U.S. Government & governance 2018

Written by  //  December 30, 2018  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  1 Comment

U.S. Government & governance 2017 – 18
The firings and fury: The biggest Trump resignations and firings so far
Brookings: Tracking turnover in the Trump administration
Scroll down for Arrivals & Departures

‘Dark Money,’ by Jane Mayer
(NYT book review) [at the end of 1980] Charles and David Koch, the enormously rich proprietors of an oil company based in Kansas, decided that they would spend huge amounts of money to elect conservatives at all levels of American government. David Koch ran for vice president on the Libertarian ticket in 1980, but when the campaign was over, he resolved never to seek public office again. That wouldn’t be necessary, he and his brother concluded; they could invest in the campaigns of others, and essentially buy their way to political power.
Thirty years later, the midterm elections of 2010 ushered in the political system that the Kochs had spent so many years plotting to bring about. After the voting that year, Republicans dominated state legislatures; they controlled a clear majority of the governorships; they had taken one chamber of Congress and were on their way to winning the other. Perhaps most important, a good many of the Republicans who had won these offices were not middle-of-the-road pragmatists. They were antigovernment libertarians of the Kochs’ own political stripe. The brothers had spent or raised hundreds of millions of dollars to create majorities in their image. They had succeeded. And not merely at the polls: They had helped to finance and organize an interlocking network of think tanks, academic programs and news media outlets that far exceeded anything the liberal opposition could put together. (24 January 2016)

30 December
John Kelly Confirms He Was Lying All Along: The White House Is in Chaos
In an exit interview, the outgoing chief of staff tries to protect his legacy
(Rolling Stone) It will come as no surprise that the White House is in chaos, but what is shocking is that this fact is being confirmed by President Donald Trump’s outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelly.
In an exit interview with the Los Angeles TimesKelly admits that the White House is not quite the “well-oiled machine” that Trump loves to brag about. Two specific instances he cited as chaotic were the implementation of the travel ban and the “zero-tolerance” family separation policy at the Mexican border.
In the interview, Kelly said he hopes his tenure will be judged not by what Trump did but by what Kelly prevented him from doing — not exactly a ringing endorsement of his former boss. It’s clear that by blaming others for the administration’s blunders, Kelly is trying to protect his legacy and reputation. But after serving and defending Trump, it’s probably too late for that.

27 December
With No Votes Scheduled, a Government Shutdown Will Greet the Democratic House
(NYT) Republican leaders gave up hope on Thursday of reopening the government before the new year, leaving the border wall impasse to House Democrats as they assume the majority next week — and presenting Representative Nancy Pelosi with her first major challenge as speaker.
House Democrats, who take control on Wednesday, are weighing three approaches to getting funds flowing, none of which would include additional money for President Trump’s proposed wall along the southwestern border.

21-23 December
For Trump, ‘a War Every Day,’ Waged Increasingly Alone
(NYT) … the president increasingly believes he does not need advisers, according to people close to him. He is on his third chief of staff, third national security adviser, sixth communications director, second secretary of state, second attorney general and soon his second defense secretary. Turnover at the top has reached 65 percent, according to the Brookings Institution.
‘Very possible’ shutdown could last into new year, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney says
(WaPost) The partial shutdown paralyzing large portions of the federal government may last into January when Democrats retake control of the House, the White House acknowledged Sunday, as negotiations over funding for President Trump’s border wall sputtered to a near-standstill and congressional leaders abandoned Washington for Christmas.
Mulvaney spoke as the shutdown of about 25 percent of the federal government entered its second full day. The breakdown, coming in the final days of the GOP’s unified control over government, stems from an intractable gulf between Trump’s demand to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and congressional Democrats’ refusal to authorize wall funding.
Major parts of the federal government begin shutting down for an indefinite closure
Large parts of the federal government shut down overnight after President Trump torpedoed a bipartisan spending deal because it lacked the money he demanded for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Funding for numerous agencies, including those that operate parks, homeland security, law enforcement, tax collection and transportation, expired at midnight. Close to 400,000 federal workers are expected to be home without pay until a deal is reached, and numerous services will be halted in that time, with the impacts broadening the longer the funding lapse lasts.
Virginia Heffernan: Mattis’ resignation letter reminds us of who we are and where we come from
(LATimes) In his elegant, elegiac and deceptively simple letter, Mattis outlined his core beliefs about global security. The letter merits a close look, but not because it’s brilliantly original. Instead, the brief essay takes a steely tone to reiterate with absolute clarity America’s bedrock commitments in the post-World War II international order.
In a Flash, U.S. Military Policy Turns Inward and Echoes Across the Globe
(NYT)  Over the course of 24 extraordinary hours this week, 17 years of American military policy was thrown out the window as President Trump spurned his defense secretary’s plea to keep United States troops in Syria and began the long process of pulling out of Afghanistan.
On Friday morning, America’s 1.3 million active-duty service members woke up to a new reality: Their leader, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, had resigned over the Syria withdrawal and Mr. Trump’s rejection of international alliances, and everything he and other military leaders had told them through three presidencies had suddenly been abandoned.

