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Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2018 @ 4:20 PM
As a reality TV star, President Donald Trump’s catchphrase was “you’re fired.” In his White House, Trump’s penchant for pushing out senior staff and cabinet officials has resulted in the highest turnover in any presidential administration in four decades.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday became the second cabinet officer after Tom Price of Health and Human Services to be forced from his job, adding to a lengthy list of quick exits.
“No one has ever seen anything like this,” said Tony Fratto, who served as deputy White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. “It’s bewildering.”
Trump also fired FBI Director James Comey, pushed Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe into retiring, and privately threatened to push out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he reportedly derides as “Mr. Magoo.”
The White House staff has seen a dizzying pace of departures, including Gary Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, chief strategist Steve Bannon, chief of staff Reince Priebus and deputy chiefs of staff Rick Dearborn and Katie Walsh.
Trump has had two White House press secretaries, four communications directors, and two chiefs of staff. Just last Monday, Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, was fired and escorted out of the White House, reportedly in such haste that he left without his jacket.
Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary of state for public affairs, asked to explain Tillerson’s firing, said Tuesday that Tillerson was “unaware” why he was dismissed and did not speak to Trump before Trump announced Tillerson’s firing via tweet. In reply, the White House promptly fired Goldstein.
A study produced by Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow with Governance Studies with the Brookings Institution in Washington, shows that during Trump’s first year as president, 34 percent of his senior White House staff left compared to 17 percent for Reagan’s first year, 11 percent of President Bill Clinton, and 9 percent for President Barack Obama.
By contrast, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the turnover rate for the entire U.S. workforce last year was just 3.6 percent.
“Some turnover in the White House is healthy,” Tenpas said. “You definitely want to be able to get rid of poor performers, move people around and promote from within. But when turnover gets to be this high, then it raises questions about morale in the building. It clearly creates disruption and puts a burden on the people left behind.”
C. Danielle Vinson, a professor of politics and international affairs at Furman University in South Carolina, said such turbulence impacts civil servants as well, calling the sweeping changes “disruptive.”
“And while it probably works for the president in his world, most people — and my sense is most people in the federal bureaucracy — do not really function all that well with constant disruption,” she said.
In some cases, those left behind are asked to pick up additional tasks. Joe Hagin, a native Ohioan and childhood friend of Sen. Rob Portman, lasted all eight years of the George W. Bush administration.
In the Trump administration, Hagin is serving in two capacities: As deputy chief of staff for operations and as director of scheduling. Either, Tenpas said, would typically be considered a full time job in and of itself. Other staff, she said, have also been asked to double and even triple up their workload.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio, said the concerns over the turnover extend well beyond staff morale, saying it is “making it harder and harder for U.S. allies abroad to take us seriously.”
Although Trump swiftly said he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson, Brown said he has “serious concerns over whether Mike Pompeo is right person for the job.”
Tillerson was widely regarded as ineffective by critics, and Trump did not hide his disappointment in him. But his abrupt dismissal reinforced growing alarm among analysts that former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush was right during the GOP primary campaign when he warned Trump would “be a chaos president.”
“Even on one of the most pressing diplomatic issues of the Trump presidency — North Korea — Trump has undermined Tillerson publicly,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director for the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, adding that “Trump seems committed to doing things on his own, without the input of the State Department. All indications are he accepted the face-to-face meeting with Kim Jong-un with little input from his diplomatic corps.”
During an interview with CNBC’s Squawk Box, Portman, R–Ohio, tried to downplay any turbulence from the Tillerson departure, saying “Pompeo has got the respect at the State Department, but also on the Hill.”
Our politics reporters cover stories from Main Street to the White House. Follow the team at Ohio Politics on Facebook and @Ohio_Politics on Twitter.
Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 8:44 PM
A week after the feds announced the largest budget deficit in February in six years, the national debt edged over $21 trillion for the first time ever on Monday, as budget experts argue the U.S. is on a track that will likely again feature yearly deficits of $1 trillion, a level reached only during the Obama Administration.
“This is unsustainable,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).
The $21 trillion debt milestone was hit as lawmakers in Congress were trying to place the finishing touches on a giant Omnibus funding bill which will increase deficits by well over $100 billion in 2018, because of extra spending approved for both domestic and defense accounts.
Even before that, budget watchdogs were warning of a new tide of red ink in the Trump Administration.
“Thanks to the recent budget-busting tax cuts and spending deal, the national debt is skyrocketing and on an unsustainable course,” said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
The February budget numbers had two main reasons why the monthly deficit jumped to $215 billion – up from $192 billion in 2017 – less revenue coming in to Uncle Sam, and more spending.
Tax revenues were $155 billion in February, down from $171 billion a year ago.
While deficits are heading back up, there’s no hint of action in the Congress on any plan to restrain spending, though only a handful GOP lawmakers publicly grumbled about the situation, as they waited to see what exactly was in the Omnibus.
But the Omnibus has become almost a normal spending tool for Congress, unable to get through the dozen yearly spending bills on time.
For the current 2018 Fiscal Year, lawmakers were supposed to have finished 12 funding measures by October 1 of last year – but that spending work has only been completed on time in four of the last 43 years – one reason there are calls to overhaul the system.
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 6:49 PM
As President Donald Trump this weekend repeated some of his complaints about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and whether it involved anyone on his campaign, Mr. Trump did something unusual – sending out a pair of his tweets which included the name of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading that investigation.
It was the first time on Twitter that the President had more directly taken aim at Mueller, a former FBI Director who was named by the Trump Justice Department in 2017 to investigate the charge of Russian meddling in last year’s elections.
Were the weekend mentions of Mueller a new game plan from the President? Or just more of him venting frustration about the Russia investigation?
