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Nothing changes in Washington, D.C. We get the same tired results like increased spending and bloated bureaucratic agencies making decisions that carry the weight of law with no constitutional authority to enforce. The murky swamp is oversaturated with federal government interference in our daily lives that are anathema to the self-rule vision of the founding fathers.
President Trump’s administration began unlike any other new administration in modern times. The resistance was appalling—not just from Democrats but also career bureaucrats who are used to running a shadow government like the Intelligence agencies, the FBI, and Bureau of Land Management. The Intel agencies exploit their authority to operate in secrecy. They, as we have learned, were the ones leading the movement to undo the 2016 election by abusing and corrupting our institutions of government like search warrant applications, false swearing to obtain them, and hoodwinking the Court with fake evidence.
If we look at the inauguration of previous presidents, the American people historically gave a new incoming president a grace period to get his administration in place before the political fights began. Trump was not afforded that courtesy. Instead, he’s been hammered from day one, and it wasn’t because of the American people. The resistance movement began as soon as Trump won the presidency. Hey, dissent is healthy in a Democracy. Resistance is not. It’s more associated with third world regimes. In a Democracy, we use our functioning institutions to oppose, grieve and dissent, institutions like courts to file lawsuits and legislative bodies where political arguments have to be won.
I regularly hear from Trump supporters criticizing why he kept so many Obama holdovers in key positions and why he makes some of the personnel decisions when he picks long-time D.C. insiders who turn out to undermine him behind his back. They consistently point to Trump’s campaign promise to drain the swamp. It is what his supporters wanted— a new way in Washington. For this to happen from an operational, organizational change model, three things have to happen. First, President Trump needs to keep clearing the decks by kicking as many Obama holdovers and career bureaucrats off the bus. Next, Trump needs to get the right people on the bus, and finally, put his people in the right seats before driving the bus. This is a very chaotic and messy process. Still, it cannot be skipped, or it will make changing Washington very difficult.
Trump is surrounded by too many people who do not support him. They leak information and say one thing to his face and do another behind his back. The establishment people in Washington from both parties do whatever they can to protect the status quo. It is one of the areas of agreement across party lines. Nobody gets in unless they are connected to someone else inside. This leads to an incestuous environment. People who leave are replaced by the next-in-line career insider. This ensures that no new people from the outside can infiltrate the club, thereby, in part, making it very difficult for President Trump to drain the swamp.
Take for example, his latest attempt that concisely demonstrates this reality. President Trump has floated Ken Cuccinelli as the next Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Yet, several key members of the GOP Senate are already applying the brakes. Several have openly hinted they do not want Cuccinelli—an outsider who has demonstrated his loyalty to the president and his tough immigration policy agenda. Most presidents are granted their choice in making appointments short of some glaring disqualification. The minority party in the Senate may make it difficult, but they usually comply. In this case, however, it appears that Cuccinelli can’t be appointed because of the Federal Vacancies Act that says that the president may choose the “First Assistant” to the vacant office, choose anyone currently holding a Senate-confirmed position in the executive branch, or choose a non-Senate confirmed senior employee who has been serving in the same agency as the vacant office for at least 90 of the previous 365 days. Cuccinelli doesn’t fit in that box.
The First Assistant would be a career bureaucrat named Chad Wolf. Even people in the White House staff are pushing for Wolf. He was Chief of Staff to former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Before being named Secretary, she was Chief of Staff to Secretary John Kelly. None of these people were totally on board with Trump’s tough immigration agenda and southern border policy like Cuccinelli would be. The Federal Vacancies Act makes this a game of musical chairs. It protects the swamp and preserves the status quo. It’s hard for anybody new to get in, and therefore the culture never changes in Washington. What DHS needs is a new set of eyes, which is what Cuccinelli would bring. Several, GOP senators have signaled that Cuccinelli will not pass Senate confirmation. Yes, some GOP senators do not want to give the president his pick. The reasons are political. He had the nerve to buck the system by running someone against Mitch McConnell and others in GOP primaries. Grudges die hard in politics.
This will be a test for the president. It’s another promise made and promises kept moment. If he forces the issue and names Cuccinelli, he will undoubtedly face a court challenge. What’s the difference? Everything else that he orders ends up in court anyway. This would show his base that he is doing everything he can to drain the swamp and that it was not just a cliché or a platitude but a promise. Time to unclog the drain at the bottom of the swamp.