Sunday Political Brunch: Have the Wheels Come Off the White House Wagon? - July 30, 2017

Sunday, July 30, 2017
Mark Curtis, GoLocalProv Contributor

Mark Curtis
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has resigned. I’m not surprised. It was only a matter of time. But is the White House now in free fall, or is this a reboot to Trump 2.0? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Scary Scaramucci” – The signs were all in place as new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci scorched Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and others before their departures. Communications Director Sean Spicer, who worked with Priebus at the Republican National Committee, departed days earlier. This is a White House in turmoil, trying to hit the reset button. Based on Scaramucci’s profanity-laced tirades ahead of the departures, matters may get even worse. I don’t think he’ll score points for diplomacy.

“What’s Your Record?” – I’ve said it here often: Politics is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business.” The repeal and replacement of Obamacare has failed; no substantive immigration bills have passed; tax reform remains on hold; and much of the rest of the Trump agenda remains in a holding pattern. A house cleaning may have been in order, but I suspect it won’t stop with Priebus and Spicer. More heads will roll. Will Attorney General Jeff Sessions be fired next? Or will Special Counsel Robert Mueller be sent packing?

“Have We Seen This Show Before?”—Yes, and no. I’ve seen administrations stumble out of the starting gate, but nothing like this. In the first year of President Bill Clinton’s administration, they had lost focus. They kept holding campaign-style events, even though he had already won. Eighteen months into the Clinton tenure, Chief of Staff (and long-time Clinton friend) Mack McClarty was gone. The combination of press secretaries George Stephanopoulos and Dee Dee Myers lasted less than two years, as well. No, it’s not the same as the compressed mess of the Trump term, but it was troubling for many of the same reasons. The public wants to see accomplishments. Period!

“What’s Wrong?” – No matter who is Chief of Staff or Communications Director, the Trump White House has some built-in problems. Its biggest worry is the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans won their majority in 2010, and have held steady ever since. Speaker Paul Ryan and the House do not owe their majority to President Trump. On the other hand, the Senate does owe its majority to Trump. His coattails carried Republicans in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. If not for that, Democrats would be in charge. But Arizona is not beholden to Trump, and maverick Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will always vote his own way. My point is that Republican party loyalty to President Trump is thin, at best.

“The Report Cards” – In my lifetime – and in my professional career – I have learned to rank Presidents in a different way. Rather than grade administrations as “good vs. bad” I have chosen over the years to rate White Houses as “effective vs. ineffective.” For me, that removes the subjective value judgment. The most ineffective White House in my lifetime was the Carter administration, followed closely by the Trump White House so far. The most effective was President Reagan’s administration, followed by that of President Lyndon Johnson. You might not agree with what Reagan and Johnson did, but they got a lot of stuff done.

“Can They Turn It Around?” – Make no mistake. The Trump White House is in crisis. It is right now in a state of paralysis and free fall. Can they right the ship? Sure, they can; but it’s going to require a drastic mid-course correction. The President needs to find a populist issue Democrats can rally around and work together with Republicans. Is it tax reform? Is it immigration? Stay tuned.

“The Replacement” – Reince Priebus, a 45-year-old civilian party loyalist, deep in the Republican ranks, is gone. Who’s his replacement? A 67-year-old General John Kelly, who is currently Secretary of Homeland Security. Kelly is a career Marine officer, bringing a sense of discipline that this White House has sadly lacked. General Kelly knows the ultimate sacrifice to this nation. His son Robert – also a Marine officer - was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. General Kelly brings a sense of discipline to a White House badly in need of anti-chaotic leadership.

“Why All of This Matters” – People evaluate parties by what they’ve done, or what they’ve failed to do. The report card comes in the mid-term elections, in between Presidential balloting. In 1976, Democrats made huge gains in Congress and won the White House on the heels of the Watergate scandal. But in 1994, 2010, and 2014, Republicans seized control of Congress due to dissatisfaction with the Democrat in the White House. Midterms are litmus tests on the party in power. This should be of huge concern to President Trump, who is having trouble enforcing party loyalty now, and is having trouble getting anything of real substance done.

