The Margin: Biden brings onboard chef José Andrés after cutting Mehmet Oz and Herschel Walker from presidential fitness council
President Joe Biden has cut Herschel Walker and Dr. Mehmet Oz from advisory roles with the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition due to their current candidacies for the U.S. Senate.
Walker, the former USFL and NFL running back, who starred at the University of Georgia and served as the council’s co-chairman, is running in Georgia. Oz, the television celebrity who has been a council advisory member, is vying for a seat in Pennsylvania. Both men are Republicans who were appointed to their council positions by then-President Donald Trump — and both are competing in May primaries.
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The Biden administration has a policy against permitting candidates running for federal office to also serve on such boards. The 1939 Hatch Act also limits the political activity of certain federal employees, such as engaging in partisan political campaigns.
So, what does the news all mean? Let’s dig in.
First, what does the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition do?
The council has been around in one form or another for more than 60 years, having begun as the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956 under then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Subsequent presidents have championed it — and expanded its mission — in various ways.
President John F. Kennedy was a particularly strong advocate — he even wrote about the national need to address fitness in a Sports Illustrated article headlined, “The Soft American.” President Lyndon B. Johnson broadened the council’s agenda to include Americans of all ages — hence, it became the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. President Barack Obama saw to it that nutrition became part of the council’s purview — and its name.
Who is on the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition?
The council’s advisory board typically includes prominent athletes and other noteworthy individuals. Past chairs have included everyone from fitness icon (and eventual California governor) Arnold Schwarzenegger to astronaut Jim Lovell (of Apollo 13 fame).
And do they get paid?
Council advisory members are all volunteers. As the council’s charter states: “The members of the Council shall serve without compensation for their work on the Council. Members of the Council may, however, receive travel expenses, including per diem.”
Why did President Biden ask Walker and Oz to resign?
A White House official told MarketWatch that it’s against President Biden’s policy for candidates vying for federal office to serve on such boards. So Biden asked Walker and Oz to resign or face termination on Wednesday.
And it’s not solely a Biden ethics preference — there’s a federal law called the Hatch Act that “limits certain political activities of federal employees,” according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, such as engaging in partisan political campaigns.
“The law’s purposes are to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation,” the Office of Special Counsel says.
How did Walker and Dr. Oz respond to Biden’s request?
Both indicated they had no intention of resigning, and posted defiant tweets that said as much. Walker said: “I’m not a quitter so you are going to have to fire me.”
Oz added a video to his tweet and said, “It’s beyond sad that Joe Biden would politicize such an important issue like health.” He also said that the president should be asking Dr. Anthony Fauci to step down. (Fauci doesn’t serve on the council’s advisory board, so presumably Oz was referring to Fauci’s role as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and as a White House medical adviser.)
A White House official told MarketWatch that since Walker and Oz didn’t tender their requested resignations by the Wednesday deadline, they were indeed terminated from their advisory positions.
Is there anyone newly appointed to the council under President Biden?
On Wednesday, Biden announced that José Andrés, the internationally renowned chef and humanitarian, and Elena Delle Donne, a top player in the WNBA, would serve as the council’s co-chairs.