David Shulkin was, until recently, the secretary of the Veterans Administration. He was a former hospital administrator and just about everyone thought he was doing a good job in difficult circumstances. Everybody would include the veterans, the congress, the veteran organizations and so on. Early on, even Trump praised his efforts to get bi-partisan support for changes at the VA.
In spite of these successes, Shulkin wasn’t as keen on privatizing the VA as Trump and some of his close supporters. After all, the budget of the VA is now approaching $200 B and that’s a lot of money going to government facilities that could be going to private interests.
So on March 27 Shulkin was fired by a Trump tweet, and replaced by Ronny Jackson, the White House physician. Never mind that Jackson has little management experience of any kind, let alone health care experience. Apparently Trump liked Jackson’s glowing report of Trump’s health and that’s good enough.
Shulkin lost no time and wrote an editorial in the NYT about how privatizing the VA would be a really bad idea. Since then other details have emerged about this affair. The White House tried to say that Shulkin resigned. He says that’s nonsense – he was fired by tweet.
Regardless of how one feels about privatizing the VA, this was a really crappy way of handling it. Shulkin says he even talked to Trump that morning and nothing was said about the firing that occurred later that day. And Trump didn’t even have the balls to do it in person or even by phone.
Probably Trump is calculating that if Jackson is corrupt enough to give him such a glowing physical (in spite of some problems) then he will also be corrupt enough to support Trump’s desire to privatize the VA. Jackson has to be confirmed by the Senate and there’s little doubt he will be.
The PPO (Presidential Personnel Office) is responsible for finding and vetting the several thousand politically-appointed positions in the executive branch. A recent article in the Washington Post investigated the workings of this little-known but critical office and their findings are truly depressing. It’s a long article but well worth your time if you want to get an accurate picture of just how incompetently this administration is.
Regardless of ones political leanings or loyalties there has to be some amount of organization competence – even draining the swamp and/or destroying the deep state requires one to be able to manage things. WaPo probably wouldn’t have even bothered assigning two reporters to see what has been going on at the PPO except for the slowness of all these jobs being filled, and often filled by less-than-stellar candidates. Here’s a chart showing how the last 4 administrations were doing at filling the 652 really important jobs.
The problems at the PPO almost all stem from Trump’s poor management style. Chris Christie was working on the transition and had assembled a list of candidates for some 300 jobs. Trump abruptly fired him, Christie says, because Christie opposed hiring Mike Flynn. Looks like Trump made two really poor decisions at one time.
Can you imagine the outcry (and investigations) if Clinton ran things this badly?
Several days ago retired Supreme Court justice Stevens (a Republican, by the way) wrote a NYT editorial about repealing the 2nd amendment. It didn’t take long for Trump to respond with a tweet, the last part of which was: “We need more Republicans in 2018 and must ALWAYS hold the Supreme Court!” Republicans presently account for something like 40% of the population. Should that 40% have the ability to interpret the Constitution to suit themselves, ignoring the wishes of the other 60%? Assuming that Trump means what he tweets (always questionable) it seems apparent that he would be willing to use the courts and the law to enforce his view of what the U.S. should look like.
Most of us probably think that the law and the courts that enforce that law ought to be politically neutral. Of course there are different legal and constitutional philosophies guiding different judges, but becoming partisan is almost certainly more dangerous. One mark of any authoritarian government is its efforts to control the judiciary, as any number of historical recountings will confirm.
This attitude shows no respect for the Constitution. None.
Trump just seems to attract supporters who have had legal or ethical issues. An example would be Elliott Broidy, a businessman who supported Trump in the election and then used that connection to further his own business pursuits.
The New York Times has a long and illuminating article on his activities and is well worth the read. As an example here’s one paragraph:
“The documents reveal that Mr. Broidy, a vice chairman of the finance committee for Mr. Trump’s inauguration, arranged invitations to parties celebrating the event for foreign leaders with whom Circinus [Broidy’s company] worked to sign contracts that could have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Mr. Broidy in some cases presented the invitations in a manner that suggested they were linked to their countries’ willingness to do business with Circinus.”
Given how blatant these activities it seems that Broidy thought that this was going to be acceptable procedure under the Trump administration. Why would he think that?