20 December
Trump stuffs political grenades in Washington’s Christmas stocking
The president’s moves on a border wall and military operations stun the political establishment, cost him a defense secretary — and trigger ‘one of the most chaotic weeks that we’ve ever seen in American government.’
(Politico) By Thursday afternoon, Trump was warning that he would shut down the federal government over his demand for $5 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He announced a U.S. withdrawal from Syria that shocked allies and many of his senior officials, and is also reportedly preparing for a major drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. By Thursday evening, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had announced his resignation in a pointed letter implicitly critical of Trump’s policies.
This is very bad news.
James Mattis’s Final Protest Against the President
The defense secretary, who resigned on Thursday, was one of the last senior officials in the government who could constrain Donald Trump.
(The Atlantic) Mattis’s departure will send an immediate shudder through both Washington and foreign capitals. The president will be hard-pressed to find a replacement who will instill confidence in Congress and the ranks of the military while still maintaining an effective relationship with the White House. Meanwhile, Mattis’s exit could even further strain relations with American allies, who have seen him as a calming influence and for whom he has often served as a direct conduit. In the end, Mattis proved to be the Trump administration’s most effective diplomat, whether negotiating the fraught internal battles of the administration or speaking to foreign leaders.

11 December
Trump: “I’m proud to shut down the government” over border wall
(Axios) Prior to his meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, President Trump brought reporters into the Oval Office and — in an extended, heated exchange before the cameras — clashed with the two Democratic leaders over congressional support for funding for his border wall, declaring that he is “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Why it matters: The president taking ownership of any potential government shutdown hinders Republicans’ ability to pin the blame on Democrats, while also giving a glimpse into what Trump’s negotiating style with a Democrat-controlled House may look like over the next two years.
(The Atlantic) Reality Show(down): “If we don’t get what we want … I will shut down the government,” President Donald Trump declared at what began as a pleasant-enough meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Oval Office, negotiating a spending bill to avert a partial government shutdown at the end of next week. The meeting turned into a bizarre public fight, on camera, in front of reporters. One of Trump’s main rhetorical strategies in pushing for more money for a border wall? He’s the first president in the post-9/11 era who so explicitly works to link immigration to terrorism.

10 December
44 ex-senators warn U.S. is ‘entering a dangerous period’
(Politico) A bipartisan group of nearly four dozen former senators warned current and future members of the Senate on Monday that the United States is “entering a dangerous period,” and urged them to defend America’s democracy by serving national interests rather than political ideologies.
“We are on the eve of the conclusion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation and the House’s commencement of investigations of the president and his administration,” the 44 ex-lawmakers wrote in an op-ed published by The Washington Post. “The likely convergence of these two events will occur at a time when simmering regional conflicts and global power confrontations continue to threaten our security, economy and geopolitical stability.”

7 December
Understanding the election scandal in North Carolina’s 9th district
(Brookings) The story has a lot of moving parts, but here are the basics: the 2018 general election in North Carolina’s 9th district was a contest between Democrat Dan McCready and Republican Mark Harris; Harris had defeated the incumbent GOP holder of the seat, Robert Pittenger, in the primary. While Harris leads in the vote count by 905 votes, the North Carolina State Board of Elections has twice refused to certify the results of the race because of potential irregularities involving mail-in ballots. The allegations fall into several categories. Some voters claim that individuals came to their homes and collected their unsealed absentee ballots. Others allege that they received absentee ballots that they never requested. In addition, multiple individuals have come forward to claim that they were paid by a Republican political operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless, to collect absentee ballots from voters; under North Carolina law, it is, with limited exceptions, illegal to collect and return someone else’s absentee ballot. (For more on the ins-and-outs of the controversy, I’d recommend some great reporting from local journalists on the episode.)

26 November
Trump Threatening GM Over Its Plant Closure Is the Real ‘Gangster Government’
(New York Magazine) Today General Motors announced the closure of several auto facilities, including the Lordstown plant in northeast Ohio. This is a devastating development for those workers and their communities. Secondarily, it is a political setback for President Trump, who has boasted repeatedly that his policies have brought back American manufacturing. Trump responded by loudly threatening GM.
Trump has spent his brief political career systematically exposing the bad faith of every complaint Republicans made against Barack Obama (and, for that matter, Bill Clinton). But his overt bullying of GM is a special case that calls to mind a spate of especially virulent hysteria that was summed up by the phrase “gangster government.”

9 November
How Mueller Could Defend the Russia Investigation From Interference
Several legal experts have argued that Trump’s appointment of Whitaker may have been unconstitutional. At issue is the same question of who qualifies as a principal officer. Because Whitaker reports directly to the president, he is a principal officer, these experts say, and would have required Senate confirmation.

7 November
Trump’s acting attorney general was part of firm US accused of vast scam
Matthew Whitaker sat on advisory board of World Patent Marketing, which was ordered to pay $26m settlement in May
Whitaker was appointed acting attorney general on Wednesday afternoon after the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was fired by Trump.

