Trump moves to install loyalists

President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE is accelerating his push to appoint loyalists to key administration posts, as he seeks to assert greater control over the federal government and move forward with his agenda.

The rapid pace of staff moves, and the rationale behind them, has fueled concerns among some in Washington who worry the personnel changes could take a toll on operations and hurt the integrity of government institutions.

Trump’s efforts reached a crescendo on Sunday when he ousted Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHillicon Valley: Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates | Barr vows to make surveillance reforms after watchdog report | DHS cyber chief focused on 2020 Sen. Kennedy slams acting DHS secretary for lack of coronavirus answers The 'accidental director' on the front line of the fight for election security MORE as Homeland Security secretary just days after blindsiding her by withdrawing his nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


Trump last week said he wanted leaders who will take his border security policies in a “tougher direction” amid a spike of migrant families crossing into the U.S. through Mexico. Possible permanent replacements for Nielsen include vocal Trump allies like Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryRick Perry asks for elastic donations for his mom, 91, who is sewing face masks The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus Top National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role MORE, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

Nielsen’s dismissal was followed the next day by the exit of Randolph Alles as Secret Service director, generating speculation about a broader purge at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Both Nielsen and Alles were close with former White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, who left his post at the end of 2018.

The president has also announced his intent to nominate Stephen Moore and Herman Cain — two staunch conservatives — to the Federal Reserve Board, despite concerns about their qualifications.

Trump has long been critical of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s decision to raise interest rates, arguing the moves have restrained economic growth. Adding Cain and Moore could allow the White House to wield greater influence over Fed decisions, which are traditionally made independent of political pressure.

Sources close to the White House say the moves are borne out of the president’s frustration over issues related to immigration and the economy, two areas that are critical to his reelection prospects.

“The president is a businessman and he expects results,” said a former campaign official, who requested anonymity to describe Trump’s thinking. “Previous presidents tolerated failure because they were politicians. He’s 72 years old and he’s racing against time and he wants to do as much as possible.”


Trump’s latest moves fit into a larger pattern of installing people who will do his bidding, oftentimes replacing officials who pushed back against drastic proposals or provoked his anger because they did not implement them.

While Nielsen emerged as the face of Trump’s child-separation policy and supported his national emergency declaration, their relationship reportedly soured in part because she repeatedly told him that certain proposals, such as refusing entry to migrants seeking asylum, would violate federal law.

Former Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonStumbling US diplomacy flattens Washington's influence curve Trump lashes out over Kelly criticism: 'He misses the action' Timeline: Trump and Romney's rocky relationship MORE, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisMattis defends Pentagon IG removed by Trump House Armed Services chairman expresses confidence in Esper amid aircraft carrier coronavirus crisis Is coronavirus the final Trump crisis? MORE and Kelly all had similar clashes with Trump.

Trump supporters argue the president deserves to surround himself with like-minded people who will carry out his agenda.

“It’s less about loyalty and more about finding people who align with his views,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former White House official.

Surabian said officials who butted heads with Trump proved to be a poor fit and that the president is seeking people who are willing to execute his policy proposals.

But others said that adding more “yes” men will not lead to success.

“If you were to ask the head of any large organization in government or business, they will tell you organizations flourish when they have a diverse set of opinions,” said Chris Lu, who served as White House Cabinet secretary under former President Obama. “While Trump fashions himself as a businessman, he essentially ran a close family business where his dictates were not questioned in any meaningful way. That may have worked well for him then, but it does not work well when you’re trying to manage the U.S. government.”

The president’s seemingly constant push for fresh blood has also added to the historic rate of turnover in his administration.

Roughly two-thirds of senior White House positions have turned over, according to the Brookings Institution. Trump has ousted nine Cabinet members, and acting officials are now running DHS, the Department of Interior and the Pentagon, in addition to the Office of Management and Budget, Small Business Administration and U.S. mission to the United Nations.

“The metaphor for me is it is like the substitute teacher,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, of the acting officials. “They are operating with one hand tied behind their back.”

While Trump has said he likes acting officials because they give him “more flexibility,” Stier argued the president may be compounding the problem he is seeking to solve by having so many temporary officials in key roles.


With Trump’s selection of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to lead DHS on an interim basis, CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be without permanent leaders who have the full authority to implement the border policies Trump wants. DHS also lacks a Senate-confirmed deputy secretary.

Trump’s apparent criteria for picking top officials have raised questions about whether he is seeking the most qualified candidates or instead choosing people who might be willing to cross ethical or legal lines, especially on issues where Trump has taken a personal interest.

Those concerns were renewed last week after The New York Times reportedTrump personally lobbied Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R-Ky.) to confirm his nominee to be chief counsel of the IRS at a time when Democrats were readying a push to obtain his tax returns.

The nominee, Michael Desmond, briefly advised Trump’s private company several years ago on a tax issue and worked alongside Trump tax attorneys Sheri Dillon and William Nelson at a law firm before they worked for the then-real estate mogul.

Desmond, however, was widely viewed as qualified for the role and was confirmed by the Senatein an 83-15 vote in February.

But Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrAppeals court sides with Trump on federal execution policy Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report Decentralized leadership raises questions about Trump coronavirus response MORE, who was also considered qualified when he was nominated, has faced intense criticism from Democrats after releasing a four-page summary of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s Russia investigation that was favorable to Trump. 


As a private citizen, Barr wrote an unsolicited memo to Trump’s legal team last year saying Mueller’s obstruction of justice inquiry into the president was “fatally misconceived.”

Trump has also appointed allies to lead institutions like the World Bank, where David Malpass recently took over as president.

Malpass was a Treasury and State Department official under Trump, as well as Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and is seen as qualified for the top post at the Washington-based multilateral lender.

He was unanimously approved by the bank’s board, but his past criticisms of the bank’s influence is in line with Trump’s skepticism of global institutions.