Vivek Ramaswamy believes he has the perfect approach to undermining the administrative state and the power wielded by career civil servants — trigger mass layoffs at federal agencies and defend his effort before the Supreme Court.

Speaking with NBC News ahead of a major policy speech at the America First Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, where he is slated to explain how he would shrink the federal workforce, the businessman-turned-candidate detailed his plans at length, which include shutting down a series of federal agencies and using “reduction in force” regulations to trim the number of government workers.

“The reality is the adviser class from the D.C. swamp has convinced Republican presidents from [Ronald] Reagan to [Donald] Trump that they can’t reorganize the federal government or lay off large numbers of federal employees without congressional permission or within federal regulations,” he said. “And we’re going to lay out tomorrow why that view is wrong.”

The proposals Ramaswamy is putting forward would add up to some of the most sweeping short-term changes ever to the federal government. And he’s proposing to do large swathes of it by executive action, without votes in Congress — which enacted the laws forming agencies Ramaswamy wants to end — reaching far beyond what past Republican administrations concluded were the limits of their power.

Ramaswamy predicted the legal challenges he would face in this effort would center on the civil service protections that are in place for career officials. His understanding is that they apply to individual employee firings, not mass layoffs.

“We are pointing out parts of the U.S. Code that expressly highlight that they don’t apply to mass layoffs,” Ramaswamy said. “Yes, they apply to individual employee firings, which is what they use to convince prior presidents including Trump that they couldn’t do it.

“But if you actually read the U.S. Code in full,” Ramaswamy argued, “they don’t apply to mass layoffs they call reductions in force. And large-scale reductions in force are absolutely the method that I’ll be using.”

Vivek Ramaswamy in Contoocook, N.H., on Sept. 2, 2023.
Vivek Ramaswamy in Contoocook, N.H., on Sept. 2, 2023.Erin Clark / Boston Globe via Getty Images file

Notably, reduction in force regulations, as laid out by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, include a clear legal process by which career officials can keep jobs in the event of layoffs. That process takes into account factors including tenure, first and foremost, as well as prior performance ratings. The Reagan administration utilized these regulations in an effort to shrink government during the early years of his presidency, but the federal workforce ultimately grew larger under his watch.

Ramaswamy welcomes legal challenges to this effort and predicted the Supreme Court would side with him in a 6-3 decision. Currently, six of the justices on the bench were appointed by GOP presidents.

“And that then codifies the changes, we’re driving into judicial precedent so that the president won’t have his hands tied in the same way,” Ramaswamy said. “We’re gonna get far more powerful than a game of pingpong on this.”

Ramaswamy has been campaigning for months on eliminating federal agencies, with initial targets including the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Department of Education; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission; and the Food and Nutrition Service within the Department of Agriculture. Ramaswamy has said he would effectively shut down or reorganize each of those agencies at the start of his presidency.

Thousands of FBI employees, he said, would be reallocated to other agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He added that those agencies he is targeting are just “five of many more to come.”

Ramaswamy said his Wednesday speech will offer additional clarity on what authority he believes a president has to make such changes without congressional authorization, going beyond the briefly enacted Trump administration executive order known as “Schedule F” — an effort Trump and other Republican aspirants want to reinstitute at the start of a new administration. That order would reclassify tens of thousands of federal employees involved in policy decisions as at-will employees, effectively canceling their employment protections and making it much easier for a president to fire them.

Republicans have sought for years to shrink government and get past bureaucrats they see as hostile to their initiatives, but right-wing efforts to crack down on the civil service have intensified recently. That’s been especially true as Trump has painted federal law enforcement as biased against him and as Republicans pilloried officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, formerly the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, over the role they played in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Earlier this year, Max Stier, the president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit organization dedicated to an effective federal government, said the Republican calls to fundamentally alter how the civil service works are causing “quite a bit of anxiety in the federal workforce and in the broader community of organizations that are focused on trying to help our government work more effectively,” adding there is “a lot of uncertainty” over what a potential GOP administration could do.

And it’s Ramaswamy who has arguably gone the farthest in the field on these issues.

“Everything else has been danced around with Schedule F exceptions and everyone is tiptoeing around the front door argument,” he said. “Now, I’m actually just shutting down these agencies. This speech is going to lay out a level of detail that I think will further take a sledgehammer to that Overton window.”

Ramaswamy earlier this year argued that existing Article II powers in the Constitution allow a president to undertake such a reshaping of the federal workforce without congressional buy-in. Acknowledging there is “nuance and complexity” to his effort, he says now that it’s more about utilizing laws that on the books, like the Presidential Reorganization Act of 1977, rather than making a strictly constitutional argument.

Some rivals, including former Vice President Mike Pence and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have ripped Ramaswamy’s ideas. Following the first GOP presidential primary debate last month, Pence’s campaign sent a press release to reporters saying Ramaswamy’s call to shutter the FBI amounted to an embrace of “the Radical Left’s pro-crime, anti-cop ‘Defund the Police’ agenda.”

On Monday, Christie called Ramaswamy’s idea to eliminate the FBI “one of the stupidest ideas I’ve ever heard,” citing anti-terrorism efforts the bureau has undertaken in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“Don’t throw that out for a soundbite at a debate to make yourself sound like you’re really smart and aggressive when you’re really shallow and only 38-years-old,” Christie said at an event in New Hampshire.

In response, Ramaswamy said the “Chris Christie, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, John Bolton, Karl Rove wing of the party, I think, has a very different vision for the future of the Republican Party than the future that I’m going to be leaning into.”

It is notable that Ramaswamy will deliver this speech before the America First Policy Institute, a think tank stacked with former Trump administration officials that is viewed by some as a government-in-waiting for a second Trump administration.

But Ramaswamy, who has aligned himself closely with the former president, doesn’t think the group is in the tank for Trump. He said he wanted to speak before the group because it has been “at the leading edge” of the effort to reinstitute Schedule F and could offer a “neutral venue” in the fractious 2024 primary.

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