What It Takes to Get Fired From the Obama Administration

It's harder than you think to get the axe from the Obama Administration

October 25, 2013, 2:19 PM
PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama makes opening remarks at a bipartisan summit on health care as Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of health and human services, listens at right, in Washington, Feb. 25, 2010.
U.S. President Barack Obama makes opening remarks at a bipartisan summit on health care as Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of health and human services, listens at right, in Washington, Feb. 25, 2010.
Shawn Thew/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Oct. 26, 2013— -- Call it "Survivor: White House" edition.

Over the past week, one high-profile cabinet secretary managed to dodge an onslaught of Republican demands for her resignation while a lesser-known national security aide got the boot for a series of snarky anonymous tweets.

In fact, history has shown that it's actually not that easy to get fired from the Obama administration.

Over the past five years, just a few of those who serve at the pleasure of the president have been forcibly shown the door. Many more have weathered controversy and embarrassment and figured out a way to hold on for dear life. Still others know how to take a hint, choosing to resign rather than risk an unceremonious dismissal at the hands of the commander-in-chief.

Here's ABC's look at some of the Obama administration officials who got the axe, the ones who got away and a few in between:


Jofi Joseph

Jofi Joseph, a White House national security aide, was recently fired for posting insulting messages about top officials and Obama administration policies under an anonymous Twitter account. The nonproliferation expert on the National Security Council was let go after it was discovered he was the author of the @natsecwonk Twitter feed, which became well-known inside the beltway for its snarky blasts about the Obama administration. Using an alias, Joseph took aim over two years at high-ranking administration players as well as Republicans, slamming their intellect and criticizing their appearance. He once reportedly tweeted, "'Has s****y staff.' #ObamaInThreeWords."

Stanley A. McChrystal

In June 2010, President Obama relieved Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal of duty, after he made critical comments about the president in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. In a Rose Garden announcement, Obama explained his decision to oust the general, "I don't think we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change." Three years later, in an interview with ABC News, McChrystal recalled his firing: "It felt surreal, because my whole career I'd thought that I could be fired for incompetence, or I could be killed, or I could have any number of things happen, but I never thought I could be painted with any brush of disrespect or disloyalty, because I didn't see myself that way. And I still don't," he said.

Shirley Sherrod

In July 2010, Shirley Sherrod, a Department of Agriculture employee, was sent packing after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart edited video of a speech she gave to make her appear racist. In the video, Sherrod spoke about not helping a white farmer as much as she could have decades before. But the point of Sherrod's story, which was edited out by Breitbart, was that she regretted her actions. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were forced to make public apologies for dismissing her without learning the whole story. "She deserves better than what happened last week when a bogus controversy based on selective and deceiving excerpts of a speech led her -- led to her forced resignation," President Obama said in a speech after he learned the truth. "Many are to blame, for the reaction and overreaction that followed these comments, including my own administration."


Joe Biden

When Vice President Joe Biden opens his mouth, he can definitely make waves. Like the time he got caught on a hot mic telling President Obama the passage of his signature healthcare law was a "big f***ing deal"? Or the episode in 2012 when Biden forced the president's hand on the issue of gay marriage? "I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties," Biden said in a May 2012 interview on "Meet the Press." Just a few days later, Obama came out in support of gay marriage in an interview with ABC News. Despite landing in some rhetorical hot water from time to time, Biden seems to be in no danger of losing his job.

Kathleen Sebelius

After enduring countless calls for her resignation over the botched rollout of the HealthCare.gov website, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is staying put -- for now. Dozens of Republican lawmakers have publicly called for her ouster, but neither the White House nor Sebelius is budging. "The majority of people calling for me to resign, I would say, are people who I don't work for and who do not want this program to work in the first place," Sebelius said this week. "I have had frequent conversations with the president and I have committed to him that my role is to get the program up and running and we will do just that."

Susan Rice

After leading the Obama administration's disastrous public relations effort in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name for consideration to be Hillary Clinton's successor as secretary of state. Instead, the president named her to be his National Security adviser -- a position she currently holds. "She is at once passionate and pragmatic," President Obama said in a speech in the White House Rose Garden in June.