8 August
Max Boot: The dark side of American conservatism has taken over
(WaPost) …it’s obvious that the history of modern conservative is permeated with racism, extremism, conspiracy-mongering, isolationism and know-nothingism. I disagree with progressives who argue that these disfigurations define the totality of conservatism; conservatives have also espoused high-minded principles that I still believe in, and the bigotry on the right appeared to be ameliorating in recent decades. But there has always been a dark underside to conservatism that I chose for most of my life to ignore.
The ascendance of extreme views, abetted in recent years by Fox News, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin and the tea party movement, increasingly made the House Republican caucus ungovernable. The far-right Freedom Caucus drove House Speaker John A. Boehner into retirement in 2015. His successor, Paul D. Ryan, lasted only three years. Ryan’s retirement signals the final repudiation of an optimistic, inclusive brand of Reaganesque conservatism focused on enhancing economic opportunity at home and promoting democracy and free trade abroad. The Republican Party will now be defined by Trump’s dark, divisive vision, with his depiction of Democrats as America-hating, criminal-coddling traitors, his vilification of the press as the “enemy of the people,” and his ugly invective against Mexicans and Muslims. The extremism that many Republicans of goodwill had been trying to push to the fringe of their party is now its governing ideology.
This article is adapted from Max Boot’s new book, The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right.”

29 August
Trump’s rage-tweets about Google reveal a frightening truth about the midterms
(WaPost) Trump is unleashing endless lies and attacks directed at the mechanisms of accountability that actually are functioning right now — the media, law enforcement and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation — to persuade his supporters not only that they shouldn’t believe anything they hear from these sources, but also to energize them and get them to vote, to protect him from those institutions’ alleged conspiracy against him.
No matter how absurd the details get in any given case, the story he tells Republican voters is always pretty much the same: The mechanisms of accountability are really functioning as an illegitimate plot against him — against them — so they must get out to vote, to keep Congress in Republican hands, to act as a shield against that plot.
If Republicans keep the House, all these lies will have worked, and congressional oversight will remain largely nonexistent, emboldening Trump to an unforeseeable degree. Fortunately, the media and the Mueller probe would remain. But with Trump still seriously mulling replacing Sessions after the election with a loyal attorney general — and Senate Republicans signaling they might go along with it — there’s no guarantee that the second of those will remain fully functional, either

Jonathan Chait: House Republicans Have a Secret List of Trump Scandals They’re Covering Up
Republicans have so completely internalized their role as handmaidens to Trump’s corruption that they have turned evidence of his incompetence and guilt into an argument for maintaining their power to cover it up.
(New York) Axios has obtained a list of Trump administration scandals. The list hints at the overflowing sewer of Trumpian corruption and incompetence, and the refusal of congressional Republicans to investigate any of it. Oddly enough, this list is being circulated by Republicans in Congress. The list, composed of Democratic requests for hearings that Republicans have blocked, is meant to warn of what Congress would look into if Democrats win the midterms. Axios reports that Republican “stomachs are churning” at the mere thought that any of the items on the list could receive a public hearing.

25 August
McCain’s death marks a new era for congressional checks on Trump
By Karoun Demirjian
(WaPost) Sen. John McCain’s death heralds a sea change for congressional challenges to the Trump administration on national security, as the president’s two most vocal Republican critics pass their powerful committee gavels to two of President Trump’s biggest supporters.
McCain (R-Ariz.), who used his chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee to question the president’s stance on issues such as Russia, torture and immigration, leaves control to Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has been a one-man Greek chorus of epithets decrying Trump’s chaotic approach to diplomacy, will hand the reins to Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) at the start of the new year.
The departure of either committee chairman would be noteworthy, as both have attracted considerable attention for criticizing the White House over foreign policies they deem flawed. But together, they portend a sweeping change in how Congress may use its oversight authority to check the president’s international agenda, according to current and former lawmakers, lobbyists and policy watchers — a changing of the guard with potentially enormous consequences for holding the president to account during crises.

24 August
The Evidence Is Tipping Toward Impeachment
There will come a point when Trump’s unwillingness to uphold the Constitution is so undeniable that Congress would be remiss to not remove him. We’re getting there.
By Jonathan Bernstein
(Bloomberg) … what has really moved the needle on this is Trump’s constant cheap gangster rhetoric and flat-out unwillingness to support the rule of law. For example, it was utterly inappropriate for the president of the United States to comment during Paul Manafort’s trial, including while the jury was out. It undermines the rule of law for the president to constantly run down the Department of Justice, buying into wild and discredited conspiracy theories about how everyone in the government is out to get him and his associates.
It was outrageous for any president, much less one under investigation, to publicly go out of his way to call John Dean a “rat” for testifying accurately about Richard Nixon’s crimes. Trump’s pardons to date, given to political allies or based on personal connections outside of the normal procedures other presidents have used, were already an abuse of power. Discussing a pardon for Manafort with his personal attorneys, and then making sure that conversation wound up in the media, is an abuse as well, not to mention a form of obstruction of justice (because the way to get someone with damaging information about the president to stay silent is to offer or hint at future clemency, not to give one now).
… what it comes down to — beyond the abuses of power, beyond the obstruction of justice, beyond whatever petty or grand specific crimes we already know about and whatever we have yet to learn. Trump took an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States,” and he is proving utterly unwilling to do so.

