The White House has its very own personnel office that handles recruitment and hiring. But it seems the president prefers to find his top staff on TV.
Yes. On television.
In the last few weeks, Donald Trump has replaced his top economic and national security advisors with two men who caught his attention while opining on cable TV.
Larry Kudrow — whose last job in government was during the Reagan administration — was a business analyst for CNBC. John Bolton – a controversial undiplomatic diplomat who served under President George W. Bush – was most recently a guest commentator on Fox News.
I guess it is what you might expect from Trump, who spent years hosting a reality TV show called “The Apprentice,” where contestants vied for a coveted spot in his company. He is picking candidates based largely on their ability to argue policy before a television camera.
The irony is, America will not be able to see these appointees being questioned on TV by Congress — like a nominee for a Cabinet post — because senior White House staffers don’t require Senate confirmation hearings.
That is not such a big deal for economist Kudrow who is fairly well-liked in the business community and has vowed to keep on the professional staff that served his predecessor, Gary Cohn.
But Bolton, the president’s choice to be national security advisor, is another story entirely.
The last time he was nominated for a job that required Senate confirmation was back in 2005 and let’s just say the process did not go very well.
George W. Bush tapped Bolton — then the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security — to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee spent five months reviewing his work at the State Department and found that not only was he lacking the right temperament for the UN job, he had tried to shape intelligence findings at State to back his own conservative agenda.
In the end, the committee refused to endorse the appointment, with Republicans and Democrats in total agreement. The White House responded by naming Bolton to the post on a temporary basis while Congress was on recess. He lasted a matter of months.
This is the same man who will have Donald Trump’s ear on matters of national security — a well-known hawk with a reputation for twisting the facts to suit his narrative. No wonder so many of America’s allies are concerned.
Bolton shares Trump’s views on Iran and North Korea — and may, in fact, be even more prone to confront these two adversaries over their nuclear programs.
He also wants stronger action against Russia. Just last month, he delivered a speech in which he urged the Trump administration to go on the offensive against Moscow for a variety of reasons, including its interference in the 2016 US presidential election.
At the time, Bolton said Trump must make it very clear that he will not tolerate meddling in the election process by Russia or any other foreign government.
“Whether you think (the Russians) were trying to collude with the Trump campaign or trying to collude with the Clinton campaign, their interference is unacceptable. It’s really an attack on the American Constitution,” he said.
In his other speeches and writings in recent years, the broader issue of cyber-security has been a constant theme for Bolton, who has argued that the United States needs to take pre-emptive action.
He has spoken about challenges posed by adversaries in Russia, China, North Korea and Iran and the need for a “retaliatory cyber campaign.” His aim appears to be to make the punishment outdo the crime.
In a world where Russia is accused of interfering with our elections, Chinese hackers have been linked to an assault on US government personnel data, and North Korea hacked Sony Pictures because it didn’t like a film under production, cyber-security experts say Bolton has a point but may be going too far.
The problem is that cyber-space is the new frontier, and the risks associated with a cyber war are great. A group of cyber specialists interviewed by POLITICO agreed this will be a priority for Bolton, but many warned that going on the offensive might do much more harm than good.
Starting April 9th, Bolton will be able to take his case directly to the top. Under his direction, the Office of the White House National Security Advisor will sift through incoming intelligence from State, Defense and other government agencies and prepare policