Federal employees who do not agree with President Trump’s policies should get on board or leave federal service, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.
The statement came as reports surfaced that hundreds of career foreign service officials signed a dissent memorandum voicing their opposition to Trump’s executive order that banned travel from residents of seven countries and temporarily suspended the nation’s refugee program. The employees filed their complaint through the “dissent channel,” reserved for employee reservations about policy matters. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual protects employees writing on the channel from “any penalty, reprisal or recrimination.”
Spicer said the White House was aware of the complaint, but the pushback against the order had been “blown way out of proportion.”
“These career bureaucrats have a problem with it?” Spicer asked. “I think they should either get with the program or they can go.”
He went on to say: “If somebody has a problem with that agenda, that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post.”
Spicer’s remarks appeared at odds with civil service laws, which protect federal employees against “coercion for partisan political purposes.” Federal workers take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and do not, by law, serve at the pleasure of the president.
In a copy of the dissent letter obtained by Lawfare, the career foreign service employees said the order “will not obtain its aim of making our country safer.” The order prevents nondiscrimination, the employees said, and does not address countries whose citizens have launched attacks on U.S. soil. They added it will sour foreign relations, create anti-American sentiment, mitigate humanitarian efforts and adversely impact the U.S. economy.
“We are better than this ban,” they wrote. “This ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold.”
Mark Toner, a State spokesman, said State was aware of the memo. He added the Dissent Channel provided an avenue for employees to voice candid and private opinions to leadership.
"The Dissent Channel is a longstanding official vehicle for State Department employees to convey alternative views and perspectives on policy issues," Toner said. "This is an important process that the acting secretary and the department as a whole, value and respect."