8 August
Jonathan Chait: The Whole Republican Party Seems to Be Going to Jail Now
(New York) The entire Trump era has been a festering pit of barely disguised ongoing corruption. But the whole sordid era has not had a 24-hour period quite like the orgy of criminality which we have just experienced. The events of the last day alone include:
(1) The trial of Paul Manafort, which has featured the accusation that President Trump’s campaign manager had embezzled funds, failed to report income, and falsified documents. His partner and fellow Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, confessed to participating in all these crimes, as well as to stealing from Manafort.
(2) Yesterday, Forbes reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have stolen $120 million from his partners and customers. Meanwhile Ross has maintained foreign holdings in his investment portfolio that present a major conflict of interest with his public office. (The “Don’t worry, Wilbur Ross would never do anything unethical just to pad his bottom line” defense is likely to be, uh, unconvincing to the many people filing suit against Ross for allegedly doing exactly that.) [Forbes: New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting]
(3) Also yesterday, ProPublica reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs is being effectively run by three Trump cronies, none of whom have any official government title or public accountability. The three, reports the story, have “used their influence in ways that could benefit their private interests.”
(4) And then, this morning, Representative Chris Collins was arrested for insider trading. Collins had been known to openly boast about making millions of dollars for his colleagues with his insider knowledge. He is charged with learning of an adverse FDA trial, and immediately calling his son — from the White House! — urging him to sell his holdings.

3 August
New Veterans Affairs chief plans to reassign, sideline Trump loyalists now in power
In one of his first acts as President Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary, Robert Wilkie intends to reassign several high-ranking political appointees at the center of the agency’s ongoing morale crisis and staffing exodus, according to three people familiar with his plans.
Wilkie, who will be sworn in Monday, wants to form his own leadership team, these people say, and to ease lawmakers’ continued concern that VA, historically a nonpartisan corner of the government, has become highly politicized.

13 July
Trump tightens control over regulatory judges
(Politico) President Donald Trump moved to tighten control over the in-house judges that implement much of the federal government’s regulatory agenda — his latest step to consolidate political power throughout the sprawling bureaucracy.
An executive order signed Tuesday gives agency heads greater discretion over the selection of so-called administrative law judges. These judges, typically promoted out of the federal civil service, make legal rulings that drive regulatory actions across the federal government.
Giuliani works for foreign clients while serving as Trump’s attorney
(WaPost) Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to work on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm while serving as President Trump’s personal attorney — an arrangement experts say raises conflict of interest concerns and could run afoul of federal ethics laws.
Giuliani said in recent interviews with The Washington Post that he is working with clients in Brazil and Colombia, among other countries, as well as delivering paid speeches for a controversial Iranian dissident group. He has never registered with the Justice Department on behalf of his overseas clients, asserting it is not necessary because he does not directly lobby the U.S. government and is not charging Trump for his services.

1 July
America the Failed State
By Chris Hedges
(Truthdig) Our “corporate coup d’état in slow motion,” as the writer John Ralston Saul calls it, has opened a Pandora’s box of evils that is transforming America into a failed state. The “unholy trinity of corruption, impunity and violence,” he said, can no longer be checked. The ruling elites abjectly serve corporate power to exploit and impoverish the citizenry. Democratic institutions, including the courts, are mechanisms of corporate repression. Financial fraud and corporate crime are carried out with impunity. The decay is exacerbated by the state’s indiscriminate use of violence abroad and at home, where rogue law enforcement agencies harass and arrest citizens and the undocumented and often kill the unarmed. A depressed and enraged population, trapped by chronic unemployment and underemployment, is overdosing on opioids and beset by rising suicide rates. It engages in acts of nihilistic violence, including mass shootings. Hate groups proliferate. The savagery, mayhem and grotesque distortions familiar to those on the outer reaches of empire increasingly characterize American existence. And presiding over it all is the American version of Ubu Roi, playwright Alfred Jarry’s gluttonous, idiotic, vulgar, narcissistic and infantile king, who turned politics into burlesque.
“Congress works through corruption,” Saul … said when we spoke in Toronto. “I look at Congress and I see the British Parliament in the late 18th century, the rotten boroughs. Did they have elections? Yes. Were the elections exciting? Yes. They were extremely exciting.”

25 June
Republicans press ahead with narrow fix to migrant crisis created by Trump … all but abandoning efforts for a far-reaching immigration overhaul that would fund a border wall and deal with the fate of young undocumented immigrants.
With Trump proving to be an unpredictable ally, deeply divided Republicans say they have little hope of rallying support for a broad package of reforms. However, GOP leaders are eager to adopt legislation that would make sure migrant children can remain with their parents at the border.
Haunting images of children in metal cages and reports of the government struggling to reunite families have touched off an international outcry that weighs heavily on the GOP five months before the midterm elections

24 June
Trump Suggests Suspending Rule of Law for Undocumented Immigrants
(New York) Trump does not (yet) have the power to suspend laws unilaterally, and his retreat on the family-separation policy last week shows that public outrage remains a potent force in American politics.
But the president is being more forthright than ever about the authoritarian playbook he’s working from. He has conjured an immigration crisis where none exists, continues to terrify his supporters about a group that is more peaceful than native-born Americans, and has become increasingly bold about his desire to revoke that group’s basic human rights.

9 June
In the Trump Administration, Science Is Unwelcome. So Is Advice.
As the president prepares for nuclear talks, he lacks a close adviser with nuclear expertise. It’s one example of a marginalization of science in shaping federal policy.
Mr. Trump is the first president since 1941 not to name a science adviser, a position created during World War II to guide the Oval Office on technical matters ranging from nuclear warfare to global pandemics. As a businessman and president, Mr. Trump has proudly been guided by his instincts. Nevertheless, people who have participated in past nuclear negotiations say the absence of such high-level expertise could put him at a tactical disadvantage in one of the weightiest diplomatic matters of his presidency.

