Trump starts dismantling his shadow Cabinet

The White House is quietly starting to pull the plug on its shadow Cabinet of Trump loyalists who had been dispatched to federal agencies to serve as the president’s eyes and ears.

These White House-installed chaperones have often clashed with the Cabinet secretaries they were assigned to monitor, according to sources across the agencies, with the secretaries expressing frustration that the so-called “senior White House advisers” are mostly young Trump campaign aides with little experience in government.

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The tensions have escalated for weeks, prompting a recent meeting among Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and other administration officials, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. Now, some of the advisers are being reassigned or simply eased out, the sources said, even though many of them had expected to be central players at their agencies for the long haul. The tumult underscores the growing pains that are still being felt throughout Trump’s government, more than 100 days into his term.

“These guys are being set up for failure,” said one administration source. “They’re not D.C. guys. They’re campaign people. They have no idea how government works.”

The White House began deploying the advisers throughout the bureaucracy in January, assigning them to report back on what was happening in their departments. But according to several sources, their meddling quickly began to irritate high-powered officials accustomed to running their own shops — including Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, both former generals; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a successful financier; and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who’s been a Cabinet secretary before.

Mnuchin assigned his minder to the Treasury basement, according to senior officials at the Treasury Department. Meanwhile, administration sources said Mattis blew up when his White House-assigned senior adviser insisted on reviewing one of his briefings. And EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s senior leadership team repeatedly clashed with its uninvited guest, Don Benton, and iced him out of meetings, according to people close to EPA officials. Eventually Trump shifted Benton to a new job leading the Selective Service System.

Some officials have also been mocking the regular meetings of the senior advisers at the White House to discuss what’s going on at their agencies and how they can advance Trump’s agenda, calling these meetings brainstorming sessions for suck-ups.

“It’s like a roomful of Jonahs from ‘Veep,’” one administration official said.

Now the White House seems inclined to let Cabinet secretaries decide whether they want their minders to stay. A White House official said the advisers were hired on 120-day assignments that were never intended to be permanent, serving as points of contact for the White House while the administration has staffed up but officially reporting to the Cabinet secretaries or their chiefs of staff. The official pointed out that at some Cabinet departments, the advisers have already been hired for permanent jobs, while other advisers have moved elsewhere in the administration or left altogether.

“Most individuals serving in the temporary positions during the present transition will have the opportunity to move into a more permanent role within the Administration – either in the agency they now serve or in another area of the federal government,” the official said.

But sources outside the White House said that many of the senior advisers made it clear that they saw themselves as much more than temporary liaisons, claiming a mandate to ensure that Trump’s wishes were being carried out throughout the government.

For example, Kelly and his staff have often been at odds with the senior White House adviser at Homeland security, Frank Wuco, a former Navy intelligence officer, according to two people familiar with the situation. One person close to Kelly said Wuco “knows nothing about the mission” of the department and “serves little purpose or value.” The person said Wuco and Kelly’s staff have disagreed about staffing decisions, adding that only the White House’s slow pace in filling key jobs at the department has kept Kelly from ousting him.

“Dysfunction with personnel keeps these types of folks there,” the person said. Neither Wuco nor a A DHS spokesman responded to requests for comment.

At Treasury, career staffers have clashed with Camilo Sandoval, the senior White House adviser who once served as director of data operations for Trump campaign, over control of various projects, and Sandoval is now working from the department’s basement.

Sandoval doesn’t have a relationship with Mnuchin and is expected to leave the department next month, according to Treasury officials; he’s now seeking a job at the Japanese embassy, one official said.

Treasury staffers have also tussled with Andrew Smith, the department’s White House liaison, who has also been exiled to the basement. He isn’t expected to stay, either, the official said.

The tension between the senior advisers and Cabinet secretaries has put the White House in a tricky spot. Rick Dearborn, a White House deputy chief of staff, was instrumental in setting up the system of senior advisers and he’s seen as one of their biggest defenders in the White House, arguing that Trump needs to know what’s going on in his own government. And some former Trump campaign officials have complained to POLITICO that they’re being pushed aside in favor of Cabinet secretaries and their hand-picked staffers, portraying it as a betrayal of the president.

Nevertheless, the administration has already begun reassigning some senior White House advisers, starting with Benton at EPA. Jason Botel, a former senior White House adviser at the Education Department, was recently tapped as deputy assistant secretary at the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. And a Transportation Department source said its White House chaperone, a former Pennsylvania lobbyist named Anthony Pugliese, is expected to be transferred soon.

The source said Pugliese got off to a rough start when he ordered the blocking of all outgoing mail in the early days of the administration, supposedly to prevent last-minute Obama decisions from going out the door, then neglected to lift the order. The result was a giant stack of mail full of obscure bureaucratic missives that nobody knew what to do with, the source said. A Transportation Department spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Chao, who already served as President George W. Bush’s labor secretary, was also taken aback when Pugliese told her he expected to sign off on all department policies before they went public, the source said.

