Tag Archives: Trump administration

Trump makes ‘acting’ more fashionable?

Donald Trump’s administration has a revolving door the likes of which is virtually unprecedented in presidential history.

The nation’s acting defense secretary has pulled out. Patrick Shanahan has decided he doesn’t want to be considered for a permanent appointment.

Hey, no biggie, says the president. He thanked Shanahan for doing a “great job.” Now he’s got to look for another defense boss.

But the president who boasts about his administration being a “fine-tuned machine” has a lot of spots to fill. If he chooses to fill them.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: Definitive listings of acting officials in Trump’s and other administrations are hard to come by because no agency keeps overall records. Yet Christina Kinane, an incoming political science professor at Yale, compiled data in her doctoral dissertation, “Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments.”

Kinane found that from 1977 through mid-April of this year — from the administration of President Jimmy Carter through the first half of Trump’s — 266 individuals held Cabinet posts. Seventy-nine of them held their jobs on an acting basis, or 3 in 10.

Under Trump, 22 of the 42 people in top Cabinet jobs have been acting, or just over half.

And though Trump’s presidency has spanned less than 5% of the years covered, his administration accounts for more than 27% of the acting officials tallied. Kinane’s figures include holdovers from previous administrations, some of whom serve for just days.

The bottom line is that Trump either cannot find qualified individuals to fill these posts on permanent bases, or he simply chooses not to take the time required to vet them properly.

It’s fair to wonder whether the nation is served well by so many “acting” top-level officials. How can they make serious administrative policy decisions? How does their staff take them totally seriously? In posts involving foreign policy, how do these interim appointments play in foreign capitals? How do our allies trust fully that these acting officials speak for the United States?

Trump has said he “likes” having acting top officials, saying something weird about how it gives him “flexibility.”

I happen to believe that the flexibility Trump relishes also breeds uncertainty. And confusion and chaos.

Trump promised to surround himself with the “best people.” He said he knows the “best words.” That he went to the “best schools.”

He also said that “I, alone can fix” the damage purportedly done to the country. Donald Trump’s inability or unwillingness to fill these posts might be good for his ego, but profoundly bad for the country.

‘I, alone, can fix it’

This image showed up overnight on my Facebook feed.

It speaks to the absences among many key advisory posts in Donald Trump’s administration.

I agree with the notion that he has “no clue.” However, think of this for just a moment:

He told the entire world at the Republican Party’s presidential nominating convention in the summer of 2016 that “I, alone, can fix” the problems bedeviling the United States of America.

OK, so Trump has an “acting” chief of staff; he has nominated a U.N. envoy, as he has nominated a defense chief.

Still it does seem quite possible that, before the end of his presidency, he’ll get a chance to show the world whether he “alone” can fix anything.

William Barr: Trump’s newest ‘grownup’

William Pelham Barr has emerged — in my mind, at least — as Donald Trump’s latest “only grownup” in his administration.

Now that former Defense Secretary James Mattis has exited the Trump administration, it now falls on the attorney general-designate to assume the role of grownup.

Based on what I have heard during two days of testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr might be ready to step into that key role.

Barr would take over a Justice Department that supervises the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining whether Donald Trump’s presidential campaign “colluded” with Russians who interfered in our 2016 election.

Barr has hit several pitches out of the park. He vows to let Mueller complete his probe without interference; he pledges that he would not follow an unlawful order from the president; he stands by Mueller — with whom he has been friends for 30 years — as man of impeccable integrity; he says Mueller is not engaged in a “witch hunt”; he says he won’t be “bullied” by the president of the United States.

OK, with all that said, Barr did whiff on at least one pitch from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He won’t mess with laws governing whether a president can be indicted. Nor did he promise to make the Mueller report public, which I believe is imperative, given the public expense of the investigation.

In the grand scheme, I believe Barr should be recommended for confirmation by the Judiciary panel and the full Senate should confirm him. He won’t get the unanimous confirmation he got when he served as AG during the George H.W. Bush administration from 1991 to 1993. It’s a different era now. A different type of president has taken office and he has upset almost every single element of what we used to call “normal” in American politics.

Trump fired Jeff Sessions as AG only because Sessions recused himself from the Russia matter. Sessions did what he had to do under DOJ rules of ethics. There could no way for him to lead an investigation into a presidential campaign in which he played a key role as a national security adviser. So he backed out, enraging Trump.