5 June
Law professors torch Trump legal memo
A recently published letter from President Donald Trump’s attorneys claiming that the president could not have obstructed the federal investigation into ties between his campaign and Russia is deeply flawed, 14 prominent law professors and legal scholars said Monday in a pointed rebuttal sent to top lawyers at the White House.
“The Office of the President is not a get-out-of-jail free card for lawless behavior,” the professors wrote in their letter, obtained by POLITICO. “Indeed, our country’s Founders made it clear in the Declaration of Independence that they did not believe that even a king had such powers; they specifically cited King George’s obstruction of justice as among the ‘injuries and usurpations’ that justified independence. Our Founders would not have created — and did not create — a Constitution that would permit the President to use his powers to violate the laws for corrupt and self-interested reasons.”

4 June
(The Atlantic Daily) Pardon Power: President Trump asserted on Twitter that he could pardon himself if indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, thus implying the executive branch has no power to check presidential misdeeds—and unwittingly making the case for impeachment. Over the weekend, a new report from The New York Times revealed that Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to Mueller’s team arguing that it’s impossible for a president to obstruct justice. Benjamin Wittes explains the merits—and the flaws—of their case.

22 May
Congress just approved a bill to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank banking rule
“Banks are back to making record profits, but Washington insists on doing them more favors,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
(NBC) Dodd-Frank was an attempt to reestablish oversight and control over financial institutions after the economic meltdown of the late 2000s. Major banks went bankrupt. Markets collapsed. Millions of homeowners fell into foreclosure or lost savings. Available credit dried up. The federal government fronted trillions of dollars to shore up the economy. The Federal Reserve bought toxic financial assets and slashed interest rates to stabilize the situation.
The 2,300-page bill included new regulatory requirements for banks, creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, expansion of oversight of hedge funds and private equity firms, increased bank reporting requirements, and the so-called Volcker Rule.
Congress Approves First Big Dodd-Frank Rollback
(NYT) The bill stops far short of unwinding the toughened regulatory regime put in place to prevent the nation’s biggest banks from engaging in risky behavior, but it represents a substantial watering down of Obama-era rules governing a large swath of the banking system. The legislation will leave fewer than 10 big banks in the United States subject to stricter federal oversight, freeing thousands of banks with less than $250 billion in assets from a post-crisis crackdown that they have long complained is too onerous.

21 May
Donald Trump Comes Unglued Amid Growing Pressure From Bob Mueller
(New York Magazine) Thought leaders and lawyers on Fox News and elsewhere — which is to say, Trump’s whisperers — have for months been beating the drum that the president can do no wrong in his dealings with law enforcement functions and functionaries: He couldn’t possibly obstruct justice in dismissing James Comey or even the special counsel because firing officials is a core executive function. He can’t be indicted at all while in office because that could destabilize the Executive branch. And forget about being subpoenaed to testify — that’s out of constitutional bounds, too

12 May
Clashing Views on Iran Reflect a New Balance of Power in the Cabinet
(NYT) The frantic final days before Mr. Trump’s announcement demonstrate that the Iran deal remained a complicated, divisive issue inside the White House, even after the president restocked his war cabinet with more hawkish figures like Mr. Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the new national security adviser.
Mr. Bolton is emerging as an influential figure, with a clear channel to the president and an ability to control the voices he hears. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who opposed leaving the deal but did not push the case as vocally toward the end, appears more isolated. And Mr. Pompeo may play a swing role, a hard-line former congressman and C.I.A. director who, in his new job, seems determined to give diplomacy a fair shot.

11 May
Draining the swamp – NOT.
It’s Time for Trump Voters to Face the Bitter Truth
(The Atlantic) Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” while running for office. Voters gave him the opportunity to follow through when they propelled him to the White House. Instead, he surrounded himself with people who saw his victory as an opportunity to enrich themselves by selling the promise of access or influence.

23 December
Trump, annoyed by resignation letter, pushes out Mattis early
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday said he was replacing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis two months earlier than had been expected, a move officials said was driven by Trump’s anger at Mattis’ resignation letter and its rebuke of his foreign policy. The exit of Mattis, highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike, added to concerns over what many see as Trump’s unpredictable, go-it-alone approach to global security. Trump said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan would take over on an acting basis from Jan. 1.
Defense Secretary Mattis’ resignation letter is a must-read warning about the future
What historians will cite many years from now in Mattis’ powerful letter is its carefully crafted language that is as much a warning about the future as it is a resignation.

15 December
Zinke to leave Interior amid scandals
The resignation comes after reports that the Justice Department is considering whether to pursue a criminal investigation against the former Montana congressman.
(Politico) His impending exit will make him the most recent in line of Trump administration officials to leave under a cloud of ethical scandals, including former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and former HHS Secretary Tom Price.
The Interior department’s internal watchdog had been investigating Zinke for his ties to a Montana land deal backed by Dave Lesar, chairman of the giant oil services company Halliburton, an issue first reported by POLITICO in June. The inspector also was examining whether he was doing favors for lobbyists when Interior blocked two American Indian tribes in Connecticut from receiving a casino license, an issue POLITICO revealed in February

7 December
Trump Will Nominate William Barr as Attorney General
(NYT) Mr. Trump’s focus on Mr. Barr, who supports a strong vision of executive powers, had emerged over the past week following the ouster last month of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and the turbulent reception that greeted his installation of Matthew G. Whitaker as the acting attorney general.
Mr. Trump also announced that Heather Nauert, the chief State Department spokeswoman, is his pick to be the next ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Nikki R. Haley, as the president began announcing some of the personnel changes he was expected to make after the midterm elections.
In another personnel move, John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, is expected to leave his post in the next few days, ending a tumultuous 16-month tenure still among the longest for a senior aide to Mr. Trump, two people with direct knowledge of the developments said Friday. Mr. Kelly and Mr. Trump have grown weary of each other. But Mr. Trump, according to several senior administration officials and people close to him, has so far been unable to bring himself to personally fire a retired four-star military general.

