The slow pace of confirmations has had operational consequences, as was noted in a recent SAFE letter. Make a decision on budget director, News Journal, 2/15/17.
For example, the president’s budget for fiscal year 2018 is due by April 1. But no one is overseeing this important project, because the director-nominee (Mick Mulvaney) is still awaiting a floor vote in the Senate. With a congressional recess coming up next week, he may not be confirmed before March. In contrast, the first budget director of every president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama was approved within one week of the president taking office.
The day after our letter was published, Mulvaney was confirmed by a whisker (Sen. John McCain joined the Democratic opposition on grounds that Mulvaney might be too frugal on defense spending). It would be nice to claim some credit for this matter being put to a vote, but realistically the timing was coincidental.
The administration has had several stumbles, which critics have pounced on as evidence that the White House is in chaos, etc.
#One setback was the rollout of an executive order on pausing admission of refugees from seven designated countries while tougher vetting requirements are being developed. The order was sloppily drafted, given an immediate effective date, and rolled out without adequate notice to the implementing agencies and Congress – ensuring a firestorm of opposition. A barrage of presidential actions, order #15, 1/30/17.
This order has been stayed in the 9th Circuit. The word is that a replacement order is in the works, which will be tailored to correct deficiencies in the original order. No doubt the new order will be opposed as well, in multiple lawsuits filed around the country. The basic intent of the administration will ultimately be upheld, we believe, but it will probably take a US Supreme Court decision to settle the matter.
#Another setback was the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn after less than a month on the job (like other White House advisers, his appointment was not subject to Senate confirmation). General Flynn’s departure came about because he had discussed the sanctions imposed by President Obama for Russian efforts to interfere with the US presidential election with Russian officials and then, when asked whether there had been any such discussions, denied it (both publicly and in a conversation with the vice president).
The discussion(s) had been monitored by US intelligence agencies, and someone furnished the media with information contradicting Flynn’s story. The leaking of this information was reportedly illegal, and there probably wasn’t anything wrong with the discussions in the first place – although it’s hard to make a judgment on that without knowing precisely what was said – but the president faulted General Flynn for his lack of candor and decided to make a change.
Suspicions persisted that Flynn might have been trying to cover up something more damning, e.g., a connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians before the election. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he have been more forthcoming when this subject came up initially? The coverup in search of a crime, Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, 2/16/17.
As if the foregoing wasn’t embarrassing enough, the announcement of a replacement for Flynn was rushed out – and then Admiral Robert Harward turned down the job. The president was reportedly interviewing other candidates at last report.
#Fueled by the Flynn saga and related stories, there have been demands for investigations on both sides – supposed ties of the Trump campaign/administration with Russia versus leaking of sensitive US intelligence information by entrenched bureaucrats anxious to embarrass the incoming president. In one way or another, these matters will almost surely be investigated. We need a special prosecutor, Erick Erickson, townhall.com, 2/17/17.
There have also been comments about the need to remove Trump as president, either by impeachment or by having him declared incompetent. 25th Amendment chatter: Dems, pundits mull ways to remove Trump, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 2/17/17.
Last Thursday, the president held the first solo presidential press conference of his administration and fired back with both barrels. He inherited a mess - the nation is divided and has been for years - critics can't believe he is working to keep his campaign promises rather than backing away from them like most politicians do – incredible progress in the last four weeks - chaos in the White House, no everything is working like a “fine-tuned machine” – much of what the failing New York Times and others had been printing should be disregarded. The president’s tone was upbeat and well controlled throughout, far from the rants in which some of his political opponents have engaged at times. Presidential press conference, transcript, 2/16/17.
•Pace of confirmations: Some prior presidents had their cabinets approved almost immediately, and “I still have a lot of people that we’re waiting for. *** The only thing [the Senate Democrats] can do is delay. And, you know, I think that they’d be better served by, you know, approving and making sure that they’re happy and everybody’s good.”
•Refugee pause order: “We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban, but we had a bad court decision [and] got a bad decision.” Stay tuned for the revised order.
•Russia: Trump had no business interests in or communications with this nation, aside from two calls he had taken from Vladimir Putin. And he wasn’t aware of anyone associated with his campaign who had been in contact with Russians during the campaign. Paul Manafort had some dealings in the Ukraine, not Russia, and anyway he left the campaign well before the end. The stories about a Russian connection were a “ruse,” and the press wasn’t making it any easier to explore ways to reduce tensions with Russia as everyone should want.
•Polls: The president said his approval rating was 55% – seemingly showing that the American people approve of what he is doing. True, but Rasmussen had him about the same level on January 20, i.e., there wasn’t any pickup. Also, for whatever reason, other polls have been less favorable. Trump’s approval rating dips to 38 percent in latest survey [Gallup], Sarah Westwood, Washington Examiner, 2/17/17.
B. Who is to blame – A natural reaction in such a situation is to assign all the blame to one side or the other. For example:
•Donald Trump is a blowhard, bully, con man, etc., who should never have been elected in the first place. Now in office, he is showing how right the critics were. Also, Republicans in general are either heartless or confused; seemingly determined to undo all the progress that has been made in recent years, they must be stopped; or
•This country has been on the wrong path for the last eight years or more, and it’s time for a change. Having run out of good ideas, all the Democrats can do is obstruct and delay – as they have been doing nonstop since the elections. They should be politely told to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
The issues aren’t that clear-cut, of course, and neither party is blameless. Furthermore, there are a host of factions involved that have their own axes to grind. Intelligence community – media – federal judiciary – business interests – etc.
