Tag Archives: White House

Retirement liberates GOP senator

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker is a free man these days.

The Tennessee Republican has announced his impending retirement from the Senate — and is now free to speak his mind.

Take, for example, his statement this week about three of Donald Trump’s key advisers and how they manage to save the United States from the “chaos” created by the president.

He spoke of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly. These men, said Corker, are managing to maintain some semblance of order.

Corker speaks out

Corker didn’t wait to announce his retirement before speaking candidly about Trump. After the president’s hideous reaction to the Charlottesville riot — including the “many sides are responsible” comment — Corker said the president “hasn’t yet demonstrated” the competence he needs to lead the nation.

Now this latest critique in which he said, “I think Secretary Tillerson, Secretary Mattis and Chief of Staff Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos.”

Oh, and of course we now have Tillerson reportedly firing off an enraged comment in a meeting that he believes the president is a “moron.” It’s also been reported that Tillerson attached a descriptive and profane adjective in front of “moron.” He has not denied saying it.

There you have it. A president with no prior government or public service experience of any kind is now leading the world’s greatest nation. Except that he’s incapable of exhibiting the temperament he needs to avoid the “chaos” that he invites whenever and wherever possible.

Trump’s fans applaud him for “telling it like it is.” Now such much-needed candor and honesty are coming from the mouths of the president’s “allies.”

Retirement can be a liberating experience … don’t you think?

Kelly expands his WH footprint

It’s been a bad week for Donald John Trump.

His effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act collapsed; an Alabama special Republican primary election nominated someone other than the guy Trump endorsed; the government’s response to Hurricane Maria’s wrath has been called into serious question; then the health and human services secretary “resigned” over a growing controversy involving his expensive travel habits.

Caught in the midst of this maelstrom is White House chief of staff John Kelly. I want to discuss briefly Kelly’s impact on the final element of Trump’s bad week, the ouster of HHS Secretary Tom Price.

Kelly has instituted some new rules regarding official travel of Cabinet officials and senior administration staffers. So, the retired Marine general is making his presence felt once again.

Kelly is one Trump appointment who’s had a net positive impact on the administration. I am glad to see him at his new post and hope he can continue to build some semblance of order in a seriously dysfunctional White House.

Kelly calls the travel shots

They will need approval from the chief of staff, according to Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. I am willing to bet the farm that Kelly insisted on gaining that approval. Price had abused his position by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money in expensive charter air travel.

Gen. Kelly has made his mark. He’ll keep making his mark as long as the president will allow him. He won’t eclipse the president, whose ego won’t allow it. The question that keeps cropping up in my own mind is whether Trump will entrust him to do his job.

The ‘swamp’ is draining … finally?

Tom Price is not a political whippersnapper. He’s not wet behind the ears. He’s been around Washington, D.C., first as a member of Congress and then — until today — as secretary of health and human services.

Dr. Price quit his HHS Cabinet job in the wake of boiling controversy involving his use of private aircraft that taxpayers paid for. It smacked of a spendthrift philosophy that smacked Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” in D.C. squarely in the face.

Price’s travel expenses ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He had promised to pay back $52,000, which amounted to a fraction of the bill he ran up flying aboard private charter jets rather than commercial airlines, which had been the custom over many previous administrations.

Price is now gone. He resigned today. Is the proverbial “swamp” now starting to drain? Well, I’m not holding my breath just yet.

Price once complained loudly against then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of “luxury jets” while she flew around the country. Then he gets caught doing something quite similar, if not identical, to what he accused Pelosi of doing.

It all kind of reminds me of how another House speaker, Newt Gingrich, wailed and railed against President Bill Clinton for his affair with the White House intern in the late 1990s — while at the same time Newt was taking a tumble with a congressional staff member while he was married to someone else.

