Trump learns to love acting officials

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report The Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign MORE is increasingly relying on officials in high-level government positions to serve in an acting capacity, a strategy he appears comfortable taking as he escalates plans to implement his immigration policies and broader agenda.

The president argues that having Cabinet members and others serve his administration in an acting capacity is better than having people confirmed by the Senate.

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“I like acting because I can move so quickly. It gives me more flexibility,” Trump said in a February interview with CBS's “Face the Nation.”

The use of acting officials gives Trump even more power over those who serve him since they haven't been through a Senate confirmation process. 

Some who hope to win permanent positions might even be more likely to back the president on controversial moves. 

It also could allow Trump to more quickly dispose of someone he grows irritated with or tired of. 

“The president likes to say it gives him flexibility, and it does to some extent,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks staffing for administrations.

“As the president, you can appoint actings. Let’s say he gets tired of the acting [Department of Homeland Security] secretary. Let’s say in three weeks he’s not working in the direction he wants to see him. He can appoint somebody else acting.”

Acting officials lack the job security of a full-time nominee and could therefore be hesitant to carry out long-term planning they won't be there to see through, Tenpas said.

Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said there are a number of negative factors in relying on acting officials. 

“What’s wrong with substitute teachers? What’s wrong with backup quarterbacks?” he continued. “The answer is expertise, staying power, efficiency, knowing the job and accountability.” 

While Senate Republicans have chafed at some of Trump's recent suggestions for nominees, there has been less criticism from senators over his reliance on acting officials. To the extent there have been complaints from Republicans, they have been more focused on what they see as dilatory tactics by Democrats to slow nominations. 

“We’ll take the nominations as they come,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump says no legislation until Dems end probes Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Chances for disaster aid deal slip amid immigration fight MORE (R-Ky.) said earlier this week following Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenCongressional Hispanic Caucus demands answers on death of migrant children Trump expected to tap Cuccinelli for new immigration post Kobach gave list of demands to White House for 'immigration czar' job: report MORE's resignation as Homeland Security secretary. “I’ve got enough personnel work to do here in the Senate without giving [Trump] advice about who to send us.”

People serving in an acting capacity dot Trump's administration.  

At the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there is an acting secretary, deputy secretary, under secretary for management and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner, among others.

The Department of Defense has an acting secretary, while Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday after he spent more than two months as the acting department head.

The United Nations ambassador is also serving in an acting capacity as Trump's nominee, Kelly Knight Craft, awaits Senate confirmation.

Other federal agencies run by acting directors include the Office of Management and Budget, the Food and Drug Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Aviation Administration.

And it's not just people in roles that require Senate confirmation who are serving in acting roles.

Trump named Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyOn The Money: Judge rules banks can give Trump records to House | Mnuchin pegs debt ceiling deadline as 'late summer' | Democrats see momentum in Trump tax return fight | House rebukes Trump changes to consumer agency House rebukes Mulvaney's efforts to rein in consumer bureau The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE acting White House chief of staff in late December and has yet to lift the “acting” qualifier or name a full-time replacement. In the meantime, Mulvaney has reportedly encouraged Trump to follow his instincts on issues such as health care and the fight for border wall funding.

Trump is also experiencing a high level of turnover in his government. Approximately two-thirds of senior White House positions have changed over, according to Brookings Institution data, and roughly a dozen Cabinet-level officials have come and gone.

While the use of acting officials gives Trump more leverage over government agencies and allows him to make changes on the fly, experts say it can come at the expense of preparedness, accountability and long-term decisionmaking.

“I think you’re better off as the president, if you’re trying to move the government in your direction, it’s better to have your leaders in permanent positions,” said Tenpas. 

In the earlier stages of his presidency, Trump would nominate full-time replacements for fired officials quickly.

But in recent months, he has been more inclined to name acting replacements and leave them in charge for weeks or months on end, seeking to shape certain government operations to his liking by installing loyalists.

Matthew Whitaker spent nearly three months as acting attorney general following the ouster of Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsJeffrey Rosen officially sworn in as deputy attorney general House Democrats leave empty chair for McGahn at hearing MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE. The choice drew pushback from Democrats who argued Whitaker was chosen purely for his alignment with Trump's views.

The president tapped Patrick ShanahanPatrick Michael ShanahanFeinstein, Iranian foreign minister had dinner amid tensions: report Pentagon approves DHS request to build tents to house 7,500 migrants at southern border Overnight Defense: Iran worries dominate foreign policy talk | Pentagon reportedly to send WH plans for 10K troops in Mideast | Democrats warn Trump may push through Saudi arms sale | Lawmakers blast new Pentagon policy on sharing info MORE as acting Defense secretary in late December, days after James MattisJames Norman MattisShanahan orders new restrictions on sharing of military operations with Congress: report Pentagon reporters left in dark as Iran tensions escalate Trump officials slow-walk president's order to cut off Central American aid: report MORE announced his resignation amid a high-profile clash over pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. Shanahan has been on the job since Jan. 1, and the president has yet to name a full-time nominee.

Trump's recent moves at DHS come as he ratchets up his rhetoric on illegal immigration. In the last week, Trump has threatened to close the U.S.-Mexico border, the administration has said it is looking at ways to make it more difficult for migrants crossing into the U.S. to receive asylum and the president on Friday said his administration is considering releasing migrants into so-called sanctuary cities.

Kevin McAleenan, who took over Wednesday as acting Homeland Security secretary, will be tasked along with acting CBP and ICE leaders with executing Trump's agenda as he seeks to implement stricter policies to curb illegal immigration at the border, despite some congressional opposition.