Obama Holdovers, Vacant Posts Still Plague Trump
Administration housecleaning is long overdue to get agenda in motion, end damaging leaks
Facing more leaks than a colander, the Trump administration could plug many of them by ridding the government of Obama administration leftovers — and fill those vacancies with people who share President Trump’s vision and agenda.
Of the 1,200 positions that require Senate approval, so far only 30 have been confirmed. And there are nearly 4,000 political appointments that don’t need Senate approval, most of which haven’t been filled with Trump loyalists.
“It would be better to have empty desks” than empty heads revealing classified information.
President Trump has already said he might not fill all these positions — to cut back on waste and government regulations. But at the same time, the current occupants were handpicked by the Obama administration. They share the Obama agenda and have a deep-seated animus toward the new president. And according to surveys, the vast majority of all career government employees vote Democratic, which makes it less likely they want President Trump to succeed.
There are also 557 slots that are considered “vital positions,” of which 57 have been formally nominated. The administration has 15 people awaiting nomination, and they haven’t submitted any names for the 455 remaining nominations. These positions include undersecretaries, assistant and deputy secretaries, chief financial officers, general counsels, heads of agencies, ambassadors, directors, administrators, and other appointments that are vacant or held by Obama loyalists.
Retaining Obama political appointees in key positions is like having a government within a government that is still pushing out the prior administration’s agenda. And whenever President Trump starts making progress in one area, another shoe drops. None of this is an excuse, however, for a White House communications team that appears undisciplined, off-message, and consistently undercut by Trump’s incessant tweeting.
With that in mind, there are leaks. Damaging, reckless leaks. Only an FBI agent, or former FBI Director James Comey, would have access to the infamous memo that is causing the media to reach “peak meltdown.” How can Trump possibly ask the FBI to investigate the leaks when some are coming from within that agency? A few outliers believe Trump’s hand-picked advisors are leaking in order to get his attention. However, most experts and politicos agree the bulk of the most damaging leaks are largely from Obama leftovers and career government employees.
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Listed below are the agencies that have generated the most leaks. Also noted are how many positions have been confirmed, nominated, or whether a name has been submitted.
Within the Department of State, only Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley have been confirmed. Trump nominated John J. Sullivan to serve as both Tillerson’s deputy secretary and deputy secretary for management and resources. Even so, Trump has nominated only eight people out of 119 positions, all of which require Senate confirmation.
It’s not much better at the Department of Defense. Of the 53 positions that need Senate approval, only Gen. Jim Mattis has been confirmed as secretary of defense and Heather Wilson as secretary of the Air Force. Another eight individuals have been nominated. That means 43 positions need to be filled by Trump loyalists. The Department of Homeland Security needs 16 vital positions filled, of which only two have been confirmed. Three have been nominated.
The Department of Justice has 28 crucial positions to fill, of which only two have been confirmed: Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Five have been nominated. The Executive Office of the President has 22 key positions to fill. Of them, only two have been confirmed and another three nominated.
The CIA has three important positions: director, general counsel, and statutory inspector general. The director has been filled and the general counsel nominated. That leaves the statutory inspector general vacant. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has only one position confirmed (Dan Coats) and three positions with no names submitted.
The list goes on with the other agencies, many with even higher numbers of unfilled positions. While Trump’s entire cabinet is in place and duly confirmed, hundreds of positions remain vacant or worse, filled with Obama’s political operatives. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told Fox News this week that Trump needs to start filling his administration with people who share his vision and agenda, adding: “It would be better to have empty desks” than empty heads revealing classified information.
In Obama’s first 100 days, with a majority in the Senate, 69 people were confirmed and 118 nominated. Trump, who also has a majority in the Senate, has had just 27 people confirmed and only 41 nominated at his 100 day-mark. His nominees are filibuster-proof thanks to Harry Reid’s implementation of the nuclear option. But Democrats have used every procedural rule to block his nominees.
Democrats have placed holds on nominees that require a majority vote to move the nomination along. They’ve also chosen not to attend committee hearings, thus preventing a vote from being taken. And they’ve stalled nominees by invoking archaic Senate rules, forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to invoke cloture and change procedural hurdles to move the nominees along.
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The other issue is that the Senate can’t confirm a person if they aren’t given any names. Hundreds of positions remain in the hands of Obama-loyalists because names haven’t been proffered. Many of these crucial positions are currently occupied by Obama lackeys that have stayed on until their replacements can be found and put in place. Still, others have quit rather than work under a Trump presidency.
Many believe those who have remained are the largest source of leaks in the nascent administration. But until President Trump gets rid of those positions, which he seems unwilling to do, or sends the Senate names to fill those positions with those who share his agenda, the leaks will continue. Nearly 62,000,000 people voted for Trump. If one-half of one percent of those voters applied for political positions, that would be a pool of 310,000 Trump supporters.
Until that occurs, the media remain even more powerful than the White House and continue to chip away at Trump’s agenda, and worse, his credibility. As longtime politicos and pundits have noted routinely, they’ve never seen D.C. as toxic as it is now. That’s because two governments are competing: Trump’s and Obama’s.
Thomas Richard is a freelance writer living outside of Boston, Massachusetts. He’s also the managing editor of the site Climate Change Dispatch.