Sigh …

Where do we go from here? The president has made precious few wise moves since stepping into the Oval Office. One of them is his hiring of John Kelly as White House chief of staff. Indeed, it appears quite likely that Gen. Kelly had a hand in Dr. Price’s resignation. Moreover, it also is being reported that Kelly’s fingerprints appear to be all over a new White House directive that mandates that all Cabinet officers and senior staffers clear their travel plans with Kelly and White House legal counsel.

Price’s departure is not a surprise, given the president’s own expressions of anger over the revelation about the former secretar’s travel habits.

The Trump administration, though, needs to pull a lot more plugs at the bottom of that “swamp” to ensure it gets drained.

Still struggling with ‘President’ and ‘Trump’

I fear I am entering a critical phase of my commentary on the president of the United States.

Some months ago, I declared in this blog that I couldn’t write the words “President” and “Trump” consecutively. It’s not that I disrespect the office; it’s because I disrespect the individual who occupies it.

I thought I might get over that resistance the farther along we progressed into the Trump administration. My concern now is different. It’s that the farther along we go into the president’s term, the more difficult it is going to be for me to use those two terms consecutively.

Let me stipulate once again that it has nothing at all to do with my vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. I have had no trouble referring to President Nixon, President Ford, President Reagan, President Bush (41) and President Bush (43) — despite never having voted for any of them.

They all conducted themselves appropriately while holding their exalted office. They all knew how to act and talk like the head of state and head of government. They all brought public service credentials to their job. Except for President Nixon, none of them disgraced the office the way the current president has done.

But you see, even though Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace after covering up the Watergate break-in, I still am able to refer to him by putting the word “President” directly in front of his name.

A critic of this blog has challenged me to refer to Donald Trump in that manner. I’ll have to respectfully decline that challenge.

My concern now is that I might never do what I concede is the correct thing to do.

Trump keeps saying inappropriate things in equally inappropriate settings. He keeps launching those Twitter tirades. He continues to hurl personal insults at his domestic political foes. Trump keeps up the drumbeat of disparaging nicknames he attaches on those who disagree with him.

He has yet to apologize for the many hideous statements he has made about: John McCain, the Gold Star family that criticized him this past summer, the disabled New York Times reporter, Barack Obama’s eligibility to serve as president, or the many lies he has told about any number of incidents he purported to have witnessed.

A man who cannot conduct himself like a president doesn’t deserve to be called one.

I’ve struggled with trying to decide whether to put the word “President” in front of Trump’s name. I wish I could report that I’m closer to taking that leap … but I can’t go there.

Gen. Kelly needs a poker face

I continue to be a fan of White House chief of staff John Kelly.

He’s seeking to bring some discipline and order to the White House while trying to instruct the Oval Office occupant, Donald J. Trump, on how to act in a manner befitting his exalted title: president of the United States of America.

The former Marine four-star general, though, needs to develop a poker face when he’s forced to watch the president make an ass of himself on the world stage.

There he was at the United Nations this week, listening to the president talk about the “total destruction” of North Korea. Yes, Trump said that while speaking in the forum established in 1945 for the expressed purpose of finding peaceful solutions to international crises.

Gen. Kelly put his hand over his face. The question becomes: Was he mortified at what he was hearing? We don’t know, of course. He won’t say. The White House press operation said Kelly wasn’t reacting to anything in particular.

His reaction was somewhat similar to the body language he “spoke” while listening to the president refer to “both sides” being responsible for the Charlottesville, Va., riot that left a young counter protester dead after she was run over by a man with alleged ties to the white supremacists who provoked the riot in the first place.

Then again, we don’t know what Kelly was thinking at that time, either.

My point is that Kelly would do better for himself if he just sat there stoically without prompting observers all around the world to interpret body language messages.

Absent that kind of self-discipline, we are left to wonder out loud if he’s as disgusted at the boss as many of the rest of us.

Trump shows more juvenile petulance

The nation’s juvenile delinquent in chief just keeps demonstrating his unfitness for a job that requires a huge measure of dignity.

