seriously … who? If you had “Eric Lander” on your Cabinet Bingo card, be sure to collect your winnings. And if you correctly picked why, please forward your predictions for the next Powerball jackpot numbers to the Hot Air tips line:

President Joe Biden’s top science adviser, Eric Lander, resigned on Monday evening following reports of his bullying and mistreatment of subordinates.

The resignation came despite initial insistence from the White House that Lander would remain in his post while corrective actions and remediations were applied to assure a better workplace environment at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Top Science Advisor is a Cabinet position? It is indeed, although certainly not one of the key Secretary positions that come to mind when considering Cabinet appointments. The position requires Senate confirmation, in fact, setting it apart from most other White House advisory positions. Lander got confirmed by unanimous vote in May. And of course, in the middle of the pandemic, the Top Science Advisor is a bit more central to administration efforts.

Initially, Joe Biden refused to fire Lander despite a promise during the campaign to distinguish his administration from Donald Trump’s by setting a zero-tolerance standard on bullying. Instead, Jen Psaki said the White House would make a bigger effort to monitor Lander’s behavior. That apparently didn’t work out well even in the short period of time after the report dropped:

POLITICO was first to report that the White House had launched a two month investigation into Lander that found “credible evidence” that he bullied his then-general counsel, Rachel Wallace. The investigation also concluded that there was “credible evidence of disrespectful interactions with staff by Dr. Lander and OSTP leadership,” according to a recording of a January White House briefing on the investigation’s findings. In addition, 14 current and former OSTP staffers shared descriptions of a toxic work environment under Lander where they say Lander frequently bullied, cut off and dismissed subordinates. Several shared specific accusations that he belittled and demeaned women subordinates in particular. …

By Monday evening, Aidinoff had sent an all-staff email acknowledging that the “behavior described” in the article was “not acceptable” and the office would communicate further with employees about steps being taken to “move forward as a community.”

But in the face of growing criticism over its decision to keep Lander in the job, the White House gradually realized that the situation was untenable, said one person with knowledge of the matter, who characterized the resignation as a mutual decision.

Later that evening, the White House informed Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) that Lander would no longer be testifying before her Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health regarding biomedical research, which had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Could the White House have possibly screwed this up more? They had a golden opportunity to make some political hay by sticking to their pledge and kicking Lander out on their own terms. Instead, Biden and Psaki weirdly circled the wagons around Lander, apparently without bothering to check whether he could even continue one more day in the job. The White House had to back down and get rid of Lander anyway, only now they’ve made it look as though they got forced into it and caved under political pressure.

Who’s bright idea was that? Because whoever came up with that strategy should follow Lander out the door. I’d bet it’s the same person who got the bright idea to rehabilitate the man who should have been the first Cabinet sacking:

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra is reportedly eyeing a more prominent public role following criticism that he’s been an “invisible” leader during the pandemic.

The White House announced Sunday that Becerra will travel to Minnesota with first lady Jill Biden later this week, while CNN reported that Becerra will also have a “substantive” meeting with President Biden and appearances at White House briefings, neither of which he has done since being sworn in 11 months ago.

Health experts and former officials told The Hill last month that Becerra has taken a back seat in the COVID-19 response, ceding his authority to others, including the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said last month that Becerra was seemingly absent “when we need that person the most.”

“Of all the HHS secretaries we’ve had, at least in the last multiple administrations, we’ve never had one that was a ghost when it came to a public health crisis,” Topol told The Hill. “That’s what we have now: an invisible HHS secretary.”

Team Biden’s COVID-19 response has been a total disaster, and yet the White House still wants to stick with the lawyer it appointed to run it. Lander has to be glad, at least in some small part, to be out of the bizarro-world Biden administration.