“He told the secretary that once we both agree on something, then we can push it out,” the source said. “The Secretary was like, ‘Um, what’s your name again?’”

Congressional negotiators reach $1-trillion deal to fund government but provide little for Trump’s priorities

Congressional negotiators reached a bipartisan deal late Sunday to fund the federal government through September, easing the threat of a shutdown but denying President Trump several key priorities — including money for his promised border wall with Mexico.

The estimated $1-trillion omnibus package would provide $12.5 billion in increased military funding, about half the amount Trump requested from Congress. Another $2.5 billion for defense is available if the administration submits a counter-terrorism strategy to fight Islamic State.

But the final deal failed to include the big cuts to domestic non-defense accounts that Trump was seeking, and thus emerged as something of an embarrassment to the White House in his first budget negotiation with Congress.

It actually would increase federal spending on medical research, green energy programs and other areas that the White House had pegged for sharp reductions. Under it, the National Institutes of Health would see an increase of 6%, or $2 billion.

Congress strikes deal on funding for 2017 to avoid shutdown

Congressional negotiators have signed off on a deal to fund the government through September, avoiding a shutdown of federal agencies over a dispute on President Trump’s border wall and other issues, according to two senior congressional aides. 

The legislation does not provide funding for construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border or eliminate money for so-called sanctuary cities that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration law, according to a summary provided by a senior congressional aide.

Nor does it cut funding for Planned Parenthood.

These are major victories for Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerFrom Russia to North Korea, the Democratic playbook is distort, distract, destroy McConnell shoots down Trump’s call to end the filibuster The press survived Obama’s persecution, and it will survive Trump’s mean words MORE (N.Y.) and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who threatened to block the bill over what they considered “poison pill” riders.


In a win for Republicans, the measure provides $1.5 billion for border security and $15 billion in additional defense funding — though it’s short the $30 billion in supplemental military funding Trump requested in his budget blueprint.

The defense increase is matched by a boost to nondefense programs for a total of $30 billion in additional funding over the sequester level set by a previous budget deal. None of Trump’s $18 billion in nondefense cuts were included.

The National Institutes of Health, a priority of Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, will see a $2 billion funding increase, to give it $34 billion total.

The deal protects 99 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget and increases clean energy and science funding in spite of Trump’s calls to cut all three priorities.

Schumer lauded the deal in a statement Sunday evening.

“This agreement is a good agreement for the American people, and takes the threat of a government shutdown off the table,” he said. “The bill ensures taxpayer dollars aren’t used to fund an ineffective border wall, excludes poison pill riders, and increases investments in programs that the middle-class relies on, like medical research, education and infrastructure.”

Democrats rejected Republican pressure to include 160 various riders that they deemed poison pills.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyTrump: Spending bill a ‘clear win’ McConnell touts ‘conservative wins’ in funding deal Congress increases NIH funding after Trump calls for cuts MORE (Vt.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, hailed the deal as a triumph for his party. 

“I am especially glad this agreement does not include a single penny for the construction of a misguided wall along our southern border,” he said. “This bipartisan agreement eliminates more than 160 poison pill riders that would have been devastating for the environment, put restrictions on consumer financial protections and attacked the Affordable Care Act.” 

The package includes $295 million to cover a Medicaid funding shortfall in Puerto Rico, one of the outstanding issue in the talks late last week.

Trump tweeted Thursday that “Democrats want to shut government if we don’t bail out Puerto Rico.”

It also includes money to permanently extend health benefits for retired miners, a top priority of Senate Democrats facing reelection next year such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Regulation: Senate confirms SEC pick | House GOP passes ‘comp time’ bill | Senate confirms Trump’s SEC pick Overnight Energy: GOP mulls changes to monuments law MORE (W.Va.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownSenate confirms Trump’s SEC pick Overnight Energy: Trump open to gas tax increase Dem senator to give Trump plan to renegotiate NAFTA MORE (Ohio).

There is $2 billion in disaster funding for California, West Virginia, Louisiana and North Carolina to rebuild damage caused by flooding and storms and for increased funding for transit infrastructure grants.

Negotiators also included $407 million for wildfire funding to Western states, as well as money for the northeast Amtrak rail corridor, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Head Start, an early education program for disadvantaged kids.

Congress must pass the package by May 5, when a short-term stopgap approved last week runs out. 

Updated 11:28 p.m.

Budget deal reached in Congress


AP Photo

Congressional leaders have reached a government funding agreement through the end of September, according to two congressional aides familiar with the matter.

