Political News

White House questionnaire adds new litmus tests for prospective hires

Posted March 3, 2020 1:46 p.m. EST

— Candidates applying to join President Donald Trump's administration will now have to explain what part of Trump's campaign message "most appealed" to them and why.

The question is one of several Trump-focused litmus tests that has been added to a questionnaire that candidates for political appointments across the federal government must now complete.

The new questionnaire, distributed by the White House's Presidential Personnel Office to federal departments on Monday and obtained by CNN, is the latest move by the office's new head John McEntee to emphasize loyalty to the President in the hiring process.

Trump tapped McEntee, a longtime aide and loyalist, to head the personnel office last month amid his renewed focus on purging officials who he deems to have been disloyal to him and hiring those who have long supported him.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said of the new questionnaires: "Every President has the right to appoint people who are in line with their agenda and policies."

The questionnaire will only be used in the process of filling political appointments in the Trump administration, not for those seeking career positions. CNN obtained copies of the new and old questionnaire and two sources confirmed it was distributed on Monday to agency White House liaisons, who help oversee political appointments in each federal department.

Like the old questionnaire, the new form asks candidates whether they have ever appeared in the media. But now, applicants are asked specifically whether they have "ever appeared in the media to comment on 'Candidate Trump, President Trump or other personnel or policies of the Trump administration.' "

The new questionnaire also asks applicants to describe their "political evolution" and to list "thinkers, authors, books, or political leaders" who have "influenced you and led you to your current beliefs."

"What political commentator, thinker or politician best reflects your views?" the questionnaire asks.

While it is not unusual for presidential administrations to vet political appointees for ideological or policy alignment, the questionnaire previously used by the Trump White House did not ask for applicants' views about Trump or his campaign. Trump's name does not appear once on the previous questionnaire. It now appears five times.

While the previous questionnaire also asked applicants if they have ever run for political office, the new questionnaire also asks applicants to list any political campaigns they have "ever worked on or volunteered for" and why.

McEntee's efforts to install new, more loyal personnel across the Trump administration could face one key hurdle: few prospective candidates are interested in joining an administration just eight months before the election, according to multiple sources close to the Trump administration.

In the wake of his impeachment proceedings -- which saw several Trump administration officials expose the Ukraine controversy -- Trump has focused on ridding his government of officials he perceives as disloyal and surrounding himself with longtime loyalists. And several officials who testified or even privately raised concerns about the withholding of security aid to Ukraine have since been removed from their posts or have had nominations to higher-level political appointments withdrawn.

By contrast, Trump has rewarded loyalists, such as Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany, with a promotion to acting Director of National Intelligence and brought back longtime aides such as Hope Hicks and McEntee to the White House.

The White House's renewed focus on loyalty has raised questions about whether the hiring process for political appointments will overly weight loyalty over qualifications, raising the prospect that less-qualified candidates could be installed in certain positions.

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