Tag Archives: White House

Too many generals around Trump? Maybe, but then again …

A former Joint Chiefs chairman says he is concerned that Donald J. Trump has surrounded himself with too many generals.

Retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen — who served as Joint Chiefs chairman under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama — said that Defense Secretary James Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly, two former U.S. Marine Corps generals, lack “political experience.” The same can be said, according to Mullen, about former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is an active-duty U.S. Army lieutenant general.

“Jim Mattis, and John Kelly and H.R. McMaster are not politicians, but they’re operating in this political world inside the White House,” Mullen said. “It is a tough, difficult, political environment.”

OK, I get Mullen’s concern.

I’m not sure he needs to be overly concerned. I look at the generals’ presence a little differently. These men all have combat experience, which means they understand the consequences of war. It’s been said that warriors quite often are the last individuals who want to go to war. They know too well the grief and misery it brings.

Admiral Mullen perhaps ought to be more concerned that the commander in chief is reluctant to listen the best advice he gets from those “best people” with whom he pledged to bring aboard his administrative team.

Obama is relaxed; many of us wish he could return

Barack H. Obama seems to have found his second wind as a private citizen. Same with Michelle Obama.

The two of them hardly ever are photographed without big smiles on their faces. The former president is enjoying his time away from the spotlight, as is the former first lady.

Oh, this fills many of us with wistful thoughts. If only we could get him back. That can’t happen. The U.S. Constitution limits presidents to two elected terms. Barack Obama did his time. Now he’s out among some of us.

Sure, he’s making a ton of scratch making speeches. He is kicking a lot of his post-presidential income back to community projects near and dear to his heart. He is following the course set by many of his predecessors.

George W. Bush has taken up painting, has biked with wounded veterans (including in Palo Duro Canyon) and has opened his presidential library in Dallas; Bill Clinton is hard at work on his Clinton Global Initiative Foundation, also making speeches and getting mixed up in politics from time to time; Jimmy Carter builds houses for Habitat for Humanity and teaches Sunday school in Plains, Ga.; George H.W. Bush is in poor health, but he, too, enjoys retired life.

I suppose it would tempting for Obama to fire back at his successor, Donald Trump, who seems to need a foil; he relishes the notion of dismantling many of his immediate predecessor’s successes and he does so while firing off broadsides via stump speeches and tweets.

Therein lies one of the many differences between Obama and Trump. The current president simply cannot stand being criticized; the former president might not like it, but he maintains his silence … mostly.

As much as I would like to have Barack Obama back in command of the situation, I know — and appreciate — his sense of freedom from the rigors of serving in the nation’s highest public office.

I wish him well. I also hope he doesn’t disappear. Many of his countrymen and women still enjoy listening to his soaring rhetoric far more than the trash talk that pours forth from the guy who succeeded him.

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.

Get ready for Mattis vs. Bolton

Donald Trump’s national security team just cannot get its legs under it. It cannot function as a cohesive team that imparts advice to a president who is willing to (a) listen to it and (b) follow it.

With that we now have a new national security adviser, uber-super hawk John Bolton who quite likely will clash openly with Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis.

I’m going to pull for Mad Dog to win this fight, although Bolton now is the man of the hour, the guy who’s got the president’s ear.

Heaven help us if Bolton’s world view carries the day in the West Wing of the White House.

Bolton is known around the world as one with an itchy trigger finger. He favors pre-emptive military action against North Korea. Indeed, he has favored “putting boots on the ground” in places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan … you name it, Bolton wants to flex U.S. military muscle.

He despises the nuclear arms deal worked out by the Obama administration that seeks to de-nuclearize Iran.

There’s Bolton’s profile in brief.

How about Mattis? He favors the Iran nuclear deal. He believes it is working and is worth retaining. And North Korea? Well, the retired Marine Corps general, a decorated combat veteran to boot, believes diplomacy should remain as Option No. 1 in our efforts to talk the reclusive Marxist regime out of striking at South Korea, or Japan — or the United States of America!

Mattis’s world view is forged by a career that has seen him serve up close in harm’s way. Bolton’s world view comes from a different perspective. He doesn’t have the kind of front-line military experience that Mattis does; Bolton served six years in the Maryland Army National Guard.

I want to bring this to your attention only to suggest that there might be yet another ideological storm brewing within the Trump White House.

As I have noted before, “Mad Dog” Mattis is one of the few grownups who have signed on to serve this president.

I do not believe John Bolton falls into that category of public servant.

Trump still doesn’t get his ownership of issues

This comes as no new great news flash. I’ve known it all along. So have you.

Donald Trump today demonstrated with absolute clarity that he doesn’t understand a fundamental tenet of governing. It is that effective governance at the highest levels is a team sport.

The president signed that $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. While announcing his signature this morning, Trump laid some heavy lumber on Congress, namely congressional Democrats. He blamed them for wanting to gut our military; he blamed them for opposing reforms on illegal immigration.

He blamed Congress for sending him a huge bill that “nobody has read,” yet he signed it anyway. Trump said he’d “never sign” another bill like this ever again.

What one never hears from this guy is that he is a player, too, in government’s fits and starts, its occasional paralysis. He does not fathom how effective government is supposed to work. It is designed to bring the executive branch and the legislative into the same room, to reach common ground, to compromise where possible.

Does this individual get it? No. He doesn’t. Trump continues to lay blame at everyone else’s feet. He continues to assert that the other guys are at fault. The other guys, in this case, are lawmakers of the other party.

The president’s business background did not prepare him for the delicate nature of legislating and negotiating with legislators. He’s always been the Big Man in Charge. It’s always been his game to win.

