Politics & Policy

Cabinet Chaos Is Still Real, and Still Important

Jonathan Bernstein’s morning links.

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Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

One of the important things about the Donald Trump presidency is that it constantly challenges the capacity of journalism to tell the American people what’s going on. Even when there’s good reporting — and there’s been an extraordinary amount of fantastic reporting over the last 15 months — it’s become a cliche how hard it is to explain the big picture.

Take, for example, the current state of the cabinet:

  • The secretary of Veterans Affairs was fired March 28. His replacement’s nomination was withdrawn April 26. There is as I write this no replacement for the replacement.
  • The CIA director position has been vacant since April 26, although the acting director is also the nominee — who over the weekend had to be talked out of withdrawing as a result of her own troubled confirmation fight. It remains unclear what her chances are for confirmation.
  • Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, the administrator is almost certainly on his way out, although to be fair, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lasted for months as a dead man walking. 
  • At least two others, the secretaries of Housing and Urban Development and Interior, have been sufficiently scandal-plagued that one or both are likely to leave before long.
  • And the White House chief of staff is another dead man walking, with plenty of active reporting about his replacement.

That’s not even counting the attorney general, who the president frequently muses about firing, or the somewhat lesser scandals surrounding the secretary of Treasury. Oh, and I forgot that the secretary of Commerce was supposed to be in hot water with the president a while ago, although I think that one has passed. But who knows?

Any one of these stories on its own is fairly normal. But to have that many positions up in the air at the same time isn’t. There’s a big-picture story here, and it’s a very difficult one to tell. Some have compiled lengthy lists of Trump administration turnover, but I don’t think it quite captures the day-to-day chaos. 

Part of this is that a hallmark of the Trump management style is to never solve a personnel problem in a day if you can string it out for days, weeks or even months. Another part is that these things build on each other. The CIA problem is a consequence of moving the former director to State to replace the departing secretary there; presumably one of the reasons all of this is bunching up now is that the president has reportedly cut his own White House chief of staff out of the loop on several things, which destroys the chances of any kind of orderly procedure. 

At any rate, it remains a huge story, and one that is extremely difficult to tell properly. 

1. Salil Benegal and Lyle Scruggs at the Monkey Cage on partisanship and climate misinformation

2. Quinta Jurecic navigates through the various Trump investigations and jeopardy

3. Hunter Schwarz on the Obama post-presidency — and how it’s producing Democratic candidates. Interesting. I’d love to see a study on this one.

4. Ruby Cramer on the advantage for women in Democratic primaries this year. It’s hard to measure this phenomenon in advance of the bulk of the primaries, and it’s not certain at this point whether what’s new this year is a change in voters, candidates or a combination of the two. Still, good to see more reporting about it. 

5. My Opinion colleague Noah Feldman on the legal status of the House chaplain — the institution, not once-and-current-again incumbent. 

6. And Adam Schiff gets it just about exactly correct on impeachment. Democrats may eventually have to consider it, but they should approach it reluctantly — both for electoral and substantive reasons. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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