About a month after taking office, Donald Trump faced some criticism for having key vacancies throughout his administration. The president argued at the time that his critics simply didn’t understand his strategy: he’s leaving those posts empty on purpose.”
When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs,” Trump said in late February. “A lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have.”
By April, the president had changed his mind. Trump actually did want to fill those executive-branch positions, he said, but he couldn’t because the Senate Democratic minority was standing in the way. The real source of the problem, the president argued, was knee-jerk Democratic “obstructionism.”
This morning, he switched back. Responding to a Fox News segment he apparently disagreed with, Trump said via Twitter:
“We are not looking to fill all of those positions. Don’t need many of them - reduce size of government.”
This isn’t just an abandonment of the anti-Democratic posture, it’s also an odd thing to say under the circumstances. The president is on his way to Texas as part of the response to Hurricane Harvey – a crisis that demands a significant role for the public sector – though as of now, his administration doesn’t have a deputy FEMA administrator or a deputy FEMA administrator for protection and national preparedness. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, has an acting secretary and Trump hasn’t nominated a permanent successor to John Kelly.
With tensions brewing again on the Korean peninsula, the Trump administration also doesn’t have an ambassador to South Korea currently in place – among other relevant posts waiting to be filled.
Is Trump seriously prepared to argue he’s “not looking to fill all of those positions,” as part of some ideological exercise to “reduce size of government”?
The impetus for the presidential tweet was something Trump saw conservative commentator Laura Ingraham, hardly a reflexive critic of this White House, say on the air. TPM reported:
During a segment on “Fox and Friends,” Ingraham said that the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas shows how desperately Trump needs to fill open posts at agencies that help with disaster recovery.
“I think we can all look at these horrific pictures, and we can conclude a federal government does need staff. We see it acutely in need of staff in a situation like this,” she said after noting that the new FEMA director was just confirmed in June…. “This is a question that has to be posed to the administration. I know they have a lot on their hands, but we have to have people in place,” she said. “If there’s a plan to not staff and cause the ultimate shrinkage of government, then let’s hear about that as well.”
It was in response to this that Trump said his administration is “not looking to fill all of those positions.”
He probably would’ve been better off blaming Democrats. It wouldn’t make sense, but the argument would be marginally less absurd.