President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders set for five-state Midwestern swing Tax refunds through March down billion from last year Tariffs on ‘Mexican cars’ are just taxes on American consumers MORE is accelerating his push to appoint loyalists to key administration posts, as he seeks to assert greater control over the federal government and move forward with his agenda.
The rapid pace of staff moves, and the rationale behind them, has fueled concerns among some in Washington who worry the personnel changes could take a toll on operations and hurt the integrity of government institutions.
Trump’s efforts reached a crescendo on Sunday when he ousted Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump looks to get tougher on border with Nielsen out Trump’s renewed push for family separations led to Nielsen’s ouster: report Clinton: Nielsen departure will not stop Trump’s ‘dehumanization and cruelty toward migrants’ MORE as Homeland Security secretary just days after blindsiding her by withdrawing his nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Trump last week said he wanted leaders who will take his border security policies in a “tougher direction” amid a spike of migrant families crossing into the U.S. through Mexico. Possible permanent replacements for Nielsen include vocal Trump allies like Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump looks to get tougher on border with Nielsen out The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump cleaning house on border security Secrecy behind Saudi nuclear talks infuriates Congress MORE, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Nielsen’s dismissal was followed the next day by the exit of Randolph Alles as Secret Service director, generating speculation about a broader purge at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Both Nielsen and Alles were close with former White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, who left his post at the end of 2018.
The president has also announced his intent to nominate Stephen Moore and Herman Cain — two staunch conservatives — to the Federal Reserve Board, despite concerns about their qualifications.
Trump has long been critical of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s decision to raise interest rates, arguing the moves have restrained economic growth. Adding Cain and Moore could allow the White House to wield greater influence over Fed decisions, which are traditionally made independent of political pressure.
Sources close to the White House say the moves are borne out of the president’s frustration over issues related to immigration and the economy, two areas that are critical to his reelection prospects.
“The president is a businessman and he expects results,” said a former campaign official, who requested anonymity to describe Trump’s thinking. “Previous presidents tolerated failure because they were politicians. He’s 72 years old and he’s racing against time and he wants to do as much as possible.”
Trump’s latest moves fit into a larger pattern of installing people who will do his bidding, oftentimes replacing officials who pushed back against drastic proposals or provoked his anger because they did not implement them.
While Nielsen emerged as the face of Trump’s child-separation policy and supported his national emergency declaration, their relationship reportedly soured in part because she repeatedly told him that certain proposals, such as refusing entry to migrants seeking asylum, would violate federal law.
Former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonNYT columnist Frank Bruni: Working for Trump like an ‘acid bath’ Mueller’s end: A conclusion on collusion, but confusion on obstruction Pompeo jokes he’ll be secretary of State until Trump ‘tweets me out of office’ MORE, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisConway’s husband: Trump ‘botched’ naming of Nielsen’s successor Priebus: Trump needs Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to win in 2020 The president’s defense budget continues the military rebuild MORE and Kelly all had similar clashes with Trump.
Trump supporters argue the president deserves to surround himself with like-minded people who will carry out his agenda.
“It’s less about loyalty and more about finding people who align with his views,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former White House official.
Surabian said officials who butted heads with Trump proved to be a poor fit and that the president is seeking people who are willing to execute his policy proposals.
But others said that adding more “yes” men will not lead to success.
“If you were to ask the head of any large organization in government or business, they will tell you organizations flourish when they have a diverse set of opinions,” said Chris Lu, who served as White House Cabinet secretary under former President Obama. “While Trump fashions himself as a businessman, he essentially ran a close family business where his dictates were not questioned in any meaningful way. That may have worked well for him then, but it does not work well when you’re trying to manage the U.S. government.”
The president’s seemingly constant push for fresh blood has also added to the historic rate of turnover in his administration.
Roughly two-thirds of senior White House positions have turned over, according to the Brookings Institution. Trump has ousted nine Cabinet members, and acting officials are now running DHS, the Department of Interior and the Pentagon, in addition to the Office of Management and Budget, Small Business Administration and U.S. mission to the United Nations.
“The metaphor for me is it is like the substitute teacher,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, of the acting officials. “They are operating with one hand tied behind their back.”
While Trump has said he likes acting officials because they give him “more flexibility,” Stier argued the president may be compounding the problem he is seeking to solve by having so many temporary officials in key roles.
With Trump’s selection of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to lead DHS on an interim basis, CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be without permanent leaders who have the full authority to implement the border policies Trump wants. DHS also lacks a Senate-confirmed deputy secretary.
Trump’s apparent criteria for picking top officials have raised questions about whether he is seeking the most qualified candidates or instead choosing people who might be willing to cross ethical or legal lines, especially on issues where Trump has taken a personal interest.
Those concerns were renewed last week after The New York Times reportedTrump personally lobbied Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill’s Morning Report – Trump cleaning house on border security This week: Democrats revive net neutrality fight Juan Williams: McConnell’s hypocrisy on the courts MORE (R-Ky.) to confirm his nominee to be chief counsel of the IRS at a time when Democrats were readying a push to obtain his tax returns.
The nominee, Michael Desmond, briefly advised Trump’s private company several years ago on a tax issue and worked alongside Trump tax attorneys Sheri Dillon and William Nelson at a law firm before they worked for the then-real estate mogul.
Desmond, however, was widely viewed as qualified for the role and was confirmed by the Senatein an 83-15 vote in February.
But Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Trump looks to get tougher on border with Nielsen out Top Republican calls on Nadler to have Mueller testify The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump cleaning house on border security MORE, who was also considered qualified when he was nominated, has faced intense criticism from Democrats after releasing a four-page summary of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s Russia investigation that was favorable to Trump.
As a private citizen, Barr wrote an unsolicited memo to Trump’s legal team last year saying Mueller’s obstruction of justice inquiry into the president was “fatally misconceived.”
Trump has also appointed allies to lead institutions like the World Bank, where David Malpass recently took over as president.
Malpass was a Treasury and State Department official under Trump, as well as Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and is seen as qualified for the top post at the Washington-based multilateral lender.
He was unanimously approved by the bank’s board, but his past criticisms of the bank’s influence is in line with Trump’s skepticism of global institutions.
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