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Bipartisan Senate group offers bill to strengthen watchdog law after Trump firings

A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation on Thursday to strengthen the laws on inspectors general after President TrumpDonald TrumpFacebook temporarily bans ads for weapons accessories following Capitol riots Sasse, in fiery op-ed, says QAnon is destroying GOP Section 230 worked after the insurrection, but not before: How to regulate social media MORE rankled some lawmakers over his recent firings.

The legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Overnight Health Care: Biden unveils COVID-19 relief plan | Post-holiday surge hits new deadly records | Senate report faults 'broken' system for insulin price hikes MORE (R-Iowa), would require that a president provide a “substantive rationale, including detailed and case-specific reasons” before an inspector general is removed.

“The Obama administration set bad precedent when it ignored the inspector general protection law, but a court upheld its actions, and the Trump administration applied the same standard. Congress should expect more of the same from future administrations if it doesn’t act to clarify the law,” Grassley said in a statement.

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It would also require an acting inspector general to be picked from "senior-level employees of the watchdog community," and place limits on how administrative leave could be used. Trump placed intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson and State Department inspector general Steven Linick on administrative leave after notifying Congress that he was firing them. 

In addition to Grassley, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time MORE (R-Maine), Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBottom line Trump vetoes bipartisan driftnet fishing bill Dumping Abraham Lincoln? A word of advice to the 'cancel culture' MORE (D-Calif.), James LankfordJames Paul LankfordThe Hill's 12:30 Report: What to expect for inauguration GOP Sen. Lankford apologizes to Black constituents for opposing election results 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack MORE (R-Okla.), Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperWhite House intervened to weaken EPA guidance on 'forever chemicals' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Capitol in Chaos | Trump's Arctic refuge drilling sale earns just fraction of GOP prediction | EPA finds fuel efficiency dropped, pollution spiked for 2019 vehicles EPA finalizes 'secret science' rule, limiting use of public health research MORE (D-Del.), Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history MORE (R-Utah), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSenate Democrats leery of nixing filibuster 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Biden VA pick faces 'steep learning curve' at massive agency MORE (D-Mont.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanImpeachment trial tests Trump's grip on Senate GOP GOP in bind over Trump as corporate donations freeze Trump calls for 'NO violence' amid concerns of threats around inauguration MORE (R-Ohio) and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanBipartisan group of senators: The election is over Seven Senate races to watch in 2022 Insurers lose multiyear lobbying fight over surprise medical bills MORE (D-N.H.) are supporting the legislation.

“This bill makes clear that important and necessary steps must be taken before an Inspector General can be removed from their post. Congress must be given a detailed account of the reasons for the removal, and a full 30 days while the Inspector General remains on the job to consider those reasons,” Portman said.

Peters added that the bill would help to "shield" inspectors general from "political interference."

"These watchdogs must be able to conduct their work independently and without the threat of political interference – yet recent attacks by President Trump threaten to undermine their ability to do their critical jobs," he said.

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Trump sparked bipartisan backlash earlier this year over his firing of several government watchdogs. 

Grassley and other senators previously criticized Trump for not giving Congress a detailed enough explanation over his decision to fire Atkinson and Linick. In both cases he notified Congress in letters that he no longer had confidence in the two men. 

White House counsel Pat Cipollone told Grassley that Trump "acted within his constitutional and statutory authority." But Grassley warned earlier this month that he was still not satisfied, saying the White House's response had "no explanation for the removal" of Atkinson or Linick.

Grassley, who has long sponsored watchdog legislation, previously told The Hill late last month that he was working on legislation to prevent political appointees from being named acting inspectors general of their own departments. But in a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday, Grassley indicated that the bill had become broader. 

"It’s really this simple: If inspectors general are doing good work, they should stay; if not, they should go. If the president is going to remove an inspector general, there’d better be a good reason. And there’s absolutely no good reason to leave an IG seat vacant for an extended period. These guidelines apply to all administrations, Republican or Democrat," Grassley wrote in the op-ed.