Donald John Trump Sr. fired up his Twitter finger to retweet an animated image of the president hitting Hillary Rodham Clinton with a golf ball.

Pretty funny, huh? Oh, not at all!

But that’s the president of the United States of America for you. He just cannot stop insulting his political foes and critics. He just cannot resist the temptation to illustrate why so many of his fellow Americans detest the notion of his occupying the White House.

It goes without saying that heads of state need to conduct themselves with dignity and decorum. Trump doesn’t understand the tradition that accompanies the office he won in 2016, defeating Clinton in one of the most raucous and divisive elections in our nation’s history.

Trump’s Twitter tirades need to stop. They won’t, of course. The president will continue to denigrate others through this social medium for as long as his base of supporters keep cheering him on.

What the heck. He’s pandering to his base on many levels, forsaking the rest of the country that didn’t support his election in the first place.

Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, calls it “distressing that we have a president who will tweet and retweet things as juvenile as that.”

I’ll add another word: disgraceful.

However, the president is going to “make America great again.”

Aren’t you proud of him? Neither am I.

GOP about to ‘eat its young’?

The late Texas state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo used to joke that congressional and legislative reapportionment every decade was an opportunity for the Republican Party “to eat its young.”

His humor, I guess, was aimed at how Republicans — and I’ll presume Democrats, too — would redraw boundaries to make their own members vulnerable to political challenge.

I never quite understood Bivins’s example, but we might be about to witness a political war taking shape among Republicans that will produce some intraparty casualties. Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, has said the party is about to go to war with itself.

There will be the Bannon wing — comprising uber-nationalists/isolationists — against the “establishment wing” of the GOP.

He told “60 Minutes” that the Bannonites and the establishment types are going to fight tooth and nail for the attention and affection of the president of the United States. Bannon believes that the Republican majority in Congress is disserving Donald J. Trump. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan do not want Trump’s “populist message” to succeed, according to Bannon, who intends to fight for that message.

Bannon no longer draws a government salary, but he’s stands atop a formidable forum as editor in chief of Breitbart News, the media company from which he entered the White House at the start of the Trump administration. Bannon is a frightening dude, given his company’s occasional rants promoting anti-Semitic and white nationalist views.

I’m not particularly concerned about the outcome of this internecine battle. I don’t support the president’s agenda. Nor do I want Bannon anywhere near the center of power. The president chose well when he asked John Kelly to be White House chief of staff; indeed, Kelly is the reason that Bannon no longer advises the president from within the West Wing’s walls. That doesn’t mean Bannon has disappeared.

I’m quite sure that if the fight erupts within the party that the president’s ability to govern will suffer, given any evidence within the administration — starting with the man at the top — of any political skill or knowledge.

As for the Republican tendency to “eat its young” … bon appetit.

Bannon got the boot, but he’s still around

I am going to admit something that critics of this blog will applaud: I am wrong far more than I am right.

So, when I am right — or when my suspicion turns out to be correct — I feel a need to call attention to it.

Stephen K. Bannon got the boot recently as one of Donald Trump’s key White House advisers. Chief of staff John Kelly showed Bannon the door. My suspicion was that Bannon wouldn’t disappear entirely, that he’d remain a factor in the president’s policymaking.

Dammit anyway! Bannon appears to be hanging around.

Here is what I posted on Aug. 20:

Bannon’s gone, but is he … really?

Bannon returned to his roots, as editor of the far-right-wing publication Breitbart News. He reportedly chats with the president, according to sources in the White House, when John Kelly isn’t around. Think about that for a moment. Does that sound like the action of a junior high schooler who steals a cigarette from Dad when the old man is looking the other way?

The bigger issue, though, is that Bannon’s ultra-right-wing world view — his anti-globalism, uber nationalistic, allegedly racist ideology — will continue to help inform whatever passes for policy from the president.

