Tag Archives: Cabinet

No ‘designated survivor’?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

President Biden is going to stand before a sparse gathering of officials Wednesday night for his first speech to a joint congressional session.

Here, though, is a strange wrinkle: There will be no “designated survivor” among the Cabinet members who can step into the office in the event of a catastrophe.

The COVID pandemic is going to limit the audience to 200 people. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be present, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate President pro-tem Patrick Leahy. Harris, Pelosi, Leahy and Blinken all, in that order, would succeed to the presidency if something happened to those ahead of them in the line of succession.

So, were something to happen, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen would be the next to step into the office.

No designated survivor for Biden’s first joint address to Congress (msn.com)

Nothing is going to happen. Let’s stipulate that much.

It does kind of give me the creeps nonetheless to comprehend how much this pandemic has upset everything.

Biden paying for lack of ‘smooth transition’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

President Biden deserved to have his executive team fully signed on and ready to get to work the moment he pulled his hand off the Bible at his inauguration.

That hasn’t happened. The culprit, from what I have witnessed, was the refusal by his predecessor, Donald Trump, to guarantee a “smooth and seamless transition” after Biden won the 2020 presidential election.

Oh, no. What we got was obstruction, incessant lying about electoral theft, threats of litigation and, finally, a bloody insurrection on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

The result is that President Biden has part of the Cabinet in office. Many other key offices, including some Cabinet posts and high-level advisory jobs that have Cabinet-level authority, are still vacant.

To be sure, there have been a hiccup or two among the selections Biden has made. Neera Tanden withdrew her name from consideration as director of the Office of Management and Budget; too many U.S. senators said they couldn’t support her because of some of the mean tweets she published that were critical of Republicans. So, rather than continue the fight, Tanden backed away.

That’s one pick that Biden needs to do over.

As for the others, the Senate has been dragging its feet on some of them. Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland only this week received an endorsement from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is arguably the key individual who should have been on the job already, but has been held up by partisan politicking. Then we have the Health and Human Services secretary-designate, Xavier Becerra, who needs to take charge of an agency charged with managing the fight against that pandemic.

The Senate has confirmed 10 of 15 Cabinet appointments.

Donald Trump could have greased the proverbial skids for his successor simply by accepting the election results when it became clear to the rest of the world that he had lost to Joe Biden. He didn’t do that. He chose instead to fight. The transition was not “peaceful.” It was violent and it was utterly beyond the pale.

I am heartened to know, though, that President Biden’s years of legislative experience have held him in good stead even as he plods forward trying to fill his executive branch ranks. Imagine the chaos had he entered the presidency with Donald Trump’s blank sheet of government experience or knowledge of how government works.

Get the Cabinet seated

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

President Biden has six members of the Cabinet confirmed by the Senate and sworn into office.

He needs the rest of them. Now! Or at the very least as soon as is humanly possible, given the other thing that is occupying senators’ minds right now. That would be the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

I want the Senate to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection. To my way of thinking, it won’t take much time for House impeachment managers to make the case that Trump’s ghastly rhetoric on Jan. 6 ignited the riot that swarmed over Capitol Hill and could have disrupted the constitutional process of certifying the election that Biden won.

The Senate, though, can multi-task. It can hear evidence for half a day and then spend the other half considering Cabinet nominees and then voting on them.

President Biden was denied a smooth transition from Trump’s team. Trump get yammering about vote fraud that didn’t exist. He challenged the results of a free and fair election.

To be sure the president is moving rapidly on the pandemic front and in trying to get relief for millions of Americans affected by the killer virus. However, he needs an entire team suited up and  ready to implement presidential policy.

That requires the Senate to confirm them. The attorney general nominee, Merrick Garland, deserves a hearing … to state the most glaring vacancy still needing to be filled.

Joe Biden needs to be able to govern effectively and with clarity. He needs the executive branch of government to run with maximum efficiency.

Scrap the personal possessive pronoun, Mr. POTUS-elect

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Here is a request that in reality isn’t as modest as it might appear.

I direct it to President-elect Joe Biden. It goes like this:

Please refrain from the personal possessive pronoun when referring to our government, the team you assemble to work with you in the executive branch of government.

Donald Trump was fond of referring to “my generals,” and “my attorney general,” and “my Cabinet.” To be candid, President Barack Obama did it, too, and it annoyed me even then as I generally supported the policies that Obama espoused. President Obama would refer to Vice President Biden routinely as, um, “my vice president.”

The Cabinet does not belong to the president. Nor do the generals and admirals who wear our nation’s military uniform. The Justice Department is our DOJ, and does not belong to the president. Nor do any members of the Cabinet or senior staff members who comprise the presidential leadership team.

I get the perception we all had that, for example, the attorney general too often covered the president’s backside. For instance, AG William Barr infamously reported falsely the findings that special counsel Robert Mueller released regarding his lengthy and exhaustive probe into the Russian collusion matter.

Trump himself would talk to us about what “my generals” were preparing to do enemies of the nation.

My message to President-elect Biden is a simple one. Don’t take personal possession of the government. It ain’t his. It’s our government. In fact, the new president needs to understand something that the lame-duck president never got … that in a representative democracy such as ours, we are the bosses.

