Hageman’s plan to wipe out ‘deep state’ targets federal workers

U.S. Rep. Harriet Hageman says we need term limits, but not for members of Congress.

No, Wyoming’s GOP freshman lawmaker has identified another group she said must have its power held in check: federal employees.

Hageman didn’t say the words “deep state” when she recently proposed limiting the number of years someone can work for a particular federal agency and their total years of federal employment.

It’s clear, though, that she’s embraced one of the far right’s favorite conspiracy theories: A cadre of career employees inside the federal government are working together to secretly manipulate government policy and undermine elected leaders.

“Is Washington, D.C., broken? Absolutely, and the odds are stacked against the American people in a government which has grown too powerful and big to control, and instead, it now controls us,” Hageman said at a congressional hearing last month. “But it controls us because of the unelected bureaucrats, not because of your elected officials here in Washington, D.C.”

Hageman, a Cheyenne attorney hand-picked by former President Donald Trump last year to challenge his nemesis — Liz Cheney — won the seat in a landslide.

Hageman was a logical choice by Trump, who complained about the federal bureaucracy undermining his agenda even before he stepped foot inside the Oval Office. She established her reputation years earlier as a fed-bashing, hard-nosed litigator by winning lawsuits against environmental protection regulations imposed and enforced by federal agencies.

While the deep state isn’t real, Trump has made dismantling it one of the cornerstones of his 2024 presidential campaign. He vowed to reinstate an executive order from the waning days of his administration that stripped job protections for about 50,000 federal workers, who would be reclassified as at-will, contract employees subject to firing by the president. President Joe Biden rescinded that order, replacing it with one to protect workers.

Hageman’s proposal uses a different tactic than Trump’s that may seem less onerous than the former president’s direct war against the imagined deep state, but it would actually hit the nation’s 2.2 million person civil workforce harder. Depending on the number of years her bill would ultimately limit government employment, up to a quarter of the workers could be pushed out no matter how effectively they do their jobs.

Hageman’s idea isn’t new. It was part of U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s “Rescue America” plan to reshape government under GOP leadership in the 2022 mid-term election. Immediately dismissed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), it never gained any traction.

The Florida senator proposed setting 12-year term limits on all government bureaucrats, removing “the permanent ruling class in Washington [that] is bankrupting us with inflation and debt.”

The big difference between Scott’s and Hageman’s plans was that he wanted to put the same limits on Congress. Hageman is having none of that.

“Lawmakers are accountable to the American people through elections,” Hageman said. “We have people that have been in some of these agencies for 25, 30 years. You bring in a legislator, it’s pretty difficult to compete with that, especially if you term-limit us.”

I find it hard to believe Hageman would shrink at the thought of challenging any low-level bureaucrat.

If you haven’t noticed, Hageman routinely takes on the big guns of the Biden administration and isn’t intimidated. She insulted Homeland Security Director Alejandro Mayorkas to his face, calling him “the walking, talking epitome of the very tyrant that our Founding Fathers recognized would gravitate toward government service.”

“This Congress needs to unify and hold accountable those officials who spend their entire lives in D.C. without taking a single vote, yet impose trillions of dollars of hidden taxes against us,” Hageman said.

What about term limits for officials like herself, who approve the federal budget, confirm officials, establish taxes and make our laws? “I think they are a bad idea in terms of the future of our republic,” she said. Of course she does.

But Hageman will have a problem getting her idea to purge the deep state off the ground. Because even in Wyoming — which on one hand despises the federal government, while eagerly grabbing hundreds of millions in federal funds with the other — voters who distrust the federal government have no problem lumping Congress and bureaucrats together as root causes of why the country is a mess. In Wyoming, add anyone in the White House not named Trump.

Hageman said when there’s a Democratic president, many federal employees actively try to carry out the administration’s agenda. But the bureaucracy supposedly tries to obstruct whatever a Republican in the White House wants. The congresswoman said she has proof that’s what happens, but offered no examples.

But journalist David Rothkopf, author of “American Resistance: The Inside Story of How the Deep State Saved the Nation,” told NPR Americans should be proud of veteran civil employees. He said his book is an homage to those who had the integrity during Trump’s single term to stand up against things they felt “were immoral or unconstitutional or illegal.”

“The range of crazy ideas Trump had — you know, he just didn’t want a wall [on the Mexican border], he wanted a moat,” the author said. “He didn’t just want a moat, he wanted a moat filled with alligators. He didn’t just want to dissuade people with a wall and a moat; he wanted to be able to shoot people as they approached the border.

“When he was told he couldn’t shoot to kill, he said, ‘Well, can you just shoot them in the leg?’” Rothkopf added.

Politically, positing that the federal civilian workforce should limit how long employees can work for an agency likely won’t affect Hageman much. Only 5,829 federal workers live in Wyoming, and even if all their relatives and friends stick up for them, it’s far too few to put Hageman’s seat in jeopardy.

Hageman complains unelected bureaucrats can serve in government for decades. But so can members of Congress: seven have been in office more than four decades, led by 90-year-old Sen. Charles Grassley (D-Iowa) with 48 years.

In Wyoming, the power of congressional incumbency is real, and allows officials to raise an extraordinary amount of campaign funds. True, that didn’t help Liz Cheney, but when an Equality State politician goes to Washington, D.C., it’s generally tantamount to serving as long as one wishes.

That will give Hageman the opportunity to rail against the deep state for many years, though it probably won’t increase her popularity if she refuses to back congressional term limits.

Republican presidential candidates Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis have packed a punch when they offered their separate deep state remedies.

Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur, promised to shut down the “unconstitutional” federal administrative state. “That is the head of the snake,” he said at a California campaign stop Saturday. “And we’re not going to tinker around the edges — we’re going to gut it.”

DeSantis was even more direct. “We’re going to have all these deep state people, you know, we’re going to start slitting throats on day one and be ready to go,” he said.

While calls for violence have so far been absent from Hageman’s rhetorical attack on the federal bureaucracy, she’ll apparently need to take it there if she wants to be a national bulldog on this issue.

I just hope that her ploy to stoke fear about the deep state — just to solidify her political power — doesn’t put federal employees in harm’s way.

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and can be reached at [email protected].