Tag Archives: Trump Cabinet

It’s ‘Secretary,’ not ‘General’ Mattis, Mr. President

I’ve made this point already, but I feel the need to restate it.

Donald J. Trump once again referred to the secretary of defense as “Gen. Mattis.” Yes, James “Mad Dog” Mattis — one of my favorite Trump Cabinet appointees — is a retired Marine Corps general. He’s got four stars on his epaulets.

But that was then. Today, the here and now, Mad Dog Mattis is a civilian, just like the president is a civilian.

Trump’s reference to “Gen. Mattis” came as he was announcing his decision to sh**can the planned June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The president, naturally, followed that reference with a statement that the U.S. military is the strongest in the world and that it is ready to act if the need arises.

Oh, brother, man!

Mr. President, we assign these Cabinet posts to civilians. It’s a time-honored tradition that civilians control the military. President Truman had to remind Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur of that fact when he relieved him of his Korean War command in the early 1950s.

I know it’s a semantics issue. It just bothers the daylights out of me that the commander in chief cannot honor the long-standing tradition of the office with a simple reference to the defense boss as “Secretary” James Mattis.

Get with the program, Mr. President.

Jackson mess seems to fit a pattern

Let’s review for a brief moment some of Donald J. Trump’s key Cabinet appointments.

I thought it would be worthwhile to look back a bit in the wake of the Dr. Ronny Jackson nomination to become head of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Jackson is a fine physician who has a good rapport with the president, which seems to be the major — perhaps the only — reason Trump selected him to lead the VA. He has no experience in leading an agency of such size and importance. His nomination is in dire peril over allegations of drinking on the job and over-prescribing of medicine.

  • Dr. Ben Carson is a renowned neurosurgeon who now runs the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His experience in running a huge federal agency? None, although he said he once visited a public housing complex.
  • Betsy DeVos was educated in private schools; she sent her children to private schools. She has no direct experience or exposure to public education. Yet she runs the U.S. Department of (public) Education.
  • Rick Perry once declared he wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy. Now he is the secretary of the agency he once promised to wipe away.
  • Scott Pruitt served as Oklahoma attorney general and sued the federal government repeatedly over what he said were onerous regulations designed to protect our environment. Now he is head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Jim Bridenstine had no science background before Trump nominated him to lead NASA, the nation’s space agency.
  • The Trump administration has burned through four communications directors in less than 18 months. One of them had, um, no experience in the communications field.

Is there a pattern here? Sure there is. The fellow who nominated all of them to their high offices has no political/government/public service either.

The first public office the president of the United States ever sought was the one he occupies at this moment. He has no experience in government. None in public service.

He doesn’t know a damn thing about the value of public service, nor does he seem to appreciate why people serve the public.

There will be more drama and chaos to come. Of that I am certain.

But … the president tells it like it is.

Why the delay in selecting ideal Cabinet?

The White House reaction to David Shulkin’s departure as veterans affairs secretary prompts a question from yours truly.

Donald Trump is moving “closer” to fielding an ideal Cabinet, the White House press office said after Shulkin submitted his resignation — apparently at the president’s request.

So, the question is this: Why didn’t the president pick an ideal Cabinet when he was transitioning into the office in late 2016 and early 2017?

Shulkin is the eighth Cabinet officer or close White House adviser to quit or be fired in just 15 months into the Trump administration. They’re dropping like flies in the West Wing and in agencies throughout the executive branch of the federal government.

The president vowed to surround himself with the “best people” as he was forming the executive branch leadership. If we are to believe the White House’s latest assertion about Trump’s desire to move closer to an ideal Cabinet while filling key White House advisory posts, then are we also to assume that the president has failed in keeping this particular promise?

Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, is the new nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs; Jackson has examined the past three presidents and delivered a sparkling medical critique of Trump’s physical health. That’s fine. I’m sure he’s a fine doctor. He does lack governmental administrative experience, although I’ll endorse the president’s assessment that as an active-duty military officer, Admiral Jackson has a keen understanding of veterans issues. I wish him well.

I want to circle back to my original question: Why didn’t the president select a top-tier roster of Cabinet officials and critical White House advisers when he took office?

Oh, I forgot something. That requires a president to do his homework and to rely on the best advice from the “best people” he has assembled to make these critical decisions at the outset.

Or, to put it another way: The president should have employed some “extreme vetting” techniques in assembling his team.

The door keeps revolving in Trump World

Here’s the latest big shakeup inside the Donald J. Trump administration. David Shulkin is out as secretary of veterans affairs. Admiral Ronny Jackson, the White House physician, is the new boss at the VA.

Trump pushed out Shulkin, a holdover from the Obama administration. Admiral Jackson will inherit a department in relatively good shape, if we are to accept the president’s tweet announcing the latest big personnel change. He thanked Shulkin for his service to the country and for the work he did on behalf of our “great veterans.”

