At the White House, Commander is coming back to bite

A week after President Joe Biden’s dog, Commander, was removed from the White House following a series of biting incidents involving staff members and the Secret Service, one member of Congress is demanding details about what kind of workplace safety measures are in place to protect workers at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a letter to Biden and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su on Wednesday morning to request recent annual reports and “any employee workplace safety complaints filed with [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] or any office or agency within the White House since January 20, 2021.”

“The White House has the responsibility to set an example for ensuring workplace safety and health for its employees. Unfortunately, it has recently come to our attention that it is failing to uphold this responsibility,” Foxx wrote, citing “recent reports concerning White House staff and U.S. Secret Service personnel regularly incurring dog bites,” which, she said, “indicate that occupational hazards are prevalent at the White House.”

Over the summer, 196 pages of internal communications made public after a Freedom of Information Act request from the conservative legal organization Judicial Watch unveiled that Commander, Biden’s 2-year-old German shepherd, was involved in several biting incidents — including one that sent a Secret Service agent to the hospital.

In September, the Secret Service confirmed that Commander bit another Secret Service agent, bringing the total number of reported incidents to 11. On Thursday, CNN reported that that number is higher, and includes members of White House staff beyond the Secret Service — after which Commander was promptly removed from the White House campus.

Commander was the second Biden dog to be sent away from the White House. Major, also a German shepherd, was sent to live with friends of the family after his own biting incidents.

Foxx wrote the letter to remind the White House that it is “not immune to the laws of the land,” she told POLITICO in an interview.

“If 10 people had accidents in a private plant, or if there had been dog bites in a private plant, I’ll guarantee you OSHA would have been down on the heads of the owners and operators of that plant,” she added.

OSHA’s standards for federal employees differ slightly from that for public sector employees. But federal law does require agencies to “establish and maintain an effective and comprehensive occupational safety and health program,” and to report occupational accidents and injuries annually to the secretary of Labor.

Though the legal recourse available to staffers on the receiving end of a Commander bite is murky, the most likely path for redress would be through a workers’ compensation claim, John Mahoney, a D.C.-based federal employment lawyer, told POLITICO.

“The Secret Service employees are federal employees, so they could file workers’ compensation claims through the agency which would go up to the Department of Labor, in case ultimately they have injuries or they need medical attention or they lose time at work because of the bites,” Mahoney said. “They cannot sue. … You’re dealing with the Executive Office of the White House, the president, so they’re exempt from a lot of statutes that would apply in the private sector.”

Leave a Comment