The two largest federal employee unions on Thursday denounced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s recent vow that as president he would “start slitting throats” in the federal bureaucracy — the latest escalation in intensifying Republican attacks on government operations they want to slash or eliminate.
DeSantis, whose campaign for the GOP nomination has included promises to downsize agencies and fire bureaucrats, made the comments this weekend in New Hampshire while criticizing the “deep state,” echoing a term regularly used by former president Donald Trump to deride Washington.
“On bureaucracy, you know, we’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on Day One and be ready to go,” DeSantis said at a barbecue in Rye, N.H., on Sunday hosted by former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.). “You’re going to see a huge, huge outcry because Washington wants to protect its own.”
The governor also mused last week about the possible need for the Defense Secretary to “slit some throats” while discussing changes he’d make at the Pentagon as president.
On Thursday, as those comments drew more attention, two prominent unions representing tens of thousands of federal workers called on DeSantis to retract his words. Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union — which represents about 150,000 employees at the Internal Revenue Service and 30 other federal agencies — called the comments “repulsive and unworthy of the presidential campaign trail” in a statement.
Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said in a statement that “violent anti-government rhetoric from politicians has deadly consequences,” pointing to a pro-Trump’s mob’s storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
“Any candidate who positions themselves within that shameful tradition has no place in public office,” said Kelley, whose union represents 750,000 civil servants across the federal workforce of 2.1 million. Both labor organizations are closely allied with President Biden.
DeSantis’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but some of his allies embraced the rhetoric. “Hell yes,” tweeted Matt Wolking, an official with the super PAC supporting DeSantis’s presidential bid.
Republican politicians have long vowed to slash the size of government, and succeeded to varying degrees. Former governor of Texas Rick Perry pledged to eliminate three federal agencies when he campaigned for the GOP nomination in 2016. Donald Trump similarly promised to “cut so much your head will spin,” though the largest government departments — Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs — grew during his presidency.
Some GOP candidates for the 2024 presidential nomination have expanded those calls, suggesting eliminating many agencies whole cloth and taking a newly aggressive stance against the civil servants who handle the government’s day-to-day operations.
“The rhetoric is more white hot than it’s ever been,” said Donald Kettl, an expert on the federal workforce who is a former dean of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. “It’s heated today in ways that are absolutely stunning.”
DeSantis has said he would try to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service, which collects taxes, and the departments of Education, Commerce and Energy. He’s also pledged to “radically reduce the size” of the Justice Department, fire the director of the FBI and move many federal workers out of the District.
Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and first-time presidential candidate, has declared plans to abolish numerous agencies and to drastically overhaul others. “The Department of Education, the FBI, the ATF, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the IRS, the Department of Commerce. Many of these should not exist,” Ramaswamy told Fox News.
And Trump has pledged, if elected, to reprise a proposal made late in his first administration to remove the civil service protections for thousands of federal workers who serve in roles with some influence over policy — a change that would make it easier for the White House to remove career employees with little due process. The executive order, known as ‘Schedule F,” instituted near the end of his presidency and reversed as one of President Biden’s first acts in office, is one feature of Trump’s 2024 bid to “dismantle the deep state,” he has said.
Many Republican leaders have rallied behind Trump as he rails against the Justice Department’s moves to prosecute him on multiple fronts for allegedly mishandling classified documents and conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election — suggesting, without proof, that the cases are politically motivated. The investigations into Trump have intensified GOP mistrust of the FBI.
Responding to DeSantis’s comments over email, Max Stier, president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, said that while “political campaigns are an opportunity to debate different visions for our country, including the size and scope of the federal government, the suggestion of violence against public servants, even as rhetoric, has no place in our nation or our politics.”
DeSantis has used other violent rhetoric on the campaign trail, making headlines earlier this summer with his calls for deadly force against some people trying to break through wall at the U.S.-Mexico border while carrying drugs. “We are going to be the first president that’s going to be willing to lean against the Mexican drug cartels. … If they’re trying to bring fentanyl into our communities that’s going to be the last thing they do because at the border they’re going to be shot stone cold dead,” DeSantis said Sunday in New Hampshire to cheers.