President Donald Trump enjoys face time with his Cabinet members. Politico reports the President has spent plenty of time with Administration officials he likes, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson has met with the president at least 34 times since he was confirmed in February, according to a POLITICO analysis of Trump’s interactions since taking office. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are also frequent guests at the White House — so much so that one White House staffer quipped, “Wilbur practically lives here.” Defense secretary James Mattis has enjoyed private meetings with the president, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken to eating at the White House mess several times a week.
Senior aides say Trump demands facetime with his appointees in part because he doesn’t trust bureaucrats who do the day-to-day work of the federal government. The president shuns them as tools of what he often refers to as the “deep state,” and blames them for the frequent, unflattering news stories coming from his White House, according to two White House aides.
But for Trump’s Cabinet members, proximity is a plus. Being physically present at the White House ensures that they have a say in policymaking — and serves as an indication of status with the president. While Pompeo, Tillerson, and others like Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are frequent White House visitors, some Cabinet secretaries have had little interaction with Trump, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, according to POLITICO’s analysis.
I’m not sure Trump’s daily meetings with Cabinet members are really a bad thing, but it depends on the policy and whoever the Cabinet member is. Calvin Coolidge met every day with Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon because he wanted to cut as much money out of the federal budget as possible. If Trump’s doing that with Mnuchin, Ross, and Pruitt, or talking with Tillerson on relations with China, Russia, etc., then it’s a good thing. But if he’s just meeting with them to pal around, then it’s probably not something which should be praised.
The same could be said with Trump’s frequent meetings with national security advisers. CIA Director Mike Pompeo apparently has temporary office space set up in DC because of how often he’s at the White House. Again, from Politico:
Traditionally, CIA analysts skilled in briefing would handle this part of the president’s daily routine, but Trump insists on one-on-on time with the principal. Obama received his briefing in a memo and then would follow up with a lower level briefer, while Bush had a briefer present the findings, though his CIA director George Tenet would occasionally attend…
While sources familiar with the issue said Pompeo has griped privately about the inconvenience of his trips to the White House, a CIA spokesperson referred to his public comments that their daily meetings are “important,” and that he often “needs a great deal more of the president’s time.”
“It’s not unprecedented that Trump is doing it, but it is not the norm,” said David Priess, Author of the “President’s Book of Secrets” on the history of these briefings and a former CIA officer and intelligence briefer.
So there’s a bit of humor to the angst over Trump’s meetings with Pompeo. I remember the left scoffed at George W. Bush having someone present CIA stuff to him, but it’s apparently not good for Trump to meet on a daily basis with Pompeo. That seems…odd. It probably does mean CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel gets involved in the day-to-day operations at Langley a lot, but given how political the CIA directorship is, Haspel’s increased role may not be a bad thing.
It just depends on what the meetings with Cabinet members are about, and whether or not the temporary office space for Pompeo is secure. John Kerry once said he believed Russia and China were reading his emails every day, so there could be a cyber security risk if Pompeo’s Eisenhower Office computer isn’t secure. The same could be said with Trump’s meetings with Mattis and Kelly, and what type of policy they’re discussing. If Trump and Mattis are discussing war with Iran or Russia or getting the U.S. involved even more with Syria, that’s probably not a good thing. If Trump and Kelly are talking about starting NSA spying all over again, that’s probably not a good thing either. If they’re discussing cutting out waste from the Defense Department or possibly shutting down the TSA, I can get behind that.
Now, it’s certainly possible the meetings are just a “dog and pony show,” as one senior official suggested to Politico, which would be troublesome. If Trump is conducting these meetings like an episode of The Apprentice, then it could cause agency efficiency to dip. There is something to be said about trusting your Cabinet members to do their jobs. But it all just depends on what’s being discussed and why the meeting is being called. I’m not sure it’s worth freaking out about.. just yet.