Biden fires embattled architect of the Capitol, months after scathing report
Momentum built slowly for Blanton’s termination
Corrected 3:43 p.m. | Embattled Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton has been removed “at the president’s direction,” a White House official said Monday.
The move comes after days of growing calls for Blanton to resign or be removed from office by President Joe Biden. The architect appeared last week before a congressional panel for the first time since the October release of an inspector general report alleging a litany of ethical breaches.
Hours before the move by the White House, Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Administration Chairman Bryan Steil, whose panel is responsible for oversight of the architect, joined the list of lawmakers asking for his resignation.
“After being given the opportunity to respond to numerous allegations of legal, ethical, and administrative violations, and failing to directly respond, the President has removed Mr. Brett Blanton from his position — a decision I firmly stand behind,” House Administration ranking member Joseph D. Morelle, D-N.Y., said in a statement Monday afternoon. “President Biden did the right thing and heeded my call for action. I look forward to working with my colleagues to begin a search for a new Architect immediately.”
Blanton, who was appointed to the 10-year term by former President Donald Trump in 2019, was called in to testify before the House Administration Committee on Thursday in part to answer for the damning inspector general report published in October. Blanton further angered lawmakers at the hearing by evading questions and admitting that he failed to respond to the Capitol in person on Jan. 6, 2021, when the campus he’s sworn to protect was under siege.
“Protecting the Capitol, members of Congress, staff, and democracy are not partisan issues,” Rep. Norma J. Torres, D-Calif., who sits on the House Administration Committee, tweeted Monday. “@POTUS made the right decision to terminate Architect of the Capitol Brett Blanton for abusing his office.”
Earlier Monday, McCarthy made his position known. Blanton “no longer has my confidence to continue in his job,” the speaker tweeted. “He should resign or President Biden should remove him immediately.”
Steil followed McCarthy’s tweet with a statement released minutes later.
"The Inspector General’s report was highly concerning, which is, in part, why our first hearing was dedicated to providing oversight over the AOC,” the Wisconsin Republican wrote. “His refusal to be transparent and truthful has made clear that he can no longer lead the organization and must resign immediately.”
Steil initially refrained from calling for Blanton to resign after the Thursday hearing, even as Morelle, the committee’s ranking member, urged the architect to step down.
But House Republicans began to join the chorus on Friday, tweeting “#fireblanton” from the official House GOP account.
The architect of the Capitol is a presidentially appointed legislative branch employee, which was the source of confusion among lawmakers and experts as they debated who has the power to discipline or remove an architect.
Some argue Congress has impeachment power over the architect, though there is no precedent for such a removal. Others, like House Republicans and Steil, argued that Biden alone had the power to terminate Blanton.
“[Blanton] serves at the pleasure of the president. I’m hopeful the president or folks at the White House were able to see the hearing yesterday, and they’ll ultimately make that decision,” Steil told CQ Roll Call on Friday.
The office said late Monday that Chief Engineer Chere Rexroat will assume the interim role of architect of the Capitol.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and was among an initial cadre of lawmakers to call for Blanton’s resignation last fall, introduced legislation in January to establish a procedure for Congress to remove an AOC.
The measure would give Congress power to remove an architect either by impeachment or joint resolution and was co-sponsored by Rules ranking member Deb Fischer, R-Neb. That bill remains in committee.
“In light of the misconduct detailed in the Architect of the Capitol Inspector General’s report, this was the right thing to do," Klobuchar said in a statement about Blanton's removal.
Rosa DeLauro, the House Appropriations Committee's ranking member, said continued vigilance of the position is warranted.
“As a leader of the Committee that oversees funding for Legislative Branch agencies, I will work with my colleagues to ensure continued oversight over the AOC," she said in a statement.
Blanton cost taxpayers nearly $14,000 by misusing his government-issued vehicle, which was intended solely for work-to-home travel, according to the inspector general report. He led prohibited private tours of the Capitol while it was closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and he allegedly misrepresented himself as a law enforcement officer, the report said.
Blanton told House Administration lawmakers that he didn’t think it would be “prudent” to respond to the Capitol on Jan. 6 “because of the security situation,” eliciting outrage from members on both sides of the aisle.
“I’m outraged that you would be in a comfortable place sir, while the rest of us were thinking about dying that day and how we were going to come out alive that day,” Torres told Blanton at the hearing.
The architect has a wide-ranging role and is responsible for overseeing the maintenance, operation, development and preservation of the Capitol complex and also sits on the Capitol Police Board.
Watchdogs in Washington celebrated Biden’s decision Monday afternoon.
“Blanton’s misconduct demonstrated his unfitness to lead the Architect of the Capitol or to serve on the board overseeing the Capitol Police at a time where the safety of the Capitol complex must be a bipartisan priority,” said Donald Sherman, senior vice president and chief counsel at the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Blanton is another example of a corrupt Trump appointee whose tenure in government outlasted the corrupt president who appointed him.”
And Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress, tweeted that he hoped Congress would use the Blanton situation to rethink the Capitol Police Board and oversight of legislative branch agency heads in general.
This report was corrected to attribute information to a White House official.