WASHINGTON - President Trump seems to have a lot of trouble picking people to staff his administration whose political views are consistent with the positions he staked out in his campaign.
He ran on “draining the swamp” and slashing wasteful spending, but a number of people running his government have been spending lavish sums of money redecorating their offices and taking costly, first class, overseas trips with little to show for it.
He campaigned against global free trade agreements and slapping import taxes on our trading partners, but in the past week picked a new chief economic adviser who is an arch enemy of tariffs.
He made it clear from the beginning that Russia was no longer America’s enemy, praising and embracing Russian President Vladimir Putin. But he picked an ambassador to the United Nations who condemned Putin for interfering in our elections and for carrying out a nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Great Britain.
This month, Trump announced he was imposing much higher trade tariffs on some of our largest trading partners that triggered a fierce GOP backlash on Capitol Hill.
And last week he nominated Larry Kudlow, a staunch free market economist who strongly opposes trade tariffs, to head up the White House Economic Council.
Earlier this month, Kudlow and two longtime free trade allies laid out their opposition to tariffs in a column in the CNBC business channel and National Review magazine.
They made it clear that Trump was “imposing sanctions on our own country, putting up tariffs supposedly to make Americans more prosperous. If ever there were a crisis of logic, this is it.”
Trump’s tariffs, they wrote, would “put at risk 5 million jobs in industries that use steel” and that “steel-and-aluminum users and consumers [would] lose.”
Although Kudlow, like Trump, is a longtime proponent of tax cuts, he is a free trader to the core who was one of President Reagan’s chief economic advisers who helped draft the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Trump wants to rewrite or abandon entirely.
Trump could use Kudlow’s help getting his numbers right, especially in dealing with some of America’s largest trading partners.
Last week the president confessed he made up trade information in a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, insisting the U.S. runs a trade deficit with its northern neighbor when, he admitted, he did not know if it was true.
According to an audio tape of Trump’s remarks at a fundraising speech, Trudeau said, “No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none.”
“I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know….I had no idea,” Trump related. The Office of the United States Trade Representative confirms the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada.
As for Trump’s campaign pledges to cut spending to the bone, apparently he forgot to tell the people he hired who do the spending.
At least half a dozen current or former Cabinet officials have been found guilty of exorbitant spending on first class travel, and lavish redecorating.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson bought a high end $31,561 dining room set and apparently needed to redecorate his office.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign in September after repeatedly using costly chartered planes for his travel. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was happy to have taxpayers pay for a 10-day trip to Europe and EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt blew at least $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth in his office, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke seems to have trouble documenting his trips since taking office.
Inspector general offices are looking into the spending practices of other Trump appointees. Hang on to your wallets.
But let’s not leave the impression that all top officials in Trump’s government are like the above appointees. Some senior policymakers take their job very seriously, even to the point of deviating, like Kudlow, from the president on basic policy.
Take, for example, Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, whose boss thinks a Russian dictator is a great guy, while she has called him a criminal and worse.
While Trump was congratulating Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection — something his senior advisers urged him not to do —and giving him his best wishes for the future, Haley was condemning Putin’s government for the attempted assassination of the former Russian double agent and his daughter in Britain.
“The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent,” she told the U.N. Security Council last week.
But Trump has yet to personally blame Russia for the attack.