The former director of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during Donald Trump’s presidency says President Joe Biden is not only “retreating from the rule of law” with his numerous executive orders but also “compounding the error” with some “extraordinarily divisive nominations” to his cabinet.
Roger Severino spoke to Breitbart News about Biden’s selections of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Pennsylvania transgender chief health official Dr. Rachel Levine, born Richard Levine, to serve as HHS secretary and assistant secretary, respectively.
“Starting with the president’s executive orders, he’s retreating from the rule of law and compounding the error with some extraordinarily divisive nominations to cabinet positions, starting with Xavier Becerra for HHS – which, I can’t imagine a more divisive pick for such an important agency during a pandemic,” Severino said. “His background is not health care, it’s not epidemiology. In fact, he is most famous, in terms of HHS, for being my antagonist.”
Severino noted some of his confrontations with Becerra involved the then-attorney general’s targeting of pro-life pregnancy centers and his alleged violation of the Weldon Amendment for requiring health insurance plans to cover elective abortions.
— Attorney General Becerra (@AGBecerra) June 26, 2018
“It just doesn’t make sense to put such a divisive figure as the head of the largest agency by budget that touches so many lives, if the president wants to foster unity,” he said. “It’s exactly the wrong thing.”
When the Biden administration took over, Severino said the White House even tried to pressure him to resign his commission on the Council of the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), which serves in an advisory capacity on administrative processes in an effort to promote efficiency. When he refused to leave his post on the council, he was fired.
Refusing to be “bullied,” he filed a lawsuit challenging his termination on February 3 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Biden and members of the White House Presidential Personnel Office.
“It was an excellent opportunity to use my experience as a federal regulator to help improve the regulatory process,” he explained about his ACUS appointment. “That was the entire point of ACUS being formed, and having a council. Which is why it’s disappointing that the president would be so petty as to try to force me out, when I have so much to offer.”
“Then the question becomes what is he afraid of,” he added, emphasizing the fact that the council is only advisory.
“That shouldn’t be threatening to him,” he observed. “Congress said that ACUS is an independent agency, whose council members are appointed to three-year terms, and the president does not have the power to ignore the law when it’s so crystal clear. And there’s also Supreme Court precedent backing up that interpretation as well.”
Severino had already been well-known for his firm opposition to the Obama administration’s support for the agendas of LGBT and abortion rights activists when Trump appointed him to head up OCR.
In May 2016, Severino drew the ire of LGBT rights groups when he wrote a piece at the Daily Signal in which he rebuked the Obama Department of Justice over its lawsuit against the state of North Carolina for establishing commonsense bathroom policies.
“The radical left is using government power to coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology over and above their right to privacy, safety, and religious freedom,” Severino asserted.
OCR Announces New Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. It will restore federal enforcement of our nation’s laws that protect the fundamental rights of conscience and religious freedom. https://t.co/oqcS4y70SG
— HHS OCR (@HHSOCR) January 18, 2018
He expressed significant concern about the fate of areas he worked to address as OCR director.
“They are doubling down on the cultural wars,” he said of the Biden administration. “There is a national consensus that whatever one thinks about the legality of abortion, you don’t force people to perform it against their will. You don’t force people to pay for it. Yet President Biden has said he’s going to repeal the Hyde Amendment and tear down conscience protections, including for the Little Sisters of the Poor. And that, that is disrespectful to life, conscience, and religious freedom.”
Severino is now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he will direct its HHS Accountability Project.
In his new role, he plans to scrutinize Biden’s HHS nominees and ensure the Trump administration’s legacy of religious liberty, disability rights, and other areas of accomplishment remain intact.
“All those things that were put in place that are excellent policy that are popular aren’t rolled back, and anything, any misguided ideas that they do come up with are checked, exposed, and put up to public scrutiny,” he said of his new project.
A Catholic, pro-life attorney, Severino responded to a question about White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki referring to Biden as a “devout Catholic.”
“It’s hard to square his proclamations of fidelity to Church teaching when he takes so many positions contrary to protecting both innocent human life and religious freedom, including the religious freedom of his own Church,” he said.
“Here’s an interesting question for President Biden: As a Catholic, is he in favor of Catholic hospitals beings forced to perform abortions? Yes or no?” he asked. “That’s a question that should be presented to President Biden, to see what he thinks about religious freedom.”
Severino added Biden should also be pressed on his choice of nominees such as Becerra and Levine, i.e., “whether they’re going to put ideology above science, whether they’re going to tear down the strong popular consensus that allows for religious freedom to have a space, or they’re going to try to tear down everything that was built over the last four years.”
“So far, the signs are disturbing,” he said.