Barr promises he won’t be bullied by the president. I hope he stands firm on that. He no doubt knows what he is getting into by accepting this job as attorney general.

Which to my mind makes him a serious grownup in an administration that is sorely lacking in them.

Stability? Who needs stability, right, Mr. POTUS?

Donald Trump is showing that he can be a master rationalizer. The guy can seek to rationalize every idiotic circumstance.

Such as the array of “acting” Cabinet secretaries and senior administration officials. The president says he is in no hurry to find permanent replacements, saying something about liking the “flexibility” that’s built in to his current administration makeup.

Ridiculous!

He has an acting White House chief of staff, an acting interior secretary, an acting attorney general, an acting defense secretary, an acting U.N. ambassador, an acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Only the White House chief of staff does not require Senate confirmation.

Now, the president has nominated individuals to become the permanent U.N. envoy, the EPA boss and attorney general.

However, he is being caught in a swirl of legal and political conflicts that are interfering with the “normal” flow of business; of course, “normal” takes on a new meaning in this Era of Donald J. Trump, which is to say that there is a whole “new normal.”

I happen to believe that the presence of so many “acting” executive branch officials begets more chaos and uncertainty. There can be little good side to having all these posts occupied by individuals who just keeping seats warm for someone else.

How about getting busy, Mr. President?

Remember the ‘anonymous’ op-ed in the Times?

One of the fairly unusual aspects of following the Trump administration through its daily trials, tribulations and tumult is that we quickly lose track of the previous set of troubles.

Do you remember that op-ed published in The New York Times that talked about the fear, uncertainty and chaos that permeates Donald Trump’s administration? The president was so incensed he sought to find the author of the piece and then fire him/her on the spot.

Media pundits were all over it. They sought to connect the dots and come up with their own conclusion. All anyone seemed to know with any certainty is that it came from someone within the West Wing inner circle. Indeed, the write of the essay revealed he or she was part of “resistance movement” within the administration that took it upon itself to protect the president from his more dangerous impulses.

What in the world happened to that dire concern over the identity of the writer? What happened to Donald Trump’s dedication to finding out who did it? What happened to the story?

It’s just that with this president and this administration, our attention is taxed to the hilt, stretched beyond its limits to stay focused on any single subject for more than a week — tops!

If it is next week, another crisis is sure to overtake us.

Haley exits in non-Trumpian style

I have to hand it to United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.

Her resignation, which she announced today in the Oval Office sitting next to the president of the United States, was done without the usual rhetorical public flogging that has accompanied so many of previous Cabinet officials’ departures.

Donald Trump, for instance, notified former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of his firing via Twitter. That came after several days of public speculation about what his future held.

Former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt endured weeks of publicity regarding his use of public money; former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price endured much the same kind of (mis)treatment; Veterans Secretary David Shulkin was hung out to dry before he got shown the door.

And, of course, we have staff-level jobs that changed hands in messy, turbulent manners. Chief of staff Reince Priebus, national security advisers Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster, communications director Anthony Scaramucci, press secretary Sean Spicer … all left amid chaos and confusion.

Haley’s departure was vastly different. It came as a legitimate surprise to the media and to many Trump administration officials.

It goes to show, I suppose, that it actually is possible for the president to keep a secret, given that he knew of her plans to depart several days in advance. It also is possible for him to announce a key administration departure with a semblance of class.

Will it continue? Do not bet the farm on it.

This POTUS is totally untrustworthy … period!

White House chief of staff John Kelly sought to tamp down concerns among his colleagues by telling them there are no more staff changes on the horizon.

How does this man know this? I am going to presume — at my own risk, of course — that Donald J. Trump has told him so.

Kelly then relayed what might be assurances from the president that everyone in the White House can settle down now. Relax. Go about doing their jobs. No worries about their futures or their bosses’ futures.

Except for this: How does anyone trust a single word, let alone sentence, that flies out of Donald Trump’s mouth?

Trump has demonstrated a penchant for unpredictability. Doesn’t he brag about it, along with his sexual prowess and how smart he is? Doesn’t he say that unpredictability enhances his effectiveness as president of the United States?

So, with all that established, does it make any sense at all to take a single thing this guy says? How does one take his utterances at face value? How does one trust someone who lies with absolutely no concern over its consequences?

It might be that Kelly is trying to put as positive a face as he can on the chaos that has erupted yet again inside the West Wing. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s firing came without warning to Tillerson — or anyone else, for that matter. Trump told Tillerson the way he told the rest of the world: via Twitter. Classy, yes? Umm. No!

