A U.S. Navy sailor stands on the deck of the USS Farragut as his ship approaches the USS Bataan to practice ‘UNREP’, or underway replenishment of cargo and fuel on May 24, 2016.
Photo by Balazs Gardi for MSNBC

As Navy nominee withdraws, Trump’s personnel troubles get worse

At a White House press briefing last week, reporters asked Sean Spicer about the Trump administration’s difficulties in filling key government posts. The president’s press secretary was incredulous, as if the questions themselves were obviously based on a bogus premise.

“I think when you look across where we are and we track the number of folks that are in the pipeline, we’re doing very, very well with getting all of these positions filled,” Spicer said. He added, “I think we’re doing a phenomenal job of staffing the government.”

Yeah, about that
President Donald Trump’s nominee for Navy secretary, Philip Bilden, withdrew from consideration Sunday, becoming the second Pentagon pick unable to untangle his financial investments in the vetting process.

“Mr. Philip Bilden has informed me that he has come to the difficult decision to withdraw from consideration to be secretary of the Navy,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement. “This was a personal decision driven by privacy concerns and significant challenges he faced in separating himself from his business interests.”
The Politico report on this noted that Bilden was derailed by challenges “during a review by the Office of Government Ethics to avoid potential conflicts of interest.”

Note, a week before Bilden withdrew, Spicer declared on Twitter that reports about Bilden stepping aside are wrong. The press secretary said he’d just spoken to him, and Bilden was “100% commited [sic]” to being the next Secretary of the Navy.

If there are folks trying to pull together a list of the claims Sean Spicer has made that have turned out to be untrue, you have my sympathies. The volume of content must be overwhelming.

Nevertheless, if the circumstances surrounding Bilden’s troubles sound familiar, there’s a good reason: Vincent Viola, Trump’s choice for Army Secretary quietly ended his own nomination late on a Friday night a few weeks ago. In other words, in the same month, Trump’s choices for Army and Navy secretaries both had to quit, and in both cases, it’s because they struggled to separate themselves from their existing private-sector holdings.

And when it comes to staffing difficulties, that’s really just the start of the list. Let’s not forget that Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee was forced to withdraw; Trump’s National Security Advisor was forced to resign; two other National Security Advisor contenders asked not to be considered; several White House staffers were forced from their posts after failing background checks; some administration officials have quit because they don’t want anything to do with the president; while other administration officials have been ousted because they criticized Trump during the campaign.

Weak vetting from White House officials has contributed to the problem, but it doesn’t help that officials in the West Wing are reluctant to acknowledge that they even have a problem. Spicer, for example, managed to keep a straight face when he said, “I think we’re doing a phenomenal job of staffing the government.”

As of this morning, there are 549 key positions in the executive branch that require Senate confirmation. Of those slots, 14 have been filled, and 515 of the positions don’t yet have a nominee.

I suppose “phenomenal” is a subjective term, but when describing a 2.5% success rate, other adjectives come to mind.

Navy and White House

As Navy nominee withdraws, Trump's personnel troubles get worse