Presidents work for us.

I hope we’re clear.

Biden lines up many ‘firsts’

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

President-elect Joe Biden keeps rolling out the executive branch lineup he wants to help him govern the nation he was elected to lead. In the main, I find his selections so far to be an impressive collection of folks.

Biden keeps touting all the “firsts” he is asking to serve with him. The first openly gay Cabinet official; the first women to lead the energy and treasury departments; the first Native-American in the Cabinet; the first African-American to run the Pentagon and the Environmental Protection Agency.

He says he wants the executive branch of government to mirror the nation. It looks as though the president-elect is fulfilling that goal.

One of the remarkable aspects of the government he is forming is the number of individuals who struggled as they came of age, found their way into the world. The new interior secretary-designate talked of being homeless as a girl; the new energy secretary nominee told of her grandfather taking his own life because he couldn’t struggle with poverty.

Sure, there are marvelous success stories in the group. There appears to be a marked absence of billionaires of the type that populated the Cabinet that Donald Trump put together when he assumed office four years ago.

The new government in the making is a diverse group, comprising plenty of ethnic and racial minorities, women and men of various backgrounds. Many of them come to the new government with plenty of prior government experience.

Yes, we see a number of hands brought back from President Obama’s two terms in office. The new veterans affairs secretary served as White House chief of staff, the treasury secretary designate led the Fed during the Obama years, the White House chief of staff once filled a similar role for the VP during the Obama years and the climate envoy once served as secretary of state during the Obama administration.

I want to give Joe Biden a bit of credit for bringing back some tried-and-true government hands who played a role in governing during the successful two terms of the Obama administration. Indeed, the president-elect himself is a creature of the government he is now going to lead, serving 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president. For that matter, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris served in the U.S. Senate, was attorney general of California and was district attorney in San Francisco County; she, too, is fluent in government-speak and one cannot overstate the value knowing the language.

Americans took a gamble in electing a business mogul as president four years ago. To my way of thinking, it didn’t work out, given Donald Trump’s ignorance of how government works and his unwillingness to learn how to operate its intricate mechanism.

The nation will not have to face that particular issue when Joe Biden takes office as president.

So it is that the new president is crafting a government that resembles the nation. Moreover, it will be populated by those who know how it works, which in itself isn’t a “first.” It merely feels fresh compared to the chaos we have seen during the past four years.

Rick Perry leaves Cabinet under his own power; no small feat

I’ll acknowledge what you may already suspect: Rick Perry wasn’t my favorite Texas politician when he served as the state’s longest-ever tenured governor.

However, as secretary of energy, Rick Perry proved to be, well, a survivor in the sausage grinder that passes for Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

He’s about to leave office under his own power. He’s walking way because he chose to do so, not because Donald Trump kicked him out. Believe me, given the president’s record of booting top-level officials to the curb, that is no small feat.

How has he done as energy boss, running an agency he once targeted for elimination were he elected president in 2012 — and which he (in)famously forgot to mention when he sought to list the agencies he would eliminate? Not bad, but not great.

My biggest bone to pick with him is that he was virtually silent in pushing alternative energy development. That was not what occurred on his watch as Texas governor, when he presided over the state’s ascent to leading the nation in the development of wind energy. OK, so his governorship wasn’t a total loser.

His energy secretary tenure featured none of that kind of leadership, which I find a major disappointment.

However, he is able to walk away from the Cabinet without being forced out. That is a relatively important aspect of his departure from public office.

He wants to come home. I guess he wants to do something else. Maybe spend “more time with the family.” I don’t know.

There might be some questions to answer, though, as his name has gotten entangled in that Ukraine matter involving his soon-to-be former political benefactor, Donald Trump … the man he once described as a “cancer on conservatism.”

Keep your phone close by, Mr. Secretary. Congress might be on the other end of a call.

Incompetence or conspiracy within the White House … or both?

Blogger’s Note: This post has been edited to reflect a correction from the original post.

I heard about this event and my first thought was that it cannot be true, that it’s a phony story from a satirical source.

But oh, no. It’s real. Donald Trump delivered a speech this week with a doctored version of the presidential seal flashed on the wall behind him. Someone associated with the group to whom the president was speaking put a seal up that shows a set of golf clubs and a two-headed eagle.

What? Huh? Is this for real?

The phony eagle reportedly is meant to mimic a Russian symbol of totalitarian government; the golf clubs poke fun at the president’s penchant for golf. There’s also a wad of cash in the eagle’s talons, not the “E Pluribus Unum” slogan on the real presidential seal.

The individual responsible for this ridiculous matter has been fired.

Yet the White House apparently doesn’t believe it was done with “malicious intent.” Eh?

My own takeaway is that this incident reveals a profound lack of competence within the White House, even though the culprit was connected to the group that played host to the event. I get that it doesn’t rise to the level of some other idiotic instances we have witnessed during the Trump administration: the president’s tweeting frenzy, the revolving-door resignations that have plagued the president, the assorted statements from Cabinet officials questioning the president’s competence and intelligence.

