Cabinet tensions rise as West Wing goes through (another) shakeup
Posted July 30
Several lingering personnel challenges facing the President, the mounting frustration of GOP congressional leaders and an August travel schedule that might make it easier for White House handymen -- it's all covered in our Inside Politics forecast.
1) Kelly is in -- but other staff and Cabinet tensions remain
Hiring a new chief of staff doesn't mean the Trump administration's personnel tensions are over.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is frustrated at what he views as White House meddling in policy decisions that should be his. Trump's national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, is not always on the same page as Tillerson -- or top White House strategist Stephen Bannon. Then there is the President's open frustration with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Michael Bender of The Wall Street Journal also noted the question of how the new chief of staff and his disciplined military approach will mesh with the brash new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.
"He's got to figure out if he's got to rein in Anthony Scaramucci. Is he going to stop belittling Jeff Sessions?"
"Rex Tillerson is very frustrated that the White House is running more and more of the foreign policy out of the White House -- and H.R. McMaster, he's not gelling with Tillerson, he's not gelling with Steve Bannon and has been rebuffed by the President himself on request for modest increases in troops in Afghanistan," Bender said.
2) Recess appointments advice close at hand for President
Key GOP members of Congress made clear to President Trump this week that they wanted him to back off his criticism of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and just as clear they were in no mood to consider a replacement.
One option the President has discussed with some advisers is his power to make a recess appointment when the Senate is not in session.
Republicans are warning the President against such a strategy.
Michael Warren of The Weekly Standard noted there are two experts on the issue in the Trump administration. But there's a twist:
"Two of the top lawyers in the administration are somewhat of experts on this topic. Noah Francisco, who is in the Department of Justice right now. He's the nominee to be solicitor general and James Burnham, who's one of the White House counsel lawyers, they both argued in front of the Supreme Court two years ago actually against the Obama administration and their attempt to make recess appointments," Warren said.
"Those were some people that I imagine the President is, you know, calling on for counsel on what to do if he decides to go ahead and do a recess appointment."
3) The President plans August travel -- but where?
President Trump wants to get out of Washington a fair amount in August, spending some time traveling the country as well as at his New Jersey golf resort.
Where the President goes is an open question -- as is whether we will see a different approach.
We know the President loves campaign-style ralles.
But CNN's Sara Murray notes there has been a flood of GOP criticism that Trump has not used his travels, and his bully pulpit, to advance key policy initiatives. "The thing to watch is whether the President has learned any lessons from this health care defeat," Murray remarks. "What does he do when he is on the road? Does he try to sell specific agenda items? Does he try to sell specific elements of tax reform? Or do we get the same sort of kitchen sink, slam at the media, rants about whatever he's feeling that day and maybe do a little hat tip to tax reform along the way?"
4) Trouble at the top? Allies of the speaker and the majority leader describe mounting frustration
Relations between President Trump and the top two Republicans in Congress, never warm and fuzzy, appear to be taking a turn for the worse.
Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are both described by close colleagues and allies as frustrated by presidential behavior they find unhelpful, not to mention unpredictable. Nothing new there, really, but the cumulative effect -- and the calendar -- are adding weight to the dynamic.
The White House openly and forcefully beat back a top Ryan priority in tax reform negotiations, plus Ryan ally, Reince Preibus, was just forced out as White House chief of staff.
For McConnell, the weekend included a series of presidential tweets suggesting GOP senators were fools for not passing an Obamacare repeal plan and that the leader was not making the best use of his power.
In public, the leaders tend to be polite when it comes to the President. And as they worry about his dismal approval ratings and its impact on the 2018 midterms, neither is under the illusion the President is going to change his ways. But Ryan and McConnell allies are more vocal in their criticism of the President, which is telling.
Take the weekend tweeting of John Holmes, a former McConnell chief of staff who remains loyal to the majority leader.
Responding to the President's tweets offering Senate strategy advice to McConnell, Holmes countered: "Instead of searching for the leaker, search for the idiot who keeps putting the President on irrelevant and counterproductive crusades."
5) Know a good handyman? The White House has some work coming
New Chief of Staff John Kelly can expect his first month on the job to be loud -- even if his arrival calms the West Wing infighting that has plagued the Trump White House from the beginning.
A busy schedule of summer maintenance is on tap, and getting underway just as Kelly takes his prime West Wing real estate.
Margaret Talev of Bloomberg Politics detailed some of the coming fixes that will add to Kelly's transition challenge.
"They're doing repairs to the HVAC system -- which is 27 years old so it needs to be replaced. There was a leak in the roof the other day. They've got to do paint, carpeting, wiring, so all of these offices are going to move temporarily to the EEOB (Eisenhower Executive Office Building)," Talev said.
"So on top of all the actual structural challenges, he's going to have some geographic challenges as well."