I do expect the president to have an unkind word or two to tweet, however, regarding Shulkin’s Obama connection, given that’s Trump’s modus operandi: anything to do with his immediate predecessor is a bad thing.

Shulkin got caught up in a controversy over excessive spending on personal and department travel. I would caution the president to avoid blasting Shulkin just because Barack Obama appointed him; Trump, remember, did keep him on board.

As one of those who receives care from the Department of Veterans Affairs, I do appreciate that the agency has recovered a good bit from the shameful episode it went through with reports of veterans dying while awaiting health care in some hospitals. The shameful chapter cost retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki his job as veterans secretary. Indeed, he needed to go.

Is this the end of the Trump shakeup? Well, I am not holding my breath. I expect some more “bodies” to be thrown over the wall. Then again, that’s almost becoming normal in the world of Trump, who actually has acknowledged how he thrives on chaos.

I do hope Admiral Jackson can keep the VA ship moving forward while continuing to provide care for our nation’s “great veterans.”

Dr. Carson approved for HUD post; more OJT for key Trumpster

OK, let’s review for a moment the nature of some of Donald J. Trump’s key Cabinet appointments.

Betsy DeVos, who has zero exposure to public education is now head of the U.S. Department of (Public) Education. She didn’t attend public schools, her children didn’t attend them, she favors vouchers that would spend public money to allow parents to send their kids to private schools.

Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency repeatedly, is now head of the EPA. He wants to dismantle the rules and regulations designed to, oh, allow for a clean environment.

Ben Carson, whose spokesman once said is not qualified to run a federal agency, today has been confirmed to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson is a renowned retired neurosurgeon and is a former Republican primary opponent of the president of the United States.

Rex Tillerson, the former head of ExxonMobil, has not a lick of experience in international diplomacy. But there he is, serving as secretary of state.

These folks all have something in common with the person who picked them for their high-profile government jobs. The president doesn’t any experience, either, in the job to which he was elected.

Trump is holding the first public office he ever sought. He has zero public service experience. He has focused his entire adult life on one thing: personal enrichment. He doesn’t know how the government works. He doesn’t seem to grasp the complexities of governance and legislating.

Hey, that’s OK in the minds of millions of Americans who voted for him. He told it “like it is” during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Can all of these individuals learn how to do their jobs? I damn sure hope so … for the sake of the nation they are leading.

Trump’s Cabinet: at best, a mixed bag

Donald J. Trump hasn’t picked a gang of losers for his Cabinet.

He’s got some winners in the bunch. I am not equipped just yet to assess all of the president’s team members. Some have yet to take office, such as Energy Secretary-designate Rick Perry.

But I do feel driven to offer a word or two on a few of the more visible selections Trump has made.

First, the good picks.

James “Mad Dog” Mattis at Defense might be the best of the bunch. The retired Marine Corps general has turned out to be a seriously mature and thoughtful fellow. Imagine someone with the “Mad Dog” nickname earning that designation.

Gen. Mattis has declared that the United States won’t “torture” enemy combatants, nor will it seize Iraqi oil. He has managed to contradict the president directly on those two key elements. Semper fi, Gen. Mattis.

John Kelly, another Marine general, is a plus at Homeland Security. He’s kept a low profile so far, but has toured the southern border to take a first-hand look at the so-called “porous” border.

Rex Tillerson might be the big surprise at State. The former ExxonMobil CEO brought some serious baggage to his job. I remained worried about whether Tillerson’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to skew the U.S. policy toward Russia.

But he is talking reasonably and thoughtfully about U.S. foreign policy so far. His political foes have been quieted somewhat now that he’s on the job.

Let’s look at three Cabinet clunkers.

Betsy DeVos at Education shouldn’t be there. She has no experience — let alone understanding — of public education; she never attended public schools; nor did her children. She favors voucher programs that peel away public funds to pay for private education for parents and their children.

My friend, 2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples, has invited DeVos to visit public schools here in Amarillo, hoping she can collect some level of understanding about the hard work that’s going on in public classrooms. I do hope the secretary accepts Shanna’s invitation so she can learn something about the agency she is now leading.

Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development is another loser who has no business running an agency about which he knows not a single thing. The retired — and famed — neurosurgeon said so himself, through a spokesman; he isn’t qualified to run a federal agency. Trump picked him anyway. Enough said there.

Scott Pruitt, the new director of the Environmental Protection Agency, might be the worst of the bunch. How does the president justify selecting a sworn enemy of the agency he now is leading. Pruitt hates the EPA and sued the agency 14 times while serving as Oklahoma attorney general. He’s a friend of big oil and he detests EPA’s efforts at developing alternative energy sources for the purpose of, that’s right, protecting the environment.

Sheesh, man!

