June 14, 2023: The White House to review a ruling stating that White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre violated a law called the Hatch Act. The law is designed to prevent federal employees from using their positions to influence elections. The Office of Special Counsel, a government watchdog agency, determined that Jean-Pierre’s use of language in referring to Republican candidates during the lead-up to the 2022 midterms crossed the line.
According to the agency’s letter, Jean-Pierre’s statements, made in her official capacity, violated the Hatch Act’s prohibition on using official authority to interfere with or affect election results. During a White House briefing on November 2, she referred to “mega MAGA Republicans” and disparaged Republican candidates. A conservative watchdog group called these remarks an inappropriate attempt to influence the vote.
Although the Office of Special Counsel found Jean-Pierre violating the law, they decided not to take further action. They closed the matter and instead issued a warning letter to Jean-Pierre. At the time, the White House counsel’s office did not consider her remarks prohibited.
The ruling has sparked criticism from Michael Chamberlain, head of Protect the Public’s Trust, who argued that the lack of repercussions for Jean-Pierre’s violation undermines the Biden administration’s claims of ethical standards. He believes it shows why Americans increasingly distrust the administration. The Hatch Act was previously used to criticize past administrations, but officials now seem willing to sweep it under the rug.
The Trump administration faced criticism for multiple breaches of the Hatch Act. A report from the Office of Special Counsel in November 2021 described their behavior as “especially pernicious” concerning comments made before the 2020 election.
A Biden administration official countered the criticism, pointing out that Republicans have also used the “MAGA” acronym for official government purposes. They highlighted that the Trump White House used “Make America Great Again” extensively for official purposes, and congressional Republicans have used “MAGA” in legislation and policy proposals.
The review comes as Jean-Pierre has recently cited the Hatch Act to avoid commenting on some issues, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s announcement of a challenge to President Joe Biden for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination.
The Hatch Act violation by Jean-Pierre is not an isolated incident. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra was found to have violated the Hatch Act last year, and in October, Jean-Pierre acknowledged a violation by Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff at the time. Klain retweeted a political message on his government Twitter account. Jean-Pierre emphasized that the White House takes the provision seriously but acknowledges that it is imperfect.