19 October
Nikki Haley joins a growing list of Trump officials who criticize Trump on their way out the door
(WaPost) She was one of the few Trump administration officials to leave on her own terms and with reputation intact. And yet that hasn’t stopped outgoing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley from joining a growing list of White House officials criticizing the boss on the way out the door.
“In our toxic political environment, I’ve heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil. In America, our political opponents are not evil. In South Sudan, where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war — that is evil. In Syria, where the dictator uses chemical weapons to murder innocent children — that is evil. In North Korea, where American student Otto Warmbier was tortured to death — that was evil.
In the last two years, I’ve seen true evil. We have some serious political differences here at home. But our opponents are not evil. They’re just our opponents.”

29 August
You’re Hired! You’re Fired!
Yes, the Turnover at the Top of the Trump Administration Is … “Unprecedented.”
President Trump’s staff churn continued on Wednesday with Mr. Trump’s announcement on Twitter that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, will leave the administration this fall.
A New York Times analysis of 21 top White House and cabinet positions back to President Bill Clinton’s first term shows how unusual the upheaval is through the first 14 months of a presidency. Nine of these positions have turned over at least once during the Trump administration, compared with three at the same point of the Clinton administration, two under President Barack Obama and one under President George W. Bush.

3 August
Melania’s policy director leaves the White House
Reagan Hedlund, a 28-year-old former executive assistant at the National Security Council who recently helped the first lady launch the “Be Best” anti-bullying initiative, departed last week, leaving the already-skeletal East Wing staff even smaller.
Hedlund told POLITICO that she plans to work on foreign policy issues. She declined to provide more details.

24 July
‘What do we think about Mick?’: Trump narrows down chief search
(Politico) It’s not clear when John Kelly will leave his post as the president’s top aide, but budget head Mick Mulvaney has emerged as a leading contender.

13 July
Number of ousted NSC officials piling up under Bolton
(Axios) Jennifer Arangio, a top National Security Council official, was let go this week after a conflict with White House aide Stephen Miller and others over the administration’s immigration policy, reports Politico.
The big picture: NSC head John Bolton has cleaned house since his arrival as national security advisor in March. Arangio was ousted just two days after Joel Rayburn and Michael Bell, two senior officials working in the NSC’s Middle East section, were removed.
Politico: Bolton, a conservative with a long track record of hawkish views and suspicion of multinational bodies, formally took the reins at the NSC on April 9. He replaced H.R. McMaster, who[m] Trump ousted after months of increasing tension.
Bolton immediately began reshaping the NSC, including by forcing out Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert. The NSC’s main spokesman, Michael Anton, also left, while its chief of staff and executive secretary, Keith Kellogg, joined Vice President Mike Pence’s staff

5 July
What Finally Did in Scott Pruitt?
The EPA administrator’s departure Thursday caps a remarkable run of scandals.
(The Atlantic) By the time of his ouster, there were at least a dozen federal inquiries into Pruitt’s behavior. Until then, Pruitt had weathered a series of stories likely unparalleled in recent Cabinet history, because any other Cabinet member subject to as many damaging stories as him would likely have resigned or been pushed out long ago. In this way, Pruitt resembles the president, who has also withstood a remarkable number of damaging revelations.
Never before had an EPA chief been so expressly hostile to the agency’s mandate, and he came in for criticism from predecessors in both parties.
Inevitably, Pruitt’s agenda at EPA and his corruption became intertwined. Shortly after his confirmation hearings, thousands of emails from Pruitt’s time as Oklahoma attorney general were released, showing his close ties to industries he regulated. Critics charged that the Oklahoma state government had slow-walked the emails’ release until after a vote on Pruitt’s nomination. That was just a tease for what was to come. Over months, an elaborate picture of Pruitt’s questionable ties and behaviors emerged.
Read Scott Pruitt’s Bizarre Resignation Letter
He blasts the “unrelenting attacks” and praises Trump—and God

15 June
Promoted six times and then fired: Inside a 24-year-old political appointee’s wild ride in Trump’s Washington
(WaPost) Weyeneth’s story offers a fresh perspective on the chaos of Trump’s campaign and first year in office. He was among more than 250 political appointees to federal agencies and the White House who had left the administration as of mid-March, some of them after just weeks or months, according to a Post tally of White House departures and analysis of agency records released by the Office of Personnel Management under a Freedom of Information Act request.
It illustrates ongoing problems in Trump’s Presidential Personnel Office, a little-known but crucial operation that has filled fewer key government posts than the four prior administrations, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that teamed up with The Post to track appointments.
The administration’s haphazard appointment process is unlike any in recent memory and has left the federal government unsteadied at the highest levels.