I am hoping for the best. My fear, though, falls short of that. As for the Trump Cabinet winners, I hope their strength rubs off on their weaker colleagues.

Honeymoon? What honeymoon?

Talk about rocky rollouts.

Presidents of the United States take command in what we call a “peaceful transition” of power. It’s supposed to be seamless. It’s intended to miss nary a beat. One guy steps off the inaugural podium as the former president and the new guy takes over as if he’s been there all along.

Then we have the transition from Barack H. Obama to Donald J. Trump.

What a mess!

As near as I can tell, the former president kept his end of the bargain, seeking to provide all the necessary support, advice and counsel to the new president.

What’s happened? Oh … let’s see.

* The new president issued an executive order that calls for a temporary ban on refugees coming here from seven mostly Muslim countries; then a federal judge strikes it down and his decision is upheld by a federal appeals court. Up next? The U.S. Supreme Court, more than likely.

* Now we have the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, quitting over allegations that he engaged in improper negotiations with Russians regarding sanctions that the Obama administration had leveled against them. The problem is threefold: Flynn might have violated federal law by talking out of turn to the Russians before Trump took office; he apparently lied to the vice president about what he said; and Trump needs to reveal whether he knew about the talks as they were occurring — or even whether he sanctioned them!

* A few Trump Cabinet appointees are being confirmed by narrow margins in the Senate. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was confirmed, in fact, by a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Pence.

* There are reports of civil servants sweating bullets about their futures within the Trump administration.

* Oh, and the president apparently engaged in a free-wheeling discussion the other day — in the open, in front of unauthorized personnel — with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about what the United States might do in response to a North Korean missile launch.

* Trump keeps repeating the phony mantra about alleged voter fraud by illegal immigrants casting ballots for Hillary Clinton. Proof? He hasn’t produced anything!

It ain’t supposed to start like this, man.

The military uses a popular acronym to describe certain circumstances: FUBAR; the cleaned-up version is translated to mean “fouled up beyond all recognition.”

There you have it.

DeVos gets a job for which she is unqualified

Betsy DeVos is going to assume her new job in the federal government with one of two outlooks.

The first one suggests that with a 50-50 vote in the U.S. Senate to confirm her — and with the vice president of the United States casting the tie-breaking vote — DeVos is assuming the education secretary job with virtually no mandate to do anything.

Half the Senate opposes her. The president who nominated her got nearly 3 million fewer votes than his 2016 election opponent — while winning enough electoral votes to become president. The vice president cast the first in history tie-breaking vote to confirm a Cabinet nominee.

Mandate, shmandate!

Or, she’ll thumb her nose at those of us who opposed her confirmation and say, “Hey, winning by an inch is as good as winning by a country mile.  So … get over it!”

I suspect she’ll adopt the latter point of view.

Senate Democrats gave it their best shot, trying to talk for 24 hours straight on the Senate floor seeking to persuade one more Republican to follow the lead of GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, who voted against DeVos’s nomination.

Betsy DeVos has zero qualifications to lead the nation’s public education system.

She gave a lot of money to Republican politicians, which I guess is qualification enough.

Sad, man. Sad.

Rep. McCaul: Solid choice, maybe, for Homeland Security


I’ve spent a good deal of time criticizing some of Donald J. Trump’s picks for his Cabinet.

I now will say something good about someone under consideration for a key national security post: Rep. Michael McCaul might become secretary of homeland security in the Trump administration.

McCaul would be a solid choice.

The only remotely negative thing that comes to mind is that he reportedly is the richest member of Congress, so he would be continuing Trump’s pattern of picking rich folks to help him govern the country.

Beyond that? Well, McCaul has law enforcement experience and has chaired the House Homeland Security Committee.

It also is good that McCaul hails from Texas, one of the states on the front line of this homeland security debate.

Some critics have suggested that McCaul isn’t tough enough on illegal immigration. As the Texas Tribune reported: “In recent days, McCaul has come under fire from illegal immigration opponents who claim he has not been tough enough on the problem in Congress. In a TV interview Wednesday, McCaul called such criticism ‘incredulous and inflammatory and … slanderous.'”


I like the fact that McCaul has congressional experience and that he represents a congressional district in a state where the homeland security issue has become arguably the most acute in the country.

From what I’ve heard from Rep. McCaul over the years, he doesn’t come across as a screamer. Instead, he sounds relatively reasonable and nuanced — which is a quality that Trump is going to need once he becomes president.

McCaul’s most vocal backer well might be U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a fellow Texan. It’s an interesting twist, too, as the Tribune reports, given that many Republicans have hoped McCaul would challenge Cruz for the GOP Senate nomination in 2018.

Hmm. Imagine that. Cruz now wants him ensconced in the Trump administration — and perhaps out of the way of his own run for re-election.

Whatever. Rep. McCaul would be a good fit at the Department of Homeland Security.