Eric Holder

During his years as attorney general, Eric Holder has faced a chorus of calls for his resignation, first over the so-called "Fast and Furious" scandal and, more recently, after revelations that the Justice Department seized the telephone records of reporters in conjunction with a leak investigation. "I have no intention of" stepping down, Holder said in a June 2013 interview with NBC News. "There's some things that I want to do, some things I want to get done. I've discussed that with the president," Holder said. "Once I have finished that, I'll sit down with him and we'll determine when it's time to make a transition to a new attorney general."

James Clapper

The current director of National Intelligence has withstood several high-profile calls for his firing, including from GOP Sen. Rand Paul, after giving what he was eventually forced to admit was a "clearly erroneous" answer to a question about whether the government collects data on millions of Americans during a Congressional hearing. Clapper was accused of lying in response to a question by Sen. Ron Wyden about whether the National Security Agency collects "any type of data at all" on millions of Americans. In his March testimony, Clapper answered "no," later adding, "not wittingly." It was later revealed that the NSA does collect "metadata" from telephone and Internet companies on Americans. "My response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize," Clapper wrote in a follow-up letter to Congress.

Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor

Pictures of White House chief speechwriter Jon Favreau and press aide Tommy Vietor playing shirtless beer pong were enough to garner headlines like "White House Gone Wild!" but not enough to get either of the two ejected from the West Wing. Nor was another photo of Favreau that surfaced in December 2008 of the speechwriter groping a life-size, cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. Both aides, however, left the administration early in President Obama's second term -- several years after both incidents.


David Petraeus

CIA Director David Petraeus resigned his position after an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. "After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair," Petraeus said in a statement. "Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours." Petraeus, a former Army general who led the surge into Iraq under former President Bush and also led U.S. troops in Afghanistan before taking over the CIA, is one of the most respected and influential generals of his time.

Desiree Rogers

White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers "stepped down" after the infamous party crashing incident in which Michaele and Tareq Salahi sneaked into a White House state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009. "She's not been asked to leave," then White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in February 2010. "She's decided it's time to go back to do other things she loved." Gibbs asserted that the Salahi incident did not play a role in Rogers' exit.

P.J. Crowley

Former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley infamously got the boot in 2011 after giving a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in which he called the Pentagon's treatment of Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." Crowley ended up resigning. He did, however, get a nice parting gift from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who issued a glowing statement: "P.J. has served our nation with distinction for more than three decades, in uniform and as a civilian. His service to country is motivated by a deep devotion to public policy and public diplomacy, and I wish him the very best."

Yosi Sergant

Former National Endowment for the Arts communications director Yosi Sergant resigned in September 2009 after sparking criticism for a controversial conference call he led in which he encouraged artists to create work to promote the Obama administration's agenda. After the call, Sergant was initially removed from his post as communications director, but continued to work at the Endowment until a spokeswoman announced that "his resignation has been accepted and is effective immediately." The White House considered the incident serious enough to issue new guidelines to prevent something like that from happening again.


Samantha Power

Samantha Power was a member of President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign but resigned under pressure in March 2008 after referring to Hillary Clinton as a "monster." Power, who served as a foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Obama, said she made the comments in a "very weak moment" and "of course I regret them, I can't even believe they came out of my mouth." After several years outside the administration, President Obama tapped the former Harvard professor and Pulitzer Prize winner to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations -- a position she currently holds.

Larry Summers

Larry Summers, the former director of the president's National Economic Council, withdrew his name to be the next chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve in September after critics questioned his temperament for the job. Summers appeared to be facing a tough confirmation fight in the Senate, and had already come under fire from Republicans and liberal Democrats. "I have reluctantly concluded that any possible confirmation process for me would be acrimonious and would not serve the interest of the Federal Reserve, the Administration, or ultimately, the interests of the nation's ongoing economic recovery," Summers wrote in a letter to Obama. In his own statement, the president thanked the economist for "his tireless work and service on behalf of his country."

Tom Daschle

After taking office in 2008, President Obama initially wanted former senator Tom Daschle to be his Health and Human Services secretary. But the newly elected president was thwarted after reports surfaced that Daschle failed to disclose critical information on his tax returns. Daschle, the former Senate Majority Leader, failed to pay more than $101,000 taxes on the car and driver a wealthy friend let him use from 2005 through 2007, according to a Senate Finance Committee Report. In February 2009, Daschle abruptly withdrew his nomination.

ABC's Mary Bruce, Abby Phillip and Dana Hughes contributed reporting.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events