There’s much to be said about the still-unpossible fact that the shitgibbon is now president. But in this day one of our national experiment in test-to-destruction governance, there’s something…missing.
That would be a government. Or at least, an administration.
There are roughly 675 Federal positions that require Senate confirmation.*
There are some four thousand more jobs to be filled by direct appointment, and while many of those are minor, many are not.**
So that’s the hole. How far along is Trump to filling it?
Well, according to The Washington Post‘s tracker, Trump has so far sent 30 names to the Senate.*** None have been confirmed.
Update: James Mattis and John F. Kelly have now been confirmed for Defense and Homeland Security respectively.
By comparison in 2009, six Obama cabinet nominees were confirmed as of the inauguration, and four more followed the next week.
And even if/when all those nominated so far do make it through the Senate process, they’ll be doing — or rather not getting done all the work of the senior management of their departments.
Foreign policy? We ain’t got none, for the time being, no matter how often Trump bellows “America First!” There are no appointees at State below the secretary level. That’s not “none-confirmed.” That’s none, as in not a single deputy, assistant, or under secretary has yet been named.
We’ve got no boots on the ground either. In a break with prior custom, Trump demanded the resignation of every serving ambassador as of today. With only three as-yet unvetted, much less confirmed, ambassadorial appointments, and dozens yet to be made, the US is without its head-of-mission everywhere. While it’s true that politically appointed ambassadors have professional staffs that are still in place, the fact remains that our international representatives aren’t there.
Same goes for the national security apparatus. The odious and unfit Michael Flynn does not require Senate confirmation, so he’s on the job. He’s got no help though:
Trump has made one other NSC appointment, tapping retired Gen. Keith Kellogg to be NSC chief of staff. And some reports indicate that Matt Pottinger, a former Wall Street Journal China correspondent who joined the U.S. Marines and grew close to Flynn, may become the NSC’s director for Asia.
It ain’t going to get any better any time soon. Flynn’s in charge of filling out his org chart, and, as the same Politico article notes, he’s making a mess of it:
The NSC staffing process is being controlled closely by Trump’s national security adviser-designate, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who, unlike his past several predecessors, has no NSC experience. Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, served as a typist and a research assistant at the NSC in the Nixon and Ford White Houses before working as a speechwriter and public affairs official in the Reagan Pentagon…
…Sources who have had contact with Trump’s national security transition team said it has been tight-lipped about its staffing. “Very few people really know anything about lower-level appointments,” said one person in the mix for a job. “Those who do know aren’t talking, and those who are talking don’t know anything.”
The same is true at Defense. James Mattis looks from this distance as the best of Trump’s cabinet appointments and the one likely to get through the confirmation process most smoothly. It could be months — or hell, who knows, more than year — before he has a full cadre of senior officials to help him run the department that spends about half of the entire Federal discretionary budget. Right now, as at State, there’s not a single deputy, assistant or under secretary appointment out there. He can have coffee with the Secretary of the Army, once that confirmation goes through, but while that’s undoubtedly a significant post, just about everyone a SecDef needs just to stem the torrent of decisions that department needs made every day isn’t even on the radar yet.
Trump’s going to redo trade deals around the world? Who’s going to do the talking? At least Commerce has a deputy secretary nominee, but again — no one else is home.
Modernize the nuclear arsenal? Governor/Secretary Perry, all by his deeply – nuclear – competent lonesome?
And so on. In sum, as Jonathan Bernstein put it at Bloomberg News:
When it comes to policy, Trump will be only a vague presence in the executive branch during the months when presidents normally have the best chance to get things done. [link in the original] It’s not news to anyone that bureaucrats are skilled in resisting the preferences of presidents. But an entrenched bureaucracy against a secretary (and in most cases, a secretary with little government experience or little policy expertise or both) and a bunch of empty desks? That’s no contest.
In some ways this is all a tiny bit of a good thing: when if we have to confront malice, may it be incompetent and all that. I don’t take too much comfort there — I’m sure the Republican Congress will do all they can to ensure that policy, once Trump’s executive branch knows where the bathrooms are, will be just as awful as can be. That it may take a bit longer to get there is a good thing, but not hugely so.
But here’s what does seem scary. Government isn’t just about doing what you want to do pro-actively, whether it be getting or taking away health care from millions. It’s also about dealing with what happens in the world while you were making other plans. And here, from emergency management to war and conflict, there’s no one minding the store. That could bite us on the ass at any time. (And, if Trump’s appointments match Bush-the-lesser’s for competence, even after he staffs up.) Politico again:
Several of Trump’s national security appointees, including Flynn, have strong military backgrounds — but limited experience in coordinating with other senior government officials in a time of crisis. McFarland last served in government more than 30 years ago. Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has no prior government experience. Nor does Trump’s incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus.
At the moment, the team’s heavyweight is Trump’s pick for defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, who led U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013.
To help the Trump team prepare for the worst, on Saturday the Obama White House held an emergency-management exercise with nearly two-dozen Trump appointees, including Flynn, McFarland, Mattis and Trump’s nominees for CIA director, Rep. Mike Pompeo, and for director of national intelligence, Sen. Dan Coats.
But that exercise focused on natural disasters, and not the type of catastrophic terrorist attack that some fear could strain an understaffed Trump team.
So: two cheers for any no-show-derived reprieves from the worst of Trumpismo. None at the thought of the Ferret Heedit Shitgibbon faced with a real-time response to more or less anything with his non-existent administration there to help.
*It’s a slightly tricky number. For one thing, since 2011, almost three hundred positions that require confirmation can get it through a streamlined process, and the number above omits those. For another, people don’t seem to be sure exactly how many appointments still have to go through the full megillah. The Washington Post says 660, for example, while Bloomberg News goes with 690. Hence my split-the-0difference number above.
**The top public affairs folks at the major departments are among those direct hires. One way to keep a lid on news is to leave the press with no one to talk to…
***That’s all fifteen members of the cabinet, three ambassadors — to China, Israel and the United Kingdom — the US Representative to the United Nations, a deputy secretary (Commerce), the Secretary of the Army,
Medicare’s assassin the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Deputy Attorney General, the Adminstrators of the EPA and the SBA, the trade rep, the director of OMB, the CIA and Office of National Intelligence Directors, and the SEC chairman.
Image: Albert Anker, The District Secretary, 1874.