President Barack Obama’s White House is barring its cabinet members from speaking during the Democratic National Convention later this month, which could impact directly on potential vice president contenders being vetted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The New York Times, which first reported the story, said this "stark break" from past policy looks to avoid the appearance that the administration’s final months are being consumed by the presumptive Democratic nominee’s campaign.
“This is largely an effort to delineate as clearly as possible the public, official governing responsibilities we have at the White House, and separate that from politics,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary.
Top appointees are required by the Hatch Act to carefully separate their official duties from political ones. The Hatch Act, which was enacted after officials in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration were accused of using New Deal programs to sway the outcome of the 1938 congressional election, aims to prevent political favoritism and coercion in the administration.
As such, the Times reported, White House counsel Neil Eggleston and members of his staff have amped up their warnings to top officials to “exercise case that their political activity stays within the law.”
The president and vice president are exempt from many legal strictures, but President Obama has reportedly taken precautions ahead of his first campaign appearance for Clinton in North Carolina later this week.
This move by the White House presents some challenges to the cabinet secretaries who have already publically endorsed Clinton, including Julian Castro of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Tom Perez of the Labor Department – who have repeatedly surfaced on lists of potential vice-presidential candidates.
There is no law barring cabinet secretaries from speaking at conventions, White House officials told the Times, but there have been cases of slip-ups and "extemporaneous partisan remarks" that have come close to violating the Hatch Act.
Four years ago, White House lawyers allowed cabinet secretaries to take part in conventions but they could not use the title of “secretary” if they did.