Trump's personnel problem - Axios
Featured

Trump's personnel problem

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The Trump administration has a personnel problem. Multiple government agencies are in a state of staffing gridlock, with cabinet secretaries having their chosen employees routinely returned by the White House's Office of Personnel Management. Steve Mnuchin at Treasury, Rex Tillerson at State, General Mattis at Defense, it's a problem across the Cabinet.

Why this matters: The failure to fill lower-level staff directly impacts the ability of government to function. Career people are working away, but senior political appointees lack their own staff. They're less effective — and operating in a climate of distrust — until they've got their team around them.

One example: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was only confirmed a week ago, has already taken his complaints directly to the President. According to a source briefed on the incident, Zinke went to Trump and demanded his staff be approved. Trump replied that Zinke will get his people "as long as they're our people," the source said. An Interior Dept spokeswoman didn't deny the incident happened. Our source explained:

"If you want somebody, that's fine, but they have to be vetted because, one, you know, Zinke is not the president. This is Presidential Personnel, and ... they keep having this conversation with these department secretaries and administrators, and it's just not clicking"

Other departments:

  • Treasury has been having major headaches in getting Mnuchin's people confirmed. Bloomberg chronicled the problems exhaustively here, and we've been hearing the same things. The White House has been irritated that Mnuchin has been asking for people viewed as liberals or in one case a Hillary Clinton donor. Treasury spokesman Jason Chung denied there were any problems and said Mnuchin "could not be happier with how the appointment and nomination process is going."
  • Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is overseeing a department that one source described as utterly dispirited. Breitbart twisted the knife in on Tuesday with the headline: "Obama Holdover Literally Represents President Trump, Secretary Tillerson at 1st State Dept Press Briefing." (The briefer, Mark Toner, is actually a career Foreign Service officer, not a political appointee, who also briefed during Obama administration.)
  • Defense Secretary General Mattis has been having trouble, too. We're told a number of his picks have been deemed politically unacceptable.

Team Trump's perspective: "These Secretaries have these egos that this is their little kingdom now, and it's their way or the highway. So it's been creating a logjam," one source said. No way will the White House rubber stamp Hillary people, Never Trumpers and flat-out liberals.

The agency view: This is a dysfunctional White House that needs to "get over" the bruising primary race and accept that a person's past political views doesn't disqualify them from the administration.

The man stuck in the middle of all this: John DeStefano, the director of Presidential Personnel. Says a source close to the situation: "It's just creating basically a standstill in personnel movement going back and forth" because the White House isn't going to blink.

Featured

EPA chief: Paris climate pact is "a bad deal"

Susan Walsh / AP

Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, offered a glimpse into how the Trump administration views the Paris Climate accord on ABC's "This Week."

"What was wrong with Paris was not just that it was, you know, failed to be treated as a treaty, but China and India, the largest producers of CO2 internationally, got away scot-free. They didn't have to take steps until 2030. So we've penalized ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn't take steps to address the issue internationally. So Paris was just a bad deal, in my estimation."

He said the Paris pact represented the "anti-jobs and anti-growth" Obama-era policies.

Featured

Hundreds arrested at Russia anti-corruption protests

Evgeny Feldman for Navalny campaign via AP

Hundreds were arrested at large anti-corruption protests in Moscow and other Russian cities on Sunday, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The protests came after Navalny leveled accusations of corruption against Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. They appeared to be the largest demonstrations in Russia since 2012.

Also arrested was Alec Luhn, an American correspondent for the Guardian.

Featured

NYT: "Knives are out" for Gary Cohn

Andrew Harnik / AP

The NYT's Maggie Haberman reports that the "knives are out" for Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who now serves as one of Trump's top advisers. Politico's Ben White names a leading conspirator: Steve Bannon.

The feud between emerging White House factions (Jared, Ivanka, Cohn and Dina Powell on one side, Bannon, Priebus and Stephen Miller on the other) has been bubbling over into media reports.

Cohn has Trump's ear, but he's a registered Democrat who doesn't share Bannon's vision of economic nationalism and the "deconstruction of the administrative state", as well as a competitor for power.