What would you recommend to this White House? Just click he comment button at

  • Gina Raimondo 

    RI Governor 

    "Rhode Island is making strong progress to provide our people with the education and job training they need to be successful and to expand access to affordable, quality health care to virtually everyone in our state. 

    President Trump's budget betrays Rhode Islanders by giving huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest Americans while drastically reducing federal funding for vital programs that create jobs, raise wages, and protect low-income Americans. 

    Even as we analyze President Trump's budget in the coming days to determine its specific impacts on Rhode Island, I appreciate the members of Rhode Island's Congressional Delegation for their leadership and advocacy, and I join them in calling on their colleagues in Washington, D.C. to stop the Trump administration from making massive cuts to health care, public schools, affordable housing, and other programs that Rhode Islanders rely upon."

  • Jim Langevin 

    U.S. Congressman

    “In March, President Trump released a budget outline that I strongly condemned for its drastic cuts to programs that help everyday Americans. Unfortunately, the President’s full budget proposal continues these harmful policies by gutting programs that invest in our economy, create jobs and provide crucial assistance to families across the country. 

    This proposal slashes funding for education, food assistance and health care for low-income seniors, children and people with disabilities. It makes cuts to worker training, environmental protection, and investments in medical research and advanced manufacturing. These are not mere luxuries, but programs that make meaningful differences in the lives of Rhode Islanders. 

    Congress must reject this cynical and misguided budget. Instead, we should work together in a bipartisan manner, as we did on the recently passed 2017 funding bill, to find a balanced approach to funding priorities that will support families, promote economic growth and provide for our national security.”  

  • David Cicilline

    U.S. Congressman

    “If a budget is a statement of your priorities and values, then Donald Trump’s budget shows he doesn’t understand the challenges facing honest, hardworking Rhode Islanders. This is a budget written by the wealthiest Americans for the benefit of the wealthiest Americans. But it’s a setback for the middle class. It makes life harder for anyone who’s trying to punch a ticket to the middle class.”

    Donald Trump has already proposed a huge tax cut for billionaires. But the budget he released today says everyone else is on their own. This budget eliminates hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation. It zeroes out funding for workforce training and good-paying manufacturing jobs in Rhode Island. And it makes it even harder for young people to succeed by cutting teacher training, eliminating afterschool funding, and making it harder to pay off student loans.”

    This budget does nothing to address Rhode Island’s crumbling infrastructure. It eliminates the TIGER grant program, which is critical to supporting local infrastructure projects like the new commuter rail station in Pawtucket. And it cuts funding for public transit by $928 million.”

    And most worrisome of all, this budget makes our towns and cities less safe. It actually cuts funding for firefighters. It cuts billions from the EPA and other resources to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe. And it slashes $978 million from the Army Corps of Engineers – meaning Rhode Island will be less prepared for hurricanes and have fewer resources to protect the quality of our waterways.”

    Plain and simple, this is not a budget that any Member of Congress should be comfortable supporting. Along with my colleagues in the House Democratic Leadership, I will do everything I can to reverse these devastating cuts and shape a budget that invests in the future of our country and puts honest, hardworking families first.”

  • Sheldon Whitehouse 

    U.S. Senator

    “This budget is reckless, plain and simple. The President proposes massive cuts to Medicaid, breaking yet another campaign promise. He seeks to decimate the federal government’s central command in the battle against the opioid crisis affecting communities from Burrillville to Westerly. He pursues tens of billions of dollars in cuts to student loans and loan forgiveness programs.

    His plan would slash funding for research into life-saving cures; lay waste to endowments that support Rhode Island’s world-class cultural institutions; hamstring the EPA so big polluters can poison our air and water; and weaken NOAA, sapping critical resources for coastal economies like Rhode Island’s. The list goes on.

    These senseless, irresponsible choices serve one purpose: to pave the way for tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  The good news is that this extremist proposal will go nowhere in the Senate. I look forward to moving past this political stunt of a budget and working on one the American people will support.”

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