You’re fired! You’re hired! That’s it.
It was so seamless on The Apprentice.
But that was TV. In the real world, as President, things are are much more difficult for Donald Trump, which is how the US comes to be facing the possibility of military action against Iran without a confirmed Secretary of Defense.
It’s also how the US is facing what Trump calls a national emergency at the border with Mexico without a permanent Secretary of Homeland Security.
And on the flip side, it’s why Trump is stuck with the Federal Reserve Board Chairman he nominated in 2017 but has since soured on and routinely vilifies for not cutting interest rates.
Since taking office, Trump has blown through West Wing staffers and Cabinet secretaries at a rate unprecedented in modern US politics.
He’s a mercurial boss – high on an aide or Cabinet secretary one day and ready to fire them the next, which means he’s been through multiple principals and understudies and still can’t find the right fit for key cast members.
Trump’s generals are all gone
Recall that early in Trump’s presidency he surrounded himself with former generals – James Mattis at the Pentagon, Michael Flynn and then H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser, and John Kelly first as DHS Secretary and then as White House chief of staff.
All of them are gone now.
Flynn was dismissed for lying about Russia contacts. Kelly had his authority undermined and was then pushed out. McMaster quietly exited after not gelling with the President. Mattis resigned without a public word but in spectacular fashion, sending a letter describing his differences with the President.
In the place of generals, and despite his pledges to drain the swamp, Trump has sought out former defense contractors. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, before running for Congress, ran an aerospace company. Outgoing acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan spent a career at Boeing. New Defense nominee and current Secretary of the Army Mark Esper worked at Raytheon.
Coincidentally or not, Trump is ramping up to use the military as a blunt force instrument against Iran; he was “cocked and loaded” Thursday before changing his mind about a strike to make Tehran pay for a downed US drone.
Many, many vacant or ‘acting’ positions
Trump is working through Cabinet secretaries (acting and confirmed) at a remarkable clip, but he likes to take his time with formal nominations.
He let Shanahan serve as acting Pentagon chief for more than five full months before nominating him in May. Shanahan pulled his name from the confirmation process when the Washington Post published a story about his difficult divorce and domestic incidents between his ex-wife and troubled son.
He waited a month from the time Sessions resigned to formally nominate his replacement William Barr while testing the lines of succession at the Justice Department by installing Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general rather than Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
There’s been a temporary acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan, running the Department of Homeland Security for months since the departure of Kirstjen Nielsen in April. Despite a border crisis for which he declared a national emergency, he has yet to nominate a successor.
Nearly 40% of Senate-confirmable positions are not permanently filled, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that tracks these things. More than 50% of such positions are not filled at the Justice Department. Of the 24 top-level roles listed at the DHS website, 12 are either acting or vacant.
The situation at DHS is perhaps the most concerning, given Trump’s efforts to end-run Congress to build his border wall and the controversial detention of children and families who are caught entering the US.
Trump did recently nominate Ken Cuccinelli, a divisive conservative voice and Virginia politician, as acting head of US C