The following is the fifth installment in a series of undetermined duration and frequency about life in America after Trump (A.T.).
One “service” to America that Donald Trump has performed as president is to expose several shortcomings in our system. He is exploiting them and we must make provisions to make certain that doesn’t happen in the future. Today I’d like to explore just one – the acting Cabinet member. Please come along.
The Founders set up a system of advise and consent whereby the President would have great latitude in making senior appointments but was prevented from doing zany things by having to get the Senate to go along with his picks. I am a believer that elections have consequences and the president should pretty much get the senior deputies he wants. Pretty much is not an absolute. If I were sitting in the Senate I am sure I would vote to confirm a lot of nominees who wouldn’t have been my choice, but I would not vote to confirm someone who I thought was totally unqualified, just a political hack, or was anti the mission if the department they were nominated to run (i.e. Betsy DeVos).
In more recent times Congress has made provisions – the particulars of which are too complicated to get into in an article of this length and are not always straightforward – for acting or temporary people to fill the role until a permanent replacement can be nominated and confirmed. The principle on which these laws are constructed actually has its roots in the original text of the Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 3) which states, “The president shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session.”
Other presidents have used, and in my opinion abused this provision, (i.e. George W. Bush naming John Bolton UN Ambassador in a recess appointment), but Trump has taken it to a new low. (I know that acting and recess appointments are slightly different, but they are related.)
As of this writing (Tuesday morning) the cabinet has three acting members and a vacant spot. Mick Mulvaney (the current acting Chief of Staff) is also the OMB Director. In his less than three years Trump has had four former acting Cabinet members and three of his nominees have had to withdraw. That doesn’t even count all the people that are simply incompetent or corrupt.
How about how many people at the sub-Cabinet level are in an acting capacity in their jobs? McAleenan who was acting Homeland Security Director will be replaced by another acting director. Trump loves having people essentially in probationary positions so he can bully them but how does this serve America? Might all these acting Cabinet members be “25th Amendment insurance” for an incompetent president? I’m concerned with protecting America; not any temporary occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Events move fast and positions must be filled with competent people but we have to make some significant changes to the vacancy laws to protect America’s interests after we have shed Trump. The devil will be in the details as it is with most legislation but this situation must be addressed hopefully with a new president in 2021.
There is no doubt that Trump operates under somewhat of a handicap. What good and talented Republican would want to come to work for him? This is especially true for young people. Traditionally a West Wing position on your resume is a passport to a good career in Washington; this administration will probably be an exception. We, the American electorate created this problem – I know the election was tainted by foreign interference and the majority did not vote for Trump, but we still let it get too close – and the most likely scenario at this point is that we will have to solve it at the ballot box in 2020.
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