Pres. Donald Trump’s administration is off to a rocky start in many ways, not the least of which is its inability to fill several key cabinet positions and other essential roles within the federal government.
The New York Times reported Sunday night that the administration’s inability to let go of grudges it has carried since the 2016 campaign means that many qualified applicants get rejected out of hand while others are wary of signing on with a chaotic and unstable administration that could potentially tarnish their careers forever.
Meanwhile, the Times said, many of the officials who have been hired feel like they’re “home alone” without deputies and subordinates with whom to begin the work of governing.
“As Mr. Trump brings candidates for national security adviser to meet with him in Florida this weekend, he presides over a government where the upper echelons remain sparsely populated,” wrote Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis. “Six of the 15 statutory cabinet secretaries are still awaiting Senate confirmation as Democrats nearly uniformly oppose almost all of the president’s choices. Even some of the cabinet secretaries who are in place may feel they are home alone.”
Early on, the Trump organization reached out to longtime Republican operative Elliott Abrams for help selecting nominees for cabinet posts and other appointments. Abrams reportedly brought long lists of nominees only to have the president and his staff veto them because they had said something critical of Trump in the past.
“Mr. Abrams’s experience has become a case study in the challenges Mr. Trump still faces in filling top positions a month into his presidency. Mr. Trump remains fixated on the campaign as he applies a loyalty test to some prospective officials. For their part, many Republicans reacted to what happened to Mr. Abrams with dismay, leaving them increasingly leery about joining an administration that cannot get past the past,” said the Times.
“Many tough things were said about him and by him” during the campaign, Mr. Abrams said in an interview with the Times. “I would have hoped he would have turned toward just hiring the most effective people to help him govern rather than looking back to what we said in that race.”
As Trump welcomes possible replacements for disgraced former national security adviser Gen. Mike Flynn to his Florida resort this weekend to interview for the job, the Time said, “Only three of 15 nominees have been named for deputy secretary positions. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has a deputy only because he kept the one left over from President Barack Obama’s administration.”
This does not even start to take on the other 4,000 appointments a sitting president typically makes.
Complicating matters are his team’s slowness at vetting candidates, the overall atmosphere of chaos in the White House and energized Democrats in Congress who stand ready to oppose Trump’s nominees.
By welcoming former Breitbart.com CEO Stephen K. Bannon into the White House’s inner sanctum, said Richard N. Haass, Trump has “ruled out much of an entire generation of Republican public policy types” because of Breitbart’s contentious relationship with Republicans it deemed not far enough to the right.
“This is unprecedented, it’s untraditional, it’s outside the mainstream,” said Haass. “And so it’s just that you’d be signing on for, at a minimum, tremendous uncertainty, and quite possibly for being associated with a set of policies you deeply disagree with.”
Robert Harward, Trump’s choice after Flynn’s resignation, flatly turned down Trump’s offer to replace him as national security adviser. Harward reportedly called the position “a shit sandwich.”
Gen. Barry McCaffrey said on Saturday that many career D.C. officials are reluctant to work with Trump because they believe that association with the current administration will damage their career prospects down the road.
“The problem is the acrimonious nature, the disorganization inside the White House and for that matter, with among the government, is so profound that a lot of good people who are are going to be hesitant to risk their career for public service,” McCaffrey told MSNBC.
Trump and his aides are wary of senior government officials still working in the White House or cabinet departments. The administration believes that these people are Obama “sleeper cells” who are leaking stories of the current disarray in the Oval Office and beyond to the media.
“You have a new administration that also has fewer people familiar with the processes and systems of government, including the importance of the vetting process,” said Max Stier, the chief executive of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service to the Times. “You can’t operate as they did in the campaign context, with a smaller than usual group — it doesn’t work.”