Recently Trump has issued a ban on transgenders serving in the military, with some leeway granted to the Pentagon. When a new regulation is created normally it is intended to fix some problem. So what is the problem this is fixing?
There are somewhere about 2,000 to 10,000 transgender troops now serving, out of a total active duty population of about 1.5 million. There have been no reports of problems caused by these several thousand troops, and several studies (including the Rand study in 2016, which has been criticized by Mattis) have found no problems.
On the downside it creates significant problems for those who are transgender but still are patriotic enough to want to serve in the military. More importantly it creates a significant management headache for those who must enforce it. On the upside – ????
So why is Trump doing it? The most charitable answer is that he is creating a distraction along with sending a signal to his base that he will fight for the right-wing Christian sense of morality. Pretty much a repeat of the fictional transgender bathroom issue. A darker answer is that Trump enjoys causing distress for others.
In a mad dash to prevent another government shutdown, or yet another continuing resolution, the congress passed a spending bill – emphasis on the word “spending” – some $1.3 T. Yes, that’s a “T” as in Trillion.
You would have thought that a competent president would have been working with congress on such a bill, but apparently he didn’t. The Republicans there knew they needed to pass something, so it looks like they just gathered up everyone’s ideas, except Trump’s wall, and quickly put together a 2,000+ page bill that likely no one had read by the time it was passed. Of course he tried to blame the Democrats, ignoring the fact that Republicans control all the branches of government.
So the bill gets to Trump’s desk and all of a sudden he’s thinking of vetoing it. After a day of chaos he finally signs.
This is incompetence on a massive scale.
Recently Trump tweeted “I can tell you this, and I say this to DACA recipients that the Republicans are with you. They want to get your situation taken care of. The Democrats fought us. They just fought every single inch of the way. They did not want DACA in this bill.”
This one indication that Trump is either stunningly dishonest or has memory issues. He seems to have forgotten that he, and he alone, created the problem in the first place by undoing Obama’s program. Democrats have always been willing to have a separate discussion and standalone bill on DACA, but Republicans (namely Trump himself), want to tie it to The Wall and other immigration measures.
As Ms. Sanders said the next day: “He [Trump] embraced — only if you look at what the President’s definition of a clean DACA bill is.” And his definition of “clean” is quite a bit different from, well, anybody’s. It would include DACA, the wall, chain migration and the lottery.
And the Republican congress repeats this terribly dishonest account.
It seems the sense of entitlement in this government extends beyond Trump himself. Ben Carson, HUD secretary, spent $31,000 on a dinner table for his office. In what surely is a coincidence the supplier is from Carson’s hometown of Baltimore. He’s claiming his wife chose it, but his various explanations seem to indicate his involvement was substantial.
All of this against the backdrop of an agency that provides housing for poor people that is having its budget cut.
At a fundraiser in Missouri a few days ago Trump was bragging about lying to Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister. The topic was Canada’s trade balance with the U.S. Trump claimed Canada ran a surplus and had a short argument with Trudeau about this. Needless to say, Trudeau knows the numbers, while Trump goes with whatever he thinks will advance his agenda – which in this case was building support for his tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Perhaps worse than the lie itself was Trump’s retelling of it to the Missouri crowd. He seemed proud that he could “get away” with being able to make statements that have no relationship to verifiable facts. The problems with Trump’s behavior are manifold and well recounted by Charles Blow in the NYT.
No doubt Trudeau is aware of how just carelessly Trump treated him and Canada – our largest trading partner and closest ally. Trump seems to think that the U.S. doesn’t need any one else. At this rate we could well find out.
Andrew McCabe was fired yesterday, one day before he was set to retire from the FBI. By all accounts his career there was extraordinary. So why was he fired? And just one day short of being able to retire? If nothing else, this is simply mean. And meanness for its own sake.
The details, players and agendas are too lengthy to be recounted here. WaPo has a nice article on it, so does NBC.
McCabe released a statement after the firing that rings true.
The only way this makes any sense is that Trump and Sessions are not happy that everyone isn’t more loyal to them personally. Never mind that everyone’s oath is to the constitution, not the president nor the attorney general.
Its main intent is probably to scare everyone left that they had better toe the Trump/Sessions line or they will be punished just like McCabe was. Regardless of the law and regardless of any evidence. Any Mafiosi would be proud. And the silence from the Republican congress is deafening.