The deal delivers new defense spending, a $1.5 billion border security infusion, extends expiring health insurance benefits for coal miners and includes $2 billion in new spending for the National Institutes of Health. It does not allocate any money to a southern border wall with Mexico.

Biden to Democrats: Rediscover what you are

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Yes, Joe Biden said, the Democratic Party is in crisis. And so is America.

But it’s not too late.

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Returning repeatedly here to the combined 172,000-vote margin in the three states that decided last year’s presidential election, the former vice president said Democrats need to face how deep the problem is — not a fluke, not just about Hillary Clinton’s performance, not just about a campaign by Donald Trump that clearly disgusted him.

“The cadre of people who were all ours for so long … they doubted whether we still remembered,” the former vice president said, in his first major political speech since the inauguration. “I’m absolutely positive they want to be with us, but we have to prove again that we understand that hopelessness. … We have to show them, we have to be the source of their hope.”

“I know it seems like we’re hopelessly divided. I know it seems like we’re in a political death match we just can’t figure out how to get out. But we’re better than that,” he added later. “We have to come together. The American people are ready.”

Biden took the stage first with his wife, Jill Biden, thanking the crowd for their support over the years, especially after the death of his son Beau.

He quickly tried to pierce the tension in the air.

“Guys, I’m not running,” Biden insisted at the beginning of his speech, acknowledging with a smile on his face the speculation stoked by his appearance in the first-in-the-nation primary state — a declaration met by the crowd leaping to its feet for a brief “Run, Joe, Run!” chant.

Biden didn’t mention the conversations he and his staff are having about building a strategy so that he’ll be best positioned to run if he decides to at the end of next year — or his longtime consultant Mike Donilon, who was perhaps most in favor of his running in 2016, who watched the speech from the side of the room.

“I don’t think Donald Trump can hear you!” New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley called out to the crowd, urging them to cheer more loudly for Biden as the event began.

Biden also stopped at several points to say nice things about Clinton, what a great president she’d have been, how she faced a double standard because she was a woman, even as he made clear over and over again how flat he clearly felt her campaign fell in breaking through.

But Clinton doesn’t deserve all the blame, he said.

“Trump was pretty smart. He made it all personal. It wasn’t the press’s fault, but they focused on all of that,” Biden said. “This bile sucked up all the oxygen.”

For example, Clinton never got much attention for her free community college proposal, he said.

Biden mostly avoided talking directly about Trump, using his name only in passing asides, and referring to him at one section of his hour-long speech as “the new guy.” He said the Trump administration has been marked so far by “an assault on the things we value so deeply,” and pointing to a personal priority, said that the current administration hadn’t shown any interest in continuing his cancer moon-shot work, bringing together money and research to try to find a cure.

Democrats should be angry about Trump, Biden said, but they should be angry too about how much they’ve lost their way and what that’s meant for America.

“What kind of country are we becoming? What kind of country do we believe we want to be — and how do we get there?” Biden said. “How, how do we unite America again? How do we unite this country? How do we end this bitter, bitter political division?”

The answer, Biden argued, was in talking more about three core American values: Dignity, thinking big, and optimism.

“Scapegoating has become a national political obligation,” Biden said. “‘Just build a wall, that’ll keep them out.’ The fears of these people who’ve been hurt are being played upon, instead of appealing to their better angels.”

Contrast that, Biden said, to the events he did for Clinton during the campaign with white union members in the Midwest, when he got them applauding for same sex marriage, stopping violence against women, and immigration.

“I was in what’s supposed to be those angry white guys, who are supposedly racists, who by the way a guy named Barack Obama won the last two times,” Biden said.

That’s wrong, Biden said, but so is what he called the “false debate” in the Democratic Party right now between appealing to working class voters and appealing to progressive values. That’s just like Democrats, he charged, forgetting who they are.

“Remember the core reason why you’re a Democrat — we abhor the abuse of power, whether it is financial power, psychological power, physical power. Think about what made you a Democrat. It’s the abuse of power. We’ve got to remember who we are,” Biden said.

And then, he said, Democrats need to remember who they care about.

“Whether I said it well enough or not, you know I’m right. Those 172,000 people we needed, a lot of them wondered whether it’d been forgotten they’d been abused by the system,” Biden said, referring to the combined margin in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. “They wondered whether or not we remembered.”

New Hampshire Democrats seemed ready for whatever Biden is going to do next, leaving the room after a roadshow of Biden classic stories, from stories he always tells about certain conversations with world leaders to the night his father told him about having to leave him with family for a while to go find work, to the super-fast turns from stage whispering to booming in the microphone.

“I think it is an understatement to say we dearly miss having his voice and leadership in the White House,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, in her introduction, calling him “my friend, New Hampshire’s friend, America’s friend.”

“We think of him as one of our own,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. “And boy, do we wish he was still in the White House.”