White House press secretary and top spokesman violated Hatch Act: Watchdog

White House press secretary and top spokesman violated Hatch Act: Watchdog

A watchdog agency has informed the White House that press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and spokesman Andrew Bates violated the Hatch Act, giving Jean-Pierre her second warning letter this year over the use of the term “MAGA.”

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) told Jean-Pierre and Bates in a letter in October, first obtained by NBC News, that criticizing “MAGA” Republicans when discussing the GOP budget plan earlier this year was a violation of their guidance on adhering to the Hatch Act.

The OSC previously sent Jean-Pierre a warning letter in June for her usage of the term “mega MAGA Republicans” during press briefings in the lead up to the 2022 midterm elections. The agency did not pursue disciplinary action at that time but issued guidance that said “MAGA” is off limits under the Hatch Act.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal government employees from engaging in campaign activity in their official capacity. Jean-Pierre often references the statute during the daily press briefings when asked questions about the 2024 election.

A week after the guidance was issued and Jean-Pierre received the warning, she used the term “hardcore MAGA” budget in a statement, and Bates said “MAGA tax welfare” in a memo. The OSC did not pursue disciplinary action, according to NBC.

“We take the law seriously and uphold the Hatch Act,” a White House official told The Hill when asked for comment.

Bates has used the term “MAGAnomics” in memos since June — including Monday, with “MAGAnomics” in the subject line and twice in the memo — but that term was permitted under the June guidance. It was used by the Trump administration about its economic plan.

Protect the Public’s Trust, a conservative watchdog group run by former Trump administration official Michael Chamberlain, filed a Hatch Act complaint to the OSC about Jean-Pierre and Bates and told NBC that the lack of consequences since shows “nobody takes the Hatch Act very seriously.”

The Trump White House used the term “MAGA” and variations of it for official purposes while in office, not always using it as a campaign term. The Trump White House website used the term “Make America Great Again” for official purposes more than 1780 times, according to an archive of the website.

Additionally, the Trump administration was the subject of numerous Hatch Act complaints during its four years in power.

President Biden uses the term “MAGA Republicans” in speeches to refer to members of his opposing party that align with former President Trump. The Hatch Act does not apply to the president or vice president.

During the Biden administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, former chief of staff Ron Klain and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge have all also been warned for making comments about candidates or an election.

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