Trump Must Accept the Confirmation Process

(Bloomberg View) -- So let's see if I can sum this all up:

First, the president ditched his secretary of Veterans' Affairs, someone who had a fairly noisy scandal but still had support

Then, he nominated someone who was widely seen by everyone, including Republicans in Congress, as woefully underqualified for the job. There are at least half a dozen cabinet departments very few Republicans have much interest in. This isn't one of them.

By all accounts, this was a personal pick by the president, who ignored any kind of normal selection process or standard vetting.

Naturally, plenty of gossipy stories started turning up about the nominee.

In response, the president backed away from the nominee at a press conference ...

... only to recommit to him after a meeting later the same day ...

... after which another round of gossipy stories turned up.

Meanwhile, everyone knows that no one is minding the store, which means that when bureaucratic snafus turn up anywhere in the VA system — and they always do — the president himself is going to be the obvious scapegoat. 

Nice going!

Look, as I said yesterday, this is just about a textbook case of bad presidenting. And bad presidenting weakens and isolates the president, making the next round that much tougher. If Trump had better relationships with his White House staff, they wouldn't dump all over him constantly (see the Dan Drezner link below). If he wasn't already asking Republicans in Congress to overlook various scandals for him, they might be more willing to do so in this case. If he had consulted with them in advance and listened to their lack of enthusiasm for the selection, he might have chosen to pick someone else. Oh, and this is a position in which it's easy to score cheap bipartisanship points, but Trump has long since burned most of his bridges with Democrats. 

A skilled president can appear to get whatever he or she wants. An inept one can have so little influence that he can barely exercise the powers explicitly granted by the Constitution. Trump's pick for secretary of State is going to be confirmed, but only after a fairly bruising fight. At this point, Trump's ability to replace key members of the executive branch is severely limited by an increasingly difficult Senate confirmation process. 

With so many cabinet-level folks enmeshed in serious scandals, it is a real problem. But it is pretty easy to begin to fix, though it's not fully fixable. Vetting and prior consultation with senators — from both parties — is just not all that difficult.

Getting it right, however, does require having the president understand that he only holds one of the positions in a complex government structure in which he shares powers with many others holding equally legitimate positions. It's not just that "I alone can fix it" is a dangerously authoritarian attitude; it's that acting out on that basis in the U.S. government is a foolish invitation to squandering the potentially formidable influence a president can have. 


1. Dan Drezner celebrates the first year of his epic Trump twitter thread

3. Greg Koger on Congress and democratic norms

4. Could the Senate actually start considering appropriations bills old-style? Niels Lesniewski reports. 

5. And Jennifer Bendery has been brilliant covering the Blake Farenthold story; don't miss her latest update.


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

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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