1. Is Trump now going to more publicly confront Mueller? Before this weekend, President Trump had mentioned the Special Counsel’s name in a tweet just one time, back in December. But this weekend, the President did it twice. “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” Mr. Trump said in a familiar refrain about the investigation. But his next tweet went further, directly accusing Mueller of putting together a biased investigation. In the process, the New York Times reported that the President shrugged off the advice of his legal team to not even mention Mueller’s name. Democrats in Congress said the Twitter volleys showed one thing – that the President is feeling pressure from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
2. Trump lawyer calls for end to Mueller probe. While the President condemned the Russia investigation, one of his lawyers, John Dowd, went a step further, saying it was time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to bring the Mueller probe to a close. Asked about that on Fox News Sunday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) basically told lawyer John Dowd to shut up, saying no matter what you think of the issue of collusion, Mueller’s task is to find out how Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. “To suggest that Mueller should shut down, and all he is looking at is collusion – if you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it,” Gowdy said bluntly. Gowdy was one of the few Republicans to address the issue on Sunday.
3. Most Republicans say little about Trump-Mueller. About 12 hours after the President’s Sunday morning tweets, one of his White House lawyers sent word that the President was not “considering or discussing the firing of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.” But Democrats said that’s the way it looked to them, and a handful of Republicans joined in airing similar concerns. “It’s critical he be allowed to complete a thorough investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — unimpeded,” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a statement. “Members of Congress need to be vocal in support of Special Counsel Mueller finishing his investigation,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). But there were few other Republicans making such statements.
4. Mueller remains silent on Russia investigation. While the President has expended a lot of energy in recent months raising questions about the Russia probe, Special Counsel
Mueller has said nothing. He has not appeared in public to discuss the investigation. He has not released any statements on
all the furor surrounding the investigation. He has not taken issue with any comments by the President. Instead, Mueller has
let the guilty pleas and indictments do the talking for him, as several people who worked for the Trump Campaign have already
plead guilty to lying to the FBI about their conversations related to Russia. For some Republicans, Mueller’s work has already
gone on too long.
5. Few details on the firing of ex-FBI official Andrew McCabe. The weekend got off to a fast start at 10 pm on Friday night, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. No paperwork was released, so despite a lot of press reports on what exactly happened, we haven’t seen any part of an internal investigation that’s being done on the way top FBI brass handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and the Trump-Russia probe. While the President celebrated the firing of McCabe – “a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – most GOP lawmakers stayed quiet. On Sunday, Trump accused both McCabe, and former FBI Director James Comey of fabricating evidence against him. “Fake memos,” he wrote. One Republican who raised a red flag about the firing of McCabe was Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who expressed concern about a bureaucratic process involving federal workers that usually takes much longer to complete.
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 4:44 AM
Continuing to attack the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and any links to his campaign, President Donald Trump on Sunday went on Twitter to attack the veracity of former top officials of the FBI, accusing them of lying, and making up information to use against him in the Special Counsel’s investigation.
As he attacked former FBI Director James Comey, and recently fired top FBI official Andrew McCabe, Mr. Trump appeared to be watching television on Sunday morning, citing one of his favorite Fox News programs, Fox and Friends.
“Wow, watch Comey lie under oath,” the President tweeted at one point, moving on to take more jabs at McCabe, who was fired on Friday.
“I don’t believe he made memos except to help his own agenda, probably at later date,” the President wrote. “Can we call them the fake memos?”
On Twitter in recent days, Mr. Trump has again focused his ire on the investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, once more making the argument that the FBI went easy on Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, and showed bias on the Trump-Russia probe.
“The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime,” the President tweeted, ending with a familiar line: “WITCH HUNT!”
Mueller’s probe has already netted a series of guilty pleas from people who worked for the President’s campaign, with two specifically pleading guilty to lying about contacts involving Russia.
As the President used Twitter as his bully pulpit, one of the President’s lawyers also stirred the pot by saying it was time to end the Mueller investigation, which many in Washington believe is far from being complete.
Democrats in Congress again warned the President not to try to end that probe.
“What, Mr. President, are you hiding from the American people?” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).
“Thou doth protest too much, methinks,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
“This shows how scared the Trump Administration is about what Mueller will find,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). “This investigation must continue.”
Published: Saturday, March 17, 2018 @ 1:00 AM
After operating for more than a year with a temporary chief, NASA faces an unprecedented leadership bind as its acting Administrator announced this week that he would retire at the end of April, with no hint that the Senate will vote by then on President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the space agency.
“It has been a long process but we are optimistic that the vote will come soon,” said Sheryl Kaufman, the Communications Director for Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK).
“We hope that happens soon,” said Rep. Bruce Babin (R-TX), as House Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence pressed the Senate for action on Bridenstine.
The problem for Bridenstine is that just one Republican has refused to support him for the job as NASA Administrator – that being Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) – and with only a bare majority, and the absence of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Bridenstine does not have the votes to win.
Since President Trump took office in January of 2017, NASA has been led by Robert Lightfoot, a well-respected NASA veteran who has drawn bipartisan praise.
But with Lightfoot announcing this week that he is retiring – effective April 30 – it’s possible that NASA could be forced to dig deeper down the depth chart for another temporary leader at the space agency.
“Robert Lightfoot has served NASA exceptionally well for nearly 30 years,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the head of the House Science Committee.
Apart from a couple of major issues, Bridenstine in 2017 did not cast votes on regular legislation in the House – while waiting for his Senate confirmation.
This year has been different – Bridenstine is voting on most legislation in the House, except for measures that deal with NASA.
“He will represent his constituents as fully as possible while awaiting the confirmation vote by the full Senate,” said his spokeswoman.
But without enough support, there’s no hint of a vote on Bridenstine in the Senate.
“The facts of this nomination have not changed,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) back in January – and two months later, that statement is still true.