Differences of opinion are not necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are expressed honestly and resolved constructively. But if the level of acrimony gets too high and one side or the other becomes convinced that they must do “whatever it takes” to prevail, then elective government will collapse and some form of anarchy or authoritarian rule will take its place. Cicero, Ancient Classics
One way of looking at the current situation is that our new president is a potential Hitler, who must be opposed to ensure against the emergence of a fascist regime. This horror did happen, after all, less than a century ago in an advanced country. Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm, 1941.
But others perceive the president and his supporters to be fighting a losing battle against an entrenched elite, which elite will block many of their ideas. And without a robust executive branch, the government would be unable to govern effectively. The real constitutional danger, Jack Goldsmith, lawfareblog.com, 2/14/17.
The U.S. government cannot work well to respond to society’s many complex problems—many things that need to get done cannot get done—without a minimally staffed, well-organized, energetic, and competent Executive branch. Right now we don’t have such an Executive branch. We also need a strong, competent, well-organized Executive branch to keep us safe from threats abroad.
Following this line of thinking, the hoped-for outcome would be for the executive branch to stabilize as seasoned leaders fill the key slots and are able to temper the influence of the president and his political advisers.
I’m not yet panicked about the too-weak Trump presidency (though I am more worried about it than I am about a too-strong Trump presidency). I continue to hope that as senior cabinet officials assume office and as their departments get staffed and running, the influence of the seemingly reckless White House staff will recede, and we will see more competence and stability in the government. In that light, the unsteady Flynn’s resignation is very much a step in the right direction.
Another possibility is that embedded bureaucrats, legal activists and judges, the media, etc. – determined to preserve their own ideas and interests – aren’t the heroes in this situation. Perhaps their influence is the problem that needs to be addressed. This is the cultural Marxist hellhole our country has become, Daniel Horowitz, conservativereview.com, 2/17/17.
Over the past two weeks, we’ve gotten a taste of the social transformation without representation that is confronting us at every turn. Conservatives can fight to win a bitter election — resulting in control all three branches of the federal government and an overwhelming footprint in state governments — yet it is meaningless. The unelected bureaucrats are continuing to promote Obama’s policies, and the unelected courts are destroying our Constitution beyond what previous generations of Americans could have ever feared in their worst nightmares.
C. Path forward - It seems to us that the Democrats should pick their battles rather than trying to delay or block everything that the administration and majority in Congress propose. Not only would this reduce the acrimony level, but it might serve them better from a political standpoint than what they have been doing. The resistance show goes on . . . for now, Robert Charles, townhall.com, 2/1/17.
As once rational Democrats veer further and further left, abandoning their party’s prior practices, principles and pretense to balance, egging each other to be less cooperative with President Trump, America just watches. They see and they will remember. Exactly 24 Senate Democrats will be up for reelection in two years. The gamble is breathtaking. Is cooperation so hard, resistance so alluring? Apparently so. The show goes on.
Expedited confirmation of the president’s remaining appointments would be helpful in terms of getting the government up and running, and it would be particularly nice to avoid a battle royal over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
For their part, Republicans need to stay focused on policy issues rather than being baited into political spats that could lead nowhere and turn supporters off. Limbaugh: Trump must go “full speed” on agenda to thwart “Obama shadow government,” Douglas Ernst, Washington Times, 2/15/17.
The radio talk show host’s advice for the president: “Just focus on repealing Obamacare, and then focus on tax reform, and then just move full-speed ahead on the domestic agenda. Make tracks. *** He doesn’t have the media with him like Obama did. He has the media trying to destroy him. Trump has his voters. There are 60 some-odd million people that voted for Trump. In a Gallup poll today, 62 percent said they believe Trump is honest and is trying to keep his promises.”
And while being open to discussion of the details, Republicans should be careful about watering down their agenda and possibly compromising its viability. For example, a good case can be made that the administration should explicitly repudiate the Paris climate agreement – rather than simply relying on the fact that this pact provides no penalties for noncompliance - lest US courts subsequently conclude that the administration is legally compelled to honor it. Don’t wimp out on climate, Kimberly Strassel, Wall Street Journal, 2/16/17.
Lawsuits are already proving the main tool of the anti-Trump “resistance.” CNN reported that 11 days into his tenure, Mr. Trump had already been named in 42 new federal lawsuits. *** It is certain that among the lawsuits will be one aimed at making the Paris accord enforceable. The Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell says judges could instruct the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the deal. “If President Trump doesn’t withdraw Obama’s signature, and Congress doesn’t challenge it,” he says, “then the environmentalists stand a good chance of getting a court to rule that our Paris commitments are binding and direct EPA to make it happen.”
It does seem things have been a bit chaotic at the White House of late, for all the statements to the contrary, and perhaps the president should encourage his chief of staff to crack the whip now and again. Also, the president might do well to tone down his tweets a bit although he clearly doesn’t intend to stop communicating in this fashion.
Entrenched bureaucrats who oppose the president’s agenda may need to be identified and dealt with. While career employees can’t readily be fired, it may be possible to reassign or redirect them. There have already been reports of staffing changes at Foggy Bottom, and similar actions may occur at other agencies. State Department carries out layoffs under Rex Tillerson, Margaret Brennan & Kylie Atwood, cbsnews.com, 2/17/17.
We believe the judicial system has gotten too big for its britches and would hope that ways will be found to rein it in. Appointment of more conservative judges will take time, but could be the surest way of improving the situation.
As for the media, they are arguably doing their job – and the First Amendment gives them wide latitude. No doubt the jousting between them and the president will continue. Let’s hope they don’t go back to sleep, like they seemed to be for the last eight years, when the next Democratic president is elected.