10 June
‘Drama, Action, Emotional Power’: As Exhausted Aides Eye the Exits, Trump Is Re-energized
(NYT) … back home, he left behind a West Wing where burned-out aides are eyeing the exits, as the mood in the White House is one of numbness and resignation that the president is growing only more emboldened to act on instinct alone.
Mr. Trump, a former reality television star, may soon be working with a thinned-out cast in the middle of Season 2, well before the midterm elections. Several high-profile aides, including John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, and Joe Hagin, a deputy of Mr. Kelly’s, are said to be thinking about how much longer they can stay. Last week, Mr. Kelly told visiting senators that the White House was “a miserable place to work,” according to a person with direct knowledge of the comment.
The turnover, which is expected to become an exodus after the November elections, does not worry the president, several people close to him said. He has grown comfortable with removing any barriers that might challenge him — including, in some cases, people who have the wrong chemistry or too frequently say no to him.

11 May
Top State Department Nuclear Expert Announces Resignation After Trump Iran Deal Exit
Officials warn of brain drain across government offices.
(Foreign Policy) Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.
Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.
Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.
Speaking out on torture and a Trump nominee, ailing McCain roils Washington
… his declaration Wednesday in opposition to Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA director, has uniquely roiled the political scene. The denunciation has prompted reactions from fellow senators and a former vice president, as well as intemperate remarks from some Republicans aligned with Trump, including a White House aide.
It’s Time for Trump Voters to Face the Bitter Truth
Republicans elected a president who promised to take on D.C.—instead, Trump has presided over an extraordinary auction of access and influence.
(The Atlantic) Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” while running for office. Voters gave him the opportunity to follow through when they propelled him to the White House. Instead, he surrounded himself with people who saw his victory as an opportunity to enrich themselves by selling the promise of access or influence.
This betrayal of the American public warrants more attention. Trump voters who wanted to rid Washington of sellouts should be most upset, but no one wants to admit that the person they voted for was misrepresenting his intentions.
The GOP base is drawn to media figures who support their president and quickly turn on those who criticize him as if they are guilty of a betrayal; for that reason, many populist-right pundits are reluctant to criticize the president or to delve deeply into the behavior of the swamp creatures he has enabled. Instead, they pander to the GOP base, keep them in the dark about important corruption—and so fail to keep the president and his associates accountable. That very betrayal of their audience is what creates the illusion of their loyalty

24 April
Trump Implies That Ronny Jackson Should Withdraw [from] VA Nomination
(New York Magazine) Reports that Jackson had been accused of misconduct had already thrown his nomination into doubt, with the Senate postponing his confirmation process. But President Trump made comments on Tuesday that indicated he’d like Jackson to pull out of the process altogether.
… in keeping with the Trump administration’s usual slapdash approach to personnel matters, Jackson wasn’t vetted in any traditional way. His central qualification: He impressed the president by trumpeting the president’s supposedly superhuman health at a news conference in January.

23 April
Why Mike Pompeo’s Senate confirmation is historic — and not in a good way for Trump
(WaPost) Update: Minutes before the Senate’s foreign relations committee was set to vote, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced he has changed his mind and will support CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be President Trump’s secretary of state. That means, instead of making history for the opposition to his nomination, Pompeo is expected to get approval from the committee and be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.
It has been more than 70 years since a cabinet nominee had such a hard time making it out of the Senate while still being confirmed. … There are a couple of factors that play off each other, making life hard for Pompeo and President Trump, but they mainly boil down to one: partisanship.

13 April
Joe Scarborough: Trump’s miserable crew has never been so desperate
(WaPost) These are desperate times for the quislings of Trump. The cost of collaborating with President Trump in the continued debasement of American democracy is becoming far too high. Fifteen months into his presidency, Trump has seen a national security adviser, a former campaign chairman, a foreign policy adviser and another high-ranking campaign official face charges of serious crimes.

5 April
Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Carper question whether Pruitt or one of his aides abused special hiring powers granted by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
(The Atlantic) The letter comes as Pruitt faces heightened ethical scrutiny over many of his decisions as EPA secretary. Five EPA officials—including Kevin Chmielewski, a political appointee and an early employee of Trump’s presidential campaign—seemed to suffer retaliatory demotions or reassignments after they questioned Pruitt’s handling of taxpayer money or the agency, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The EPA’s internal ethics watchdog also expanded the scope of a review into Pruitt’s use of a $50-per-night condo on Capitol Hill, which was owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist.

29 March
Surprise: Trump’s newest Cabinet nominee has no relevant experience
By Eugene Robinson
(WaPost) President Trump has announced he will nominate a medical doctor who has no discernible management experience to run the second-largest agency in the federal government. … In a New York Times op-ed, Shulkin wrote that he believed he was being sacked because he opposed a push by the Trump administration “to put VA health care in the hands of the private sector.” … Shulkin, by most accounts, had stabilized VA’s vast system of hospitals and health clinics. What he refused to do was support the notion of privatizing veterans’ health care — an idea pushed by some of the political appointees the White House had installed under him.
Trump just replaced the secretary of Veteran Affairs with the guy who does his physicalss.