Featured

Trump dreams of Democrats

Susan Walsh / AP

White House aides are so doubtful about uniting warring factions of House Republicans that they now are debating how they could lure 15 or so Democrats to join Republicans on big measures:

  • The White House euphemism, as aides discuss the strategy internally: "a broader coalition."
  • The theory: If you could fold in a few Dems with moderate and establishment Republicans, you'd have a better chance of passing tax reform or a huge infrastructure bill.
  • A White House official: "Typically, tax reform would be something that could be bipartisan. That would really be our hope."
  • The road not taken: Some Trump friends think he has made a huge mistake since the inauguration by antagonizing Dems rather than courting them. Because of his tweets and rants, they're less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt than they were Jan. 20, and any ambitious Dem who tried to work with him would get fiercer blowback from the base.
  • Plan B? A longtime Trump confidant said the irony of the loss "is that there is a scenario where this path leads POTUS to realize that he is better off building a coalition with moderate Rs and some reasonable Ds ... [I]t is totally who he naturally is, and he would love the accolades and positive feedback and improving numbers."
  • Why it's unlikely: White House officials understand that Ds sense weakness and have no incentive to help bail out Trump.
Featured

Trump reportedly gave Merkel a bill for £300 billion

Evan Vucci / AP

President Trump reportedly gave German Chancellor Angela Merkel an invoice for over £300 billion in what he deems to be owed contributions to NATO, per The Times of London.

Using 2002 as a starting point — the year Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder pledged to increase defense spending — U.S. officials allegedly calculated the extent to which German defense spending had fallen short of the 2% of GDP target that NATO requires, added the amount together, and then charged interest. Trump has also reportedly asked his staff to prepare similar calculations for all other NATO members below the 2% target.

Merkel is said to have "ignored the provocation", but has vowed to raise German defense spending gradually.

Featured

Trump's 360 on Mark Meadows and the Freedom Caucus

AP

A new piece in the New York Times Magazine illustrates how confident President Trump was that he could get the Freedom Caucus and chairman Mark Meadows onside over health care, before the "30 guys in control of the government" tanked the plan.

Trump on March 7:

Mark Meadows is a great guy and a friend of mine. I don't think he'd ever disappoint me, or the party. I think he's great. No, I would never call him out on Twitter.

Trump this morning:

Featured

Trump vs the Freedom Caucus

Alex Brandon / AP

Trump began his Sunday morning with a Tweet:

A top White House official said Trump is "deeply disappointed in the Freedom Caucus," and specifically with Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

The senior Republican operative said the hardline House Freedom Caucus "just proved that you have 30 guys in control of the government."

"They have been given power by the circumstances, and they're wielding it," the operative said. "Their view is: 'We got rid of a Speaker [Boehner], we're taking on another Speaker, and we stared down the president.'"

Good Cop was a flop: White House aides are debating whether they should have be more aggressive with the hardliners, including flying into their districts and threatening them with primaries.

"Something in this dynamic has to change," the operative said. "Nobody has taken them on or held them accountable or even mildly messed with them. One of the things you could do is say, on Twitter and in their districts: Obamacare is still the law of the land because of them."

Meadows responds on ABC's "This Week": If Democrats are applauding "they shouldn't... we are in a negotiation process."

Featured

Priebus: We might work with Dems on Trumpcare

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus says it might be time to work with moderate Democrats on health care — and suggested it was a "warning shot" to conservative Republicans after the House had to pull the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

"Everything's on the table. We'll give these guys another chance," Priebus said on Fox News Sunday this morning. "If we can come up with a bill that accomplishes the goals of the president and Republicans alone, then we'll take it and we'll move forward with it." But for now, Priebus said, the White House is moving on to tax reform and Trump's budget.

I think it's more or less a warning shot that we're willing to talk to anyone. We always have been.

House Ways and Means Committee chairman Kevin Brady, however, said on Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures that the House is "turning-the-page" and that Obamacare's taxes will stay in place. A repeal-only bill, Brady said, would be a "show vote" because it would require eight Democrats in the Senate, and "that's not going to happen."

Featured

Priebus: "I’m not in any trouble" over health care collapse

Alex Brandon / AP

Reine Priebus dismissed reports that he is on the chopping block over the failure of the health care bill on Fox News Sunday:

I'm not in any trouble. I've got a great relationship with the president, we talk all the time. Just before coming on the set he gave me a call…. This is gossip, and it's always going to happen.

His comments come after the New York Times reported that blame for the health care disaster was falling on the chief of staff's shoulders.

Featured

Obama's post-presidency: island hopping and memoir writing

Jose Luis Magana / AP

The Washington Post has taken a look this morning at what the Obamas have been up to since leaving the White House. Here's what they found:

Where in the world is Barack Obama: "... he jetted off in a Gulfstream G550 to Tetiaroa, a South Pacific island once owned by Marlon Brando. He plans an extended stay there to start writing his White House memoir."

  • The Obamas have re-decorated their Kalorama home "to suit their modern style" and are working out of a West End office when in DC
  • Fifteen staffers, including Valerie Jarrett, work there, "helping to build Obama's foundation." He's also planning his presidential library in Chicago
  • Michelle is spending more time in Washington, writing her on book and "remaining focused on the home front".

Recall: The Obamas' book deal is reportedly worth $60+ million, so it's no surprise that they're keen to start writing.