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Washington Wrap: Another One Bites the Dust

Omri Nahmias

Zero tolerance for dissenters as White House purge continues

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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A nd then there was Rex Tillerson.

The secretary of state is the latest casualty of a White House that now has a record turnover rate in its first year.

In the first year of the Obama administration, staff turnover stood at just 9%. His predecessor, George W. Bush, turned over just 6% of his staff in the early going. You’d have to go all the way back to the Ronald Reagan years to find a comparable figure, and that was only 17%. According to the Brookings Institution, 20 of the 65 most influential people in government have left their jobs since Trump took office 14 months ago — a turnover rate that tops 30%.

Tillerson’s firing comes on the heels of other high-profile departures from the White House inner circle. Staff secretary Rob Porter resigned in early February after allegations of past spousal abuse were publicized. Hope Hicks, who was described as one of the president’s closest aides, resigned in late February, one day after she testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Lastly, economic advisor Gary Cohn resigned in early March in protest over Trump’s decision to slap tariffs on aluminum and steel imports.

In the case of Tillerson, the dismissal may have been long in coming. Rumored for months — indeed, even from the early days of the administration — Tillerson had seemed to hang on until recently, when differences over Iran policy tipped the scales. Worse, Trump dismissed Tillerson by tweet; the former oil executive was only officially informed later by White House chief of staff John Kelly.

Now, the question is who will be next on the White House chopping block. National security advisor H.R. McMaster seems the most vulnerable. It’s been an open secret that Trump and McMaster differed on a number of issues, from the Iran nuclear deal, to Russia relations, to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There have been leaks in recent days about McMaster’s impending ouster, and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders’s statement that “the chief of staff actually spoke to a number of staff this morning, reassuring them that there were no immediate personnel changes at this time,” didn’t help to deflect the rumors.

A day before, Trump was coy in his assessment of staffing changes. “There will always be change,” he said. “I think you want to see change. I want to also see different ideas.”

According to Professor Thomas Whalen, Boston University presidential historian and author, it’s become obvious that Trump’s management style is to “shake things up.”

“He’s causing an unprecedented turnover in White House staff; they’re falling like flies,” Whalen said. “This is unfortunate, because when you are starting an administration you want to establish some level of credibility, coordination, and stability. You need competent cabinet secretaries and appointees, and we’re not seeing that.” 

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 703)

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