23 March
Trump is creating a toxic work environment at the US’s largest employer
(Quartz) The US government is also the country’s biggest employer, with federal agencies employing over two million people—500,000 more jobs than Walmart. Unpredictability in the White House is having a destabilizing influence throughout those agencies. Democrats, some Republicans, and even former Trump loyalists are upset. “There is no one in charge, and no one to stop it,” said a federal government veteran who advised the Trump transition team, and who voted for Trump in 2016.
Over 23,000 federal employees left during the first nine months of 2017, a 42% increase from departures in the same period during Obama’s first year in office. Last week’s notable resignations include the chief operating officer of the Consumer Finance Protection Board, the 1,600 pro-consumer agency that’s becoming less of a consumer watchdog, and a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration and enforcement, who said his bosses asked him to lie.
The White House is tasked with getting individuals “aligned with the president’s agenda” into the federal government, said the White House official. But House Democrats allege that the White House is going too far, and has planned an ideological purge of the State Department. In a March 15 letter, congressmen Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel cited emails from a whistleblower that appear to show high-ranking officials and advisors discussing “cleaning” out people who weren’t considered loyal enough to Trump.

22 – 23 March
The second-most dangerous American

(WaPost) Because John Bolton is five things President Trump is not — intelligent, educated, principled, articulate and experienced — and because of Bolton’s West Wing proximity to a president responsive to the most recent thought he has heard emanating from cable television or an employee, Bolton will soon be the second-most dangerous American. On April 9, he will be the first national security adviser who, upon taking up residence down the hall from the Oval Office, will be suggesting that the United States should seriously consider embarking on war crimes.
The John Bolton I Knew
By Matthew Waxman
(Lawfare) Most of the commentary about John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser has focused on his extreme policy views, especially with regard to military strikes against North Korea and Iran. I want instead to offer here a few firsthand thoughts about his formidable skills—which are what make him so dangerous.
Trump Chooses Bolton for 3rd Security Adviser as Shake-Up Continues
(NYT) President Trump named John R. Bolton, a hard-line former American ambassador to the United Nations, as his third national security adviser on Thursday, continuing a shake-up that creates one of the most hawkish national security teams of any White House in recent history.
… General McMaster also had a difficult relationship with the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, people close to the White House said. Mr. Kelly, they said, prevailed in easing out General McMaster but failed to prevent Mr. Trump from hiring Mr. Bolton, whom they said Mr. Kelly fears will behave like a cabinet official rather than a staff member. John Bolton, an Undiplomatic Voice for American Might
The Atlantic: The New NSA: Trump’s decision to replace National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton has major implications for the president’s North Korea strategy. Bolton, who served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, has been a foreign-policy hawk throughout his career. His regular appearances on Fox News might be one reason for the president’s choice—though the two men may not see eye-to-eye once Bolton takes office. As for McMaster, he now faces a choice about what details of his time in the Trump White House to make public.
(NYT Editorial) Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous “There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made so far.”
The Daily Beast I’ve Seen John Bolton Up Close. Yep, Be Afraid.
H.R. McMaster out, John Bolton in
Why Donald Trump has made a war hawk his national security adviser
(The Economist) …  add one last worry: Mr Bolton’s record as a much-feared, much-disliked manager when he was ambassador to the United Nations. the job of heading the National Security Council is one of the most important in the American government. The national security adviser acts as an honest broker in disputes between such power centres as the Pentagon, State Department and CIA, as a trusted intermediary with foreign governments and as a filter, ensuring that only the most important decisions reach the president’s desk, and that they arrive there accompanied by the highest-quality intelligence and analysis.
Mr Trump, of course, has shown that he does not care. He boasts of liking drama and conflict in his inner circle, though he is less keen on being reined in and actively hates it when aides correct him in any way that makes him feel slighted. He is the star. Chafing at mixed reviews for his foreign policy, he has hired a war hawk who will make him look tough. Hope that this is more showmanship, and that Mr Bolton’s belligerent instincts will not have full rein. But anything is possible now.

One Comment on "U.S. Government & governance 2018"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson December 24, 2018 at 12:22 am ·

    Chris Goodfellow’s post on Facebook sums up the cruelty of the government shutdown
    Of all the appalling things this man has done, this “shutdown”, especially at Christmastime when all federal workers should be spending time with their families in peace, is perhaps the most mean and miserly action yet.
    Here he is throwing practically all the federal workforce into a panic of how they are going to pay their bills after Christmas. Does he not realize that for most it is not a delayed paycheck but a lost paycheck as those hours can never be made up? While some may be fortunate to have two paychecks in the family and can maybe exist for a time on one, there are many single moms and dads out there wondering how they will meet bills. Men and women with real responsibilities towards their families.
    Is he so void of empathy and so heartless to do this to vulnerable people just making them pawns in his personal game – especially as our thoughts should focus on peace, compassion and love towards our fellow man at Christmas. Indeed he is.
    Being in a privileged position of wealth, he has likely never really known or understood the pressures of actually living paycheck to paycheck with little reserves. He is so personally self centered and egoistic to do this now and with limitless arrogance put himself at the center of news over and above the Christ Child and all the spirit of Christmas.
    In my entire life I never imagined a President stooping so low to steal Christmas from all of us. If ever there was a grinch. The grinch of all grinches.
    I hope it will be the last Christmas he steals from us. I hope good sense will prevail and the more mature members of Congress will stand up and do what is necessary for this great country.
    That is MY Christmas prayer.

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