Stalled Trump agenda leads to shakeup

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON: Six months into his pres­i­dency, Don­ald Trump is sad­dled with a stalled agenda, a West Wing that re­sem­bles a viper’s nest, a pile of in­ves­ti­ga­tions and a Repub­li­can Party that’s start­ing to break away. Trump on Fri­day in­di­rectly ac­knowl­edged the trou­bled state of his un­con­ven­tional White House when he abruptly re­placed his chief of staff with hard-nosed re­tired Gen John Kelly, un­til now the Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­tary.

Kelly will take the desk of Reince Priebus, a Repub­li­can op­er­a­tive who was skep­ti­cal of Trump’s elec­toral prospects last year and ul­ti­mately came to be viewed by the pres­i­dent as weak and in­ef­fec­tive. Kelly’s abil­ity to suc­ceed will de­pend on fac­tors out­side his con­trol, in­clud­ing whether Trump’s squab­bling staff is will­ing to put aside the ri­val­ries that have sowed dis­or­der and com­pli­cated ef­forts to en­act pol­icy.

But the big ques­tion is can Kelly do what Priebus couldn’t? And that’s curb­ing the pres­i­dent’s pen­chant for drama and un­pre­dictabil­ity, and his ten­dency to fo­cus more on set­tling scores than pro­mot­ing a pol­icy agenda. No other aide or ad­viser has been suc­cess­ful on that front. As a can­di­date, and now as pres­i­dent, Trump has cy­cled through cam­paign chiefs and ad­vis­ers but has re­mained eas­ily dis­tracted by his per­sonal in­ter­ests and only loosely teth­ered to any pol­icy plans.

“Trump has spent a lot of his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on noth­ing but de­fend­ing his own rep­u­ta­tion,” Alex Co­nant, a Repub­li­can strate­gist, said of Trump’s first six months in of­fice. “There is no sus­tained strat­egy. His at­ten­tion seems to shift with what­ever is lead­ing cable news at that mo­ment.” Staff shake-ups are a tried-and-true way for strug­gling pres­i­dents to sig­nal that they are ready to shift course.

In 1994, Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton el­e­vated bud­get di­rec­tor Leon Panetta to chief of staff with a man­date to bring more dis­ci­pline to a loosely or­ga­nized White House. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W Bush made the same move with Josh Bolten in 2006 as the Bush pres­i­dency buck­led un­der crit­i­cism of his han­dling of the Iraq war and the

fed­eral govern­ment’s re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. Rarely, how­ever, do pres­i­dents face as much tur­moil as quickly as Trump has. His Fri­day af­ter­noon tweet an­nounc­ing Kelly’s hir­ing capped a tu­mul­tuous week:

• his new com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, An­thony Scara­mucci, spewed vul­gar­i­ties in pub­lic at Priebus.

• Trump drew blunt crit­i­cism from GOP law­mak­ers over his at­tacks on At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions for with­draw­ing from the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian cam­paign in­ter­fer­ence.

• Se­nate Repub­li­cans’ ef­forts to pass leg­is­la­tion that would have over­hauled the na­tion’s health care law col­lapsed.

Some Trump al­lies tried to pin the blame for the health de­ba­cle on Priebus. The for­mer Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee chair­man had sold him­self to Trump as a well­con­nected Wash­ing­ton op­er­a­tor who could help round up votes on Capi­tol Hill. He en­cour­aged Trump to press for­ward with a health care over­haul early in his pres­i­dency.

But as Repub­li­cans sorted through the rub­ble of their health­care fail­ure, it was Trump, not his chief of staff, who was the tar­get of crit­i­cism. “One of the fail­ures was the pres­i­dent never laid out a plan or his core prin­ci­ples and never sold them to the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” said Rep Char­lie Dent. He said Trump “out­sourced the whole is­sue to Congress.”

In­deed, Trump’s rel­a­tively rare pub­lic ap­peals for the pas­sage of health leg­is­la­tion sug­gested he was more in­ter­ested in a po­lit­i­cal win than in the de­tails of pol­icy. A for­mer Demo­crat who does not ad­here to all GOP or­tho­doxy, Trump fre­quently shifted his own stance as to whether the Repub­li­cans should re­peal and re­place the Af­ford­able Care Act at once or sim­ply re­peal the law for now.

By week’s end, it was clear that some Repub­li­cans sim­ply weren’t afraid of break­ing with a weak­ened pres­i­dent. GOP Sens. Su­san Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and John McCain of Ari­zona, who was back in Wash­ing­ton af­ter a brain can­cer di­ag­no­sis, doomed a last­ditch bill in Fri­day’s early morn­ing hours.

Murkowski, who was tar­geted by Trump on Twit­ter for her op­po­si­tion, showed lit­tle sign of be­ing cowed by the pres­i­dent. “We’re here to gov­ern, we’re here to leg­is­late, to rep­re­sent peo­ple that sent us here. And so ev­ery day shouldn’t be about cam­paign­ing. Ev­ery day shouldn’t be about win­ning elec­tions. How about do­ing a lit­tle gov­ern­ing around here?” she asked. To this point, Trump has failed to shep­herd a sin­gle sub­stan­tial piece of leg­is­la­tion into law. His only ma­jor ac­com­plish­ments have been by ex­ec­u­tive power - rolling back reg­u­la­tions and un­do­ing a few of his pre­de­ces­sor’s achieve­ments, like the Paris cli­mate treaty - along with his suc­cess­ful nom­i­na­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Neil Gor­such.

Kelly, who spent his ca­reer in the mil­i­tary be­fore be­ing nom­i­nated by Trump to run the sprawl­ing De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, has lim­ited po­lit­i­cal and leg­isla­tive ex­pe­ri­ence. But at least for now, he has the trust of the pres­i­dent. “He has been a true star of my ad­min­is­tra­tion,” Trump de­clared. — AP

John Kelly Reince Priebus

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