House Republicans demand answers from Biden administration about unions' 'special treatment'
Rep. Steve Scalise on the GOP probe alleging collusion between the CDC and the American Federation of Teachers on school reopening guidance
EXCLUSIVE:House Republicans are raising alarms about former union officials who were granted ethics waivers to serve in the Biden administration, claiming organized labor is having undue influence on government policy.
Top Republicans sent letters Tuesday to the Biden Administration demanding answers on some of his political appointees who are former union officials and the circumstances surrounding the exemptions they were granted to federal ethics rules. The union leaders were granted "special treatment" to both serve in the Biden administration and communicate directly with former union employers to enact policies that could directly benefit the unions, the GOP lawmakers say.
"This is the classic definition of a conflict of interest," the GOP reps wrote Tuesday in letters first obtained by Fox News.
The letters were authored by Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee and Rep. Virginia Foxx, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. They said teachers unions have already had too much influence and access to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on guidance for reopening schools and they are now "concerned" the use of ethics waivers is a way for union leaders to infiltrate other corners of the government.
"By appointing former union officials to positions that directly interact with their former employers, unions stand to directly benefit from Biden Administration policies," the lawmakers continued. "This is alarming considering the devastating effect teachers unions have had on the educational prospects of so many of our nation’s children."
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 21: Then Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks before a training session for precinct captains at the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees on February 21, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Biden's close ties with unions are now under scrutiny by Republicans. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) (Getty Images)
The GOP members targeted two Biden officials in their Tuesday letters.
Celeste Drake, a former official with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), was tapped to become Made in America Director at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The other is Alethea Predeoux, a former official at the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), who became Biden's Director of the Office of Congressional, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Comer and Foxx wrote to Shalanda Young and Kathleen McGettigan, the leaders at OMB and OPM, respectively, asking for all documents and records surrounding the ethics waivers, including communications between Drake and Predeoux and their former union employers.
"President Biden has a pattern of putting unions first and Americans last," Comer said in a statement to Fox News. "First, he allowed a radical teachers union to dictate scientific guidance effectively keeping children locked out of their classrooms. Now, he’s granted ethics waivers to allow former union officials to wield government power on behalf of the union bosses. This is a conflict of interest, pure and simple. The Biden Administration must provide answers about these controversial appointments."
The White House had defended the teachers' union involvement in CDC school reopening guidance in the past claiming it's a "longstanding best practice" for the agency to talk to multiple stakeholders who will be impacted by the public health guidelines. As for the ethics waivers for the union officials, the White House has said these are necessary moves to facilitate liaisons between government agencies and labor unions.
UNITED STATES - AUGUST 24: Ranking member Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., questions Postmaster General Louis DeJoy during the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing titled Protecting the Timely Delivery of Mail, Medicine, and Mail-in Ballots, in Rayburn House Office Building on Monday, August 24, 2020. Comer is demanding answers from the Biden Adminstration on ethics waivers for union officials serving in the Administration. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Pool)
Pressed about the ethics waivers in May, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has stood for unions throughout his political career and is proud to have leading labor voices in his Administration. She said the waivers are granted in "very, very limited" circumstances when is necessary and in the best interest of governing.
"I will reiterate ... the president signed an executive order requiring all appointees across the federal government to sign the most stringent ethics code ever adopted by any White House," Psaki said.
When it is "necessary and in the public’s interest," the order "authorizes agencies to grant limited waivers and consultation" with the White House counsel’s office, she said.
"The president, of course, has stood strong for unions throughout his career, and he’s proud to have leading labor voices in the White House," Psaki continued. "And there are circumstances, very, very limited, where it is in the interest of governing and the interest of getting work done for the American people to issue these waivers."
In March, Predeoux, a senior official at OPM was granted a waiver to allow her to facilitate communication between the government agency and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) – a union representing 700,000 federal workers for whom she was a top lobbyist.
In April, the White House issued a similar waiver, allowing for Drake, who leads the Made In America Office, to communicate with her former employers, the Director’s Guild of America and AFL-CIO.
A spokesperson for OPM defended the appointment of Predeoux in a statement to Fox News. Predeoux was director of Legislative, Political and Grassroots Mobilization for AFGE, the major federal employees union, and now at OPM, she works for the federal government agency in charge of human resources for federal employees.
"Alethea Predeoux is a talented legislative strategist and dynamic leader who is deeply dedicated to the federal workforce and the OPM mission," the OPM spokesperson said in a statement. "OPM and the Biden Harris Administration are fortunate to have Ms. Predeoux in her role and we look forward to continuing to rely on her expertise as we continue the important work rebuilding the federal workforce and meeting agencies’ modern human capital needs."
Fox News' Caitlin McFall and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.