Donald Trump hosted a cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday, and if the latest New York Times reporting is any indication, the president didn’t enjoy the behind-closed-doors discussion.
Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders, according to several current and former officials familiar with the episode.
Ms. Nielsen, who is a protégée of John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has drafted a resignation letter but has not submitted it, according to two of the people. As the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Ms. Nielsen is in charge of the 20,000 employees who work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The White House didn’t exactly deny the details of the report. Indeed, the DHS chief herself didn’t deny the report, either, though her spokesperson insisted she had not drafted a resignation letter.
It’s difficult to say for sure what prompted the president’s latest tirade. From a distance, it seems Trump has some kind of vision in mind as to what border security should look like, and since he believes the status quo is falling short, the president is lashing out wildly, in this case humiliating the Homeland Security secretary with a scolding in front of her cabinet colleagues.
But given how little Trump understands about the underlying policies, in some ways, the rationale for his tantrum is less interesting than the fact that these tantrums keep happening.
About a year ago, for example, the president berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting over the investigation into the Russia scandal. Trump reportedly called Sessions an “idiot,” among other things, prompting Sessions to prepare a resignation letter. He told associates at the time that “the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.”
A few months later, Trump was apparently disappointed after an August political rally, and he took out his frustrations by “lashing out” at White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. The retired general later “told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country.”
The emerging pattern is one in which an ill-tempered president, struggling with the pressures and responsibilities of a job he was unprepared for, angrily embarrasses and upbraids some of the top officials in his administration – not for cause, but because he sees them as underlings who deserve his disrespectful ire.
It’s a miracle the White House’s staffing crisis isn’t more severe.