Trump and DeSantis have the same authoritarian plan to "drain the swamp"
It's called Schedule F.
By Thor Benson
When people talk about the differences between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, they often describe Trump as a dangerous but bumbling authoritarian and DeSantis as an authoritarian who would know how to get things done as president. That’s a reasonable characterization considering Trump’s erratic nature and his inability to achieve many of his goals during his presidency — an ineffectiveness that stands in contrast to DeSantis’s domination of Florida.
But both of these men have a plan to greatly increase their power over the federal government should they be elected, and it could mean they’d be able to erode democracy in dangerous ways. It’s referred to as Schedule F, and it’s a scheme that originated during Trump’s presidency but was never fully implemented.
Through an executive order, it would give the president the ability to fire tens of thousands of career bureaucrats within the federal government and replace them with loyalists. Trump issued such an executive order late in his presidency, but it was rescinded by President Biden shortly after he took office. DeSantis has also endorsed the idea of utilizing Schedule F. With almost complete control over the bureaucracy, either of these men could become very effective authoritarians.
Don Moynihan, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University, wrote a great article about the threats of Schedule F for Slate last year. I decided to talk to him about what we’re dealing with here. (Aaron did a Q&A with Moynihan almost exactly a year ago about the rapid QAnon-ing of the GOP that’s also worth checking out.)
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What exactly is Schedule F, and how would it work?
It’s the creation of a new class of political appointee. There are about 4,000 slots reserved for political appointees in the federal government, and they’re classified in different terms. The F stands for a new category.
What’s pernicious about it is that it would allow agency heads to reclassify career employees. They would involuntarily become political appointees, which would then remove civil service protections from them and effectively turn them into at-will employees, so they could be fired for any reason. It creates the opportunity to vastly expand the range of political appointees in government, as well as the control that the president could exert over what used to be career officials.
People often say the Trump years were bad, but the institutions held, so we’re going to be okay. However, it seems to me Trump has learned how to get the kind of control over the federal government that he wanted and would be much more dangerous if he was elected again.
Trump 2.0 will be dramatically different from the first version. The first impeachment accelerated a learning process that already was taking place, but the impeachment made Trump focus on political loyalty above everything else. It’s not a coincidence that Schedule F, which had been kicked around for a couple of years, emerged after the impeachment when Trump brought back some of his most loyal supporters and vetted his political appointees in a way that was quite different from the past.
The Trump presidency-in-waiting’s big lesson is, “We did not go far enough. We did not have the tools that we needed to take control. We need to start by controlling the legal and national intelligence agencies to make sure that they are not a threat to us, but then we also need to control other parts of the bureaucracy.” There has been a great deal of learning.
A tool like Schedule F is a relatively sophisticated one. We’re moving past the amateur hour phase of the Trump era. If he gets back, I don’t think the institutions will hold in the same way.
Biden is still president, and Democrats still control the Senate. Is there anything that can be done now to prevent an executive order of this type if a Republican defeats him next year?
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