(Updates throughout with additional information.)
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President Joe Biden is asking appointees of former President Donald Trump to resign from their military academy posts.
Russell Vought and Sean Spicer were asked to resign from the U.S. Naval Academy Board of Visitors or be fired by the end of Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the communication from the White House. It’s not clear Biden can compel them to leave without legal challenges if they won’t go voluntarily.
The purge list also includes appointees on the boards for the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Among them are Trump’s longtime aide Kellyanne Conway, his former national security adviser H.R. McMaster; and General Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff of the Army.
Jen Psaki, White House press secretary, on Wednesday confirmed that the administration wants the Trump appointees to resign.
Biden’s objective is “to ensure you have nominees and people serving on these boards who are qualified to serve on them and who are aligned with your values,” Psaki said. “I will let others evaluate whether they think Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer and others were qualified, or not political, to serve on these boards. But the president’s qualification requirements are not your party registration.”
Vought, who was the director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump, said in a tweet that he won’t resign because he has a three-year term. He was appointed to the board in 2020. Conway also tweeted that she wouldn’t resign.
Spicer, who was White House press secretary under Trump, was appointed to the board in 2019. He said in a tweet, “Instead of focusing on the stranded Americans left in #Afghanistan, President Biden is trying to terminate the Trump appointees to the Naval Academy, West Point and Air Force Academy.”
Congress set staggered terms for the board and members serve unless they resign or die. The president can’t fire members, according to the board statute, but can appoint new members once terms expire.
According to the Academy, the duty of the board is “to inquire into the state of morale and discipline, the curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, academic methods, and other matters relating to the academy.”
The Supreme Court has said twice in recent years that the president can fire at will the heads of independent agencies, who have historically been insulated from top-level personnel changes when a new president takes office. Biden earlier this year used that authority to fire the Trump-appointed Social Security Administration commissioner and Federal Housing Finance Agency director.
It’s unclear yet whether the president will use a similar legal rationale for the military advisory boards.
With assistance from Josh Wingrove