Bannon is a scary dude. He didn’t belong on the National Security Council. Trump eventually removed him from that post. He didn’t belong anywhere near the Oval Office, but there he was, sitting next to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who also has no business being near the center of power.

So he gets shown the door out the back of the West Wing. He now vows to be Trump’s “wing man,” that he’ll work to keep the GOP based fired up and putting pressure on the president to do their bidding.

Bannon is no longer employed by the White House. If only he was actually gone.

Letter from ‘BO’ now seems oddly unwelcome to DT

Under normal circumstances, a letter from one president of the United States to his successor wouldn’t seem to be worthy of much attention.

These aren’t normal times. For starters, Donald J. Trump isn’t your “normal” president. He spoke kindly of his immediate predecessor, Barack H. Obama, when the two men met face to face for the first time in the Oval Office right after Trump’s election as president.

It went downhill from there. Rapidly. Angrily.

So, when CNN released the contents of the traditional note that presidents leave behind, it’s worth noting the outreach that President Obama extended to his successor.

The note ends with this: Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.

I do not doubt the former president’s good wishes for the Trumps. I’d like to throw away my doubt about how the new president felt about the former president upon visiting him in the Oval Office. But I cannot.

Here’s the full note from Obama to Trump.

If only the president hadn’t defamed the former president with that scurrilous and baseless claim about wiretapping the Trump campaign’s offices in Trump Tower. Or if only he would resist the temptation to say again and again about the “mess” he inherited from the 44th president, which I happen to believe is another lie.

Trump’s loud mouth and his boisterous criticism of All Things Obama appear aimed at pleasing only the base within his own Republican Party while ignoring the support that the former president enjoyed among millions of other Americans.

So now we know what the former president wrote to the man who took his place in the Oval Office. To me, the most poignant passage in the note deals with the transitory nature of the office.

It reads: (W)e are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions — like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties — that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.

There’s no need to elaborate on whether I believe Donald Trump — to date — has kept faith with that bit of advice.

Trump and Kelly: no ‘bromance’ likely here

Donald Trump became president of the United States with so many shortcomings, it’s futile to list them here.

I’ll just mention one of them: He doesn’t know that running an executive branch of government requires order, discipline and a strict adherence to the chain of command.

So, he took office and hired a decent young man as White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus. The only problem Priebus had was that he couldn’t instill any of those qualities in the White House operation. Chaos erupted daily, if not hourly.

Then he was gone. In came another type of manager: John Kelly, a retired Marine Corps general, the former secretary of homeland security. Kelly instilled a ton of discipline and order. He booted “Mooch” Scaramucci from the communications director job; he showed chief strategist Stephen Bannon the door. Sebastian Gorka, the so-called “terrorism expert” was out the door next. He has limited access to the Oval Office. He has bossed the staff around like the good Marine he is.

But as the New York Times story notes, he grates on the president — and the feeling is quite mutual.

Read the Time story here.

I was hoping that Trump’s appointment of Kelly might turn things around, that the White House might function as it is designed to function. It’s looking more and more that Kelly might not make the grade.

The problem starts at the very top. As the Times reports: “It is inevitable that a guy who will not be contained and does not want to be handled or managed was going to rebel against the latest manager who wanted to control him,” said Roger Stone, the longtime Trump adviser, who believes Mr. Kelly represents a kind of management coup by “the triumvirate” of two powerful retired generals — Mr. Kelly and Jim Mattis, the defense secretary — and one general who is still in the Army, the national security adviser, Lt. Gen H. R. McMaster.

Trump simply isn’t wired to follow a protocol that is not of his own making. He boasted repeatedly along the campaign trail that his stellar business success would hold him in good stead as president. It ain’t working out so well.

And let’s remember how the president accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and declared that “I, alone” can solve every problem from which the nation suffers.

Uhh, no. You cannot, Mr. President. The office requires teamwork. It requires cooperation. And order. I should add discipline.

Gen. Kelly is trying to do his job. If only his boss would allow him.