So now we hear from the White House chief of staff that there are no more firings upcoming.

Let’s all wait until, oh, the sun comes up in the morning.

Tomorrow’s a new day. A new set of crises awaits a stir-crazy nation. That’s how the president likes to operate. Or so he says.

Follow the logic if you can

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick “Oops” Perry has made a curious leap between fossil fuel development and consumption and sexual abuse.

I’m trying to connect the dots. I am having a difficult time of it.

Perry said fossil fuel consumption can prevent sexual abuse because the “lights are on.” The Energy boss made his remarks at a forum sponsored by NBC News and Axios.

According to The Texas Tribune, Perry said: “It’s going to take fossil fuels to push power out into those villages in Africa, where a young girl told me to my face, ‘one of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I’m not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people.’”

Oh, boy.

Is he pushing fossil fuels as an energy source or is he speaking about the brutality of sexual abuse suffered by villagers?

I’m going to assume — given the secretary’s former position as the governor of Texas, which produces a goodly amount of oil and natural gas — that he is pitching fossil fuel consumption.

Or is he?

Here seems to be where the Trump administration that Perry serves is missing the boat. This big world of ours is full of alternative energy sources that also can keep the lights on. Wind, solar, hydropower … they all are renewable, clean and safe. I’ll also throw nuclear power into that mix, too, even though nuke plants — which are safer than they used to be — aren’t yet totally safe from cataclysmic accidents.

Perry went on, according to the Tribune: “But also from the standpoint of sexual assault, when the lights are on, when you have light that shines, the righteousness, if you will, on those types of acts,” Perry continued.

The Sierra Club, one of the nation’s foremost environmental interest groups, has called on Perry to quit in light of his remarks. I won’t go that far.

Perry offers confusion

I do question the logic the energy secretary is employing in connecting fossil fuels with sexual predation.

He lost me.

Hoping for a lengthy stay for Tillerson

I’m allowed to eat a bit of crow, aren’t I?

I was one of those who was skeptical about Rex Tillerson’s appointment as secretary of state in the Trump administration. In recent days and weeks, though, I’ve become a believer in the former ExxonMobil mogul’s ability to do the job and to speak for the United States of America.

There’s reporting that Tillerson might not be long for Donald Trump’s administration. He might not stay on the job for a year. He might bail early.

I hope he stays on. I hope he can find a way to work with that clown wagon known as the Trump administration.

My fear is that the clock has begun ticking on Secretary Tillerson’s tenure.

The president might have started the moment he heard Tillerson tell Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that “the president speaks for himself.” The context of that response, though, is most telling.

Wallace asked Tillerson about the Charlottesville riot and the nation’s mood in the wake of the violence that erupted. Tillerson said the world understands the State Department’s commitment to human rights.

Wallace then asked about whether the president concurs. That’s when Tillerson responded with the “speaks for himself” comment.

To my ears, it sounded as though the secretary was putting some distance between the department he runs and the man to whom Tillerson reports — the president.

As the Washington Post reported: “And some who have recently seen Tillerson say the former ExxonMobil chief executive — unaccustomed to taking orders from a superior, let alone one as capricious as Trump — also seems to be ready to end his State Department tenure. He has grumbled privately to (White House chief of staff John) Kelly about Trump’s recent controversies, said two people familiar with their relationship.”

Damn!

Tillerson exhibited some much-needed sanity, maturity and intelligence in that moment. The nation needs more of it.

You go, Professor Painter!

Richard Painter is emerging as one of my favorite pundits seen regularly when questions arise about the Trump administration.

Painter served as ethics lawyer/watchdog for President George W. Bush. Thus, he — more than likely — is a loyal Republican. He also is no fan of Donald John Trump Sr., which likely is why I appreciate his commentary so much.

Painter now teaches law at the University of Minnesota.

He recently commented on a statement from Trump senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, who suggested that the administration might administer lie-detector tests to aides in the hunt to determine who’s leaking information to the media.

Painter’s response via Twitter? “Kellyanne wants lie detectors in the White House? Try one on the press secretary podium. The place will light up like a disco!”

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has pledged never to lie from the White House press podium. I would like very much to give her the benefit of the doubt.

However, maybe Sanders ought to follow Professor Painter’s suggestion: hook up to the polygraph machine — just to be sure.