Jonathan Bernstein / Bloomberg:
Trump's White House chaos is worsening
Distractions and disarray are threatening to upend Trump's presidency.
Can he possibly stay focused?
As my Bloomberg Opinion colleague Timothy L. O'Brien argues , the Trump administration, always veering toward chaos, is in the process of diving in head first.
How chaotic are things now?
There's no nominee to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was fired a week ago, and the acting attorney general is under fire from multiple directions. It's already highly unusual to go this long without naming a new regular successor for such a critical post, and it's not clear there's any intention to choose one. There's also no nominee to replace United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her resignation back on Oct. 9. Nor is there one for the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been headed by Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler since July 9.
That's three cabinet vacancies without a nominee.
And that's not all. This week, the administration lost its deputy national security adviser — the third person to hold that critical post over the 22 months Donald Trump has been in office. Perhaps Kelly Magsamen, a veteran of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, exaggerates when she says it's the most important position in government. But Trump has also burned through three national security advisers, two chiefs of staff and two staff secretaries. (He's still on his first director of the Office of Management and Budget, so I suppose that's something.) If the various rumors circulating are true, those numbers may soon need updating.
That's not to mention the serious possibility of new indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, fallout from Trump's other legal entanglements, or the certainty of tough oversight hearings from the Democratic House next year. Of course, Trump could ignore all that and focus on the job. But not even Bill Clinton, who specialized in what was then called “compartmentalization,” could really keep his mind on his official duties in the face of scandals blowing up around him. This president? I don't think so.
It's never easy to directly connect distractions at the White House with specific examples of letting the ball drop. And yet … does anyone really think that Trump has been actively supervising the disaster response in California? Is an administration that can't manage to successfully pull off World War I commemorations in France really on top of what's happening in Britain , in North Korea , in China , and on and on? Trump doesn't even seem to have a strategy for passing the final spending bills for the current fiscal year, which must be completed by early December. He has sometimes threatened a government shutdown unless Congress funded his border wall. Is that another bluff? A serious ultimatum? Or has he checked out of the process and decided to sign whatever it is they give him to sign? If he has, what does that say about the administration's role in legislating next year?
Yes, there's always someone there to do the work even if Senate-confirmed nominees aren't in place. And the federal bureaucracy keeps going even if the president is off sulking in his room. But the chances for slip-ups are increasing, and so is the likelihood that something will go seriously wrong.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published by Bloomberg, Nov. 16, 2018. All comments posted and published on Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of Petroleumworld.
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