Or … maybe not, depending on whom one asks. Over the last twenty-four hours, multiple media outlets have reported that the White House has tried to find a communications director to take some of the strain off of press secretary Sean Spicer. Eliana Johnson reports at Politico that two people have turned down the job already, and the Trump administration finds itself frustrated by the gap in “one of the worst jobs in Washington”:
Controlling the message coming out of Donald Trump’s White House may seem like an impossible task — and it’s one that many are hesitant to try right now.
The White House has gone without a full-time communications director since Trump was sworn in last month, and although chief of staff Reince Priebus is spearheading a robust effort to fill the position, his overtures to several Republican communications professionals have been met with disinterest, according to a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the situation. At least two candidates have turned down the job, a position normally coveted by Washington political operatives, according to another source familiar with the conversations.
Just how important is this job? Former press secretary Ari Fleischer calls it “too important” to leave vacant for long:
Despite the unique challenges posed by the Trump administration — and perhaps because of them — White House veterans say the sort of strategic thinking normally provided by a communications director remains critical.
“Even with the challenges he uniquely presents, there still is a need for long-range thinking and planning,” said Ari Fleischer, who served as press secretary for George W. Bush. “There still is room for long-term planning and for rollouts and initiatives, even if it’s tougher. I would never give up on this function; it’s too important.”
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway tried to throw some cold water on the stories this morning on Fox & Friends. Despite rumors, Conway says, Trump has “full confidence” in Spicer and is happy with his performance so far in both jobs. “If we can get more help,” Conway adds, they’ll take it, but there isn’t any desperation to add to the “small team” that won the national election:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) February 9, 2017
As far as being unable to fill the position, Conway says that’s “completely false” too:
“The word is that you offer the communication director job to a number of people and they have all said no. How true is that?” Brian Kilmeade, host of Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” asked Conway on Thursday morning.
“That is completely false, also. I know people who are interested in the job, actually, as I stand here. They’ve reached out to us. And I think that we’ll be either interviewing or deciding what to do in that regard,” Conway replied. …
“Communications is important to any president of the United States, as an obvious point. But to this president, it’s exceptionally important, because he is a TV expert himself. He had the number one show on NBC when ‘The Apprentice’ came out,” Conway said. “I have been in the room with him many times when he is about to do a TV hit or record something at length. And he knows right away the camera angles, the visuals. That’s who he is.”
The real question about this story is why it matters, at least to the extent of the coverage it’s getting. It’s an interesting nuance about the operation of the White House, but it doesn’t really have much to do with the operation of government, or life outside the Beltway. It may explain some of the confusion over messaging in the first three weeks, but much of that comes from Trump setting the narratives on his own each morning with his Twitter feed, which a staffing choice isn’t going to change. The communications director may be a thankless position in the White House, but that’s true of lots of positions in that organization in any administration. People still flock to work there regardless. It’s not going to go unfilled for long, unless they don’t want to fill it at all.
The opening has some interest for those of us who are in the media, but it seems doubtful that voters in Pennsylvania care one way or another about it, even if Fox & Friends covers it. It’s inside baseball, not something that impacts their lives even indirectly.
What should concern voters is the lack of action on appointments in more critical positions — especially the State Department:
From Moscow to Monrovia, there’s a new guessing game: What’s going on with US foreign policy?
And is there anyone at the State Department to call to find out?
With the new president signaling significant changes in the US approach to the world, key job openings at the oldest US Cabinet agency remain unfilled, leaving some of the State Department’s day-to-day business frozen and foreign capitals unsure whom to reach out to for clarity on new directions the US may take. …
“We’re still at a point where 98% of the government, in terms of Trump appointees, are still not in their jobs,” said Derek Chollet, an assistant secretary of defense in the Obama administration. “We’ll see how this plays out as the secretary of state gets into his job and key other officials get into their jobs.”
These open positions do matter, and the White House needs to get them filled. However, they have been tied up with obstructionist tactics by Democrats in the US Senate, which has kept Trump’s appointees from being able to determine who should get the lower-level positions. The delaying tactics in the Senate have resulted in the slowest Cabinet transition in US history, so it’s not exactly a surprise that they’re having trouble focusing on the next round of hiring that will also require Senate confirmations. CNN doesn’t mention the Senate at all in this report, which is … curious.
Aside: If the White House wants to expedite the appointment of an ambassador to the Vatican, well, they know where to look — on Twitter at #Morrissey4Vatican. I’ll just be here updating the ol’ resumé.