I keep circling back to this fundamental shortcoming in Donald Trump’s shocking ascent to the presidency: His entire professional career was centered solely, exclusively on self-enrichment, on self-aggrandizement and self-promotion.

Every time he opens his trap, every time he tweets out pronouncements and proclamations, we are “treated” to evidence of his utter lack of knowledge and understanding of how government works.

The president needs to take ownership of the failures that come along, just as he is all too willing to take ownership of the successes.

Once again, this morning, Donald Trump showed that he doesn’t understand — nor is he likely to ever understand — the immense complexities of his high office.

Another top Trumpkin bails on POTUS

It’s a laugh a day at the Donald John Trump Sr. White House. Except few Americans find little actual humor at what is transpiring.

Today’s chuckle comes from John Dowd, the president’s now-former lead lawyer in this Russia matter. Dowd has called it quits, packed it up and gone on his way.

Why? Well, imagine this if you dare: Dowd says he is leaving because his client isn’t heeding his legal advice. Shocking, yes?

Trump isn’t inclined to listen to anyone. Not his lawyer. Or his national security team. Or his chief economic adviser. The secretary of state.

The national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, implored Trump against congratulating Vladimir Putin on his re-election in a rigged vote; Trump patted Putin on the back anyway and McMaster is now thought to on his way out. Former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn didn’t want Trump to impose trade tariffs on imported steel and aluminum; Trump imposed them and Cohn quit. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson battled Trump on all manner of Russia-related matters; Trump fired Tillerson.

Now … it’s the president’s lead lawyer who is walking away.

Dowd has had enough. Trump seems to want to take a more prominent role in his own legal defense against the special counsel, Robert Mueller, who is proceeding with a meticulous probe into “the Russia thing.”

I am left to recall what I’ve heard so many times: Someone who represents himself in a legal proceeding has a fool for a client.

How do we trust this guy?

Republican and Democratic politicians say the same thing. So do conservative and progressive commentators. Same for the White House.

Their message? Donald J. Trump should not seek the ouster of special counsel Robert Mueller; the White House says the president isn’t considering it, hasn’t mentioned it, he has no intention of giving Mueller the boot.

Here is my concern: We’re dealing with the Liar in Chief, the Serial Prevaricator, the Man With No Guiding Compass.

Mueller is trying to root out the truth behind allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with Russians who meddled in our 2016 electoral process. He is trying to ferret out whether Trump has obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey, pressured former deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Mueller wants to determine if Trump’s financial dealings in Russia have any connection to this mess.

Technically, the president cannot fire Mueller. He can order Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein — who selected Mueller — to do it. Would he dare? Would the president be willing to precipitate a political earthquake not seen in Washington since the infamous Watergate era?

When I hear a White House press official declare that the president doesn’t “intend” to act foolishly or stupidly, I hear someone say that the president has no intention in the moment, but that could change in the next 45 minutes.

As for the president’s previous statements that he hasn’t discussed firing anyone, let alone someone with the political heft of Robert Mueller, well … I just don’t believe him. He has demonstrated more times than any of us can count a shameless willingness to dissemble and lie.

We have come to this point. Americans have elected someone who cannot be trusted implicitly to tell the truth. He is fully capable, in my mind, of saying anything if his aim is to destroy someone else’s credibility or to provide himself sufficient political cover.

We well might be hurtling toward a serious political crisis — if the president of the United States cannot control his impulse to invite chaos.

How can we trust Trump’s word?

Ty Cobb, one of Donald Trump’s lawyers, has put it on the record: The president is not considering, nor has he discussed, firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

There you have it. We’re supposed to take Cobb’s word for it. We’re supposed to presume that the president’s word is as good as gold. He won’t act. He won’t do something incredibly stupid, which would be to fire Mueller before he has completed his probe into Russian meddling, alleged collusion with the Trump campaign and potential obstruction of justice by the president or his team members.

Pardon my skepticism. I don’t trust anything, not a single word, that comes from (a) the president, (b) any member of his inner circle or (c) anyone with any connection with this individual.

What the president says today is subject to immediate change tomorrow — if not later in the same day.

Reuters reports: “In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller,” said Cobb.

Sure thing.

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.

More heads to roll at White House?

Donald J. Trump once pledged that he would surround himself with the “best people.”

I always presumed the president meant he would do so at the outset. That he would be have his A-Team suited up and ready to “make America great again” from Day One of the Trump administration.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

The national security adviser was gone after 24 days; the president has burned through four communications directors in a little more than a year; Trump fired the FBI director; the health and human services secretary quit; so did the press secretary; senior policy adviser Stephen Bannon got the boot; so did the White House chief of staff; his chief economics adviser quit; the secretary of state got canned.

Have I missed anyone? Probably. I can’t keep up.

The second national security adviser is considered on the bubble. Same for the attorney general. Hey, the second chief of staff might be out, too. I have read something about the education secretary possibly getting the boot, along with the housing and veterans affairs secretaries.

And then the president reminded us this week that he’s now “very close” to fielding his real A-Team, that he actually relishes conflict among the ranks of advisers.

Do you believe Trump invites dissent? That he wants people to disagree with him? That he takes those disagreements under advisement and then renders thoughtful decisions?

Hah! Neither do I.

I cannot fathom how anyone worth a damn would want to work in this environment. The president has hired precious few top-flight individuals. The defense secretary is a top-drawer guy. I once had high hopes that his second chief of staff would rise to the occasion. I believe the new FBI director is a serious player, too.

So, what’s it going to be? Are we going to get a government that actually functions or will it continue to stumble along, directionless and without form?

It has been said that Trump’s political instincts served him well while he campaigned for the presidency, but that he flushed them away when he began to govern.

This man does not know what he is doing.