This SNAFU, though, does illustrate that the president’s “fine-tuned machine” — specifically its advance team — needs an overhaul.

Still waiting for that ‘presidential’ moment

A critic or two of my blog has noted that I continue to resist referring to Donald Trump by placing the term “President” in front of his name. They don’t like it, calling me disrespectful of the man who was duly elected to the nation’s highest office.

So help me, as the Good Lord is my witness, I am waiting for that moment — or perhaps a sequence of moments — when I can feel as if the president of the United States has earned that honor from yours truly.

It hasn’t arrived. I don’t know if it will. I want it to arrive. I feel like the guy waiting for the bus or the train that’s overdue. I keep craning my neck, standing on my tiptoes, looking for all I can for some sign that the vehicle is on its way.

The same is true with Donald Trump.

As a presidential candidate, the man disgraced himself and the office he sought with behavior that is utterly beyond repugnant. The denigration of the late Sen. John McCain’s heroic service to the nation as a prisoner during the Vietnam War; the mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski’s serious neuro-muscular disability; the insults he hurled at his Republican primary foes; the hideous implication, for example, that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father was complicit in President Kennedy’s murder.

Also, we had that years-long lie that Trump fomented about President Obama’s eligibility to run for and to serve as president of the United States; Trump was one of the founders of the so-called “Birther Movement.”

He brought all that, and more, into the White House when he won the 2016 election.

Since taking office, he has acted like the carnival barker he became as a candidate. His incessant Twitter messaging, the manner in which he has fired Cabinet officials and assorted high-level federal officers have contributed to the idiocy that he promotes.

There have been moments of lucidity from this president. He pitched a much-needed effort on federal sentencing reform; he struck at Syria when it gassed its citizens.

The rest of it has been not worthy of the office this individual occupies.

I want to be able to string the words “President” and “Trump” together consecutively.  I cannot do it.

Maybe one day. Something tells me I shouldn’t hold my breath.

Trump does Mattis a huge favor

Put yourself into James Mattis’ boots for a moment.

You’ve just tendered a resignation letter that scorches the commander in chief’s methods of governing, of managing the nation’s foreign and military policies.

You have told the president of the United States you would stay in your job as defense secretary until Feb. 28.

But the president is so angry with you — with all the attention and love you’re getting from the media and politicians of both parties — that he’s decided to cut you loose early.

You’ll be gone instead by the end of December, just a few days from now.

How do you react to that? If it were me, I would be thrilled to death. Thrilled beyond words. Excited to get my life re-started. Secretary Mattis isn’t married, so he doesn’t have a spouse or children to share his joy, but my guess is that he’s cheering along with his best friends, siblings and other extended family members.

Donald Trump well may have done Mattis the biggest favor he could imagine. He has spared the retired Marine general from the chaos of another two months working within an administration where the cadence is being called by someone who is clueless about how government works. He doesn’t know how to forge and maintain strategic alliances. The commander in chief has no inkling of how his policy pronouncements via Twitter disrupt the normal flow of information.

Mattis brought a retired Marine Corps general’s order and discipline to the president’s inner circle, to his national defense team. He will take it all with him when he departs on New Year’s Day.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump will keep on bumbling his way toward an uncertain future as our head of state.

The newly department secretary of defense will be relieved of the insanity and chaos that now masquerade as presidential governance.

James Mattis is likely smiling broadly.

I know I would be. So would you.

Don’t push ‘Mad Dog’ out the door

There’s been some reporting over the past 24 hours about Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis and whether the president is looking past the serious grownup he has among his closest Cabinet officials.

Donald Trump announced the ending of “war games” with South Korean armed forces; he declared the United States was nixing the Iran nuclear deal; the president also announced his desire to form a sixth military branch, which he has called a “space force.”

These initiatives all have something in common. The president announced all of them without consulting Secretary Mattis.

Is this the beginning of the end of Mad Dog’s tenure as head of the Pentagon? Oh, man, I hope it ain’t so.

Of all the individuals Trump has selected for the Cabinet, Mattis is the one who — in my mind — has acted like the grownup. He is a serious-minded retired four-star U.S. Marine Corps general. His combat experience makes him a level-headed deterrent to the chicken hawks — such as national security adviser John Bolton — who seem all too eager to send U.S. forces into harm’s way.

When the president tweeted his decision to ban transgender Americans from enlisting in the armed forces, Mattis held the line, saying that he wouldn’t do a thing to change military policy without it going through the proper administrative channels.

Salon.com reports: The president often leaves Mattis “out of the loop” and “doesn’t listen to him,” according to NBC News, undermining this vital role in national security. Trump allegedly believes that Mattis “looks down on him” and “slow walks his policy directives,” sources told the outlet.

Mattis might “look down” on Trump? Really? So what if he does?

I can understand why Mattis, who has served his country with honor and distinction, might take a dim view of Donald Trump’s world view and his utter lack of understanding of what public service is supposed to mean.

For someone who supposedly has a soft spot in his heart for the generals with whom he has surrounded himself, Trump well might be doing all he can to get his premier Cabinet appointment to hit the road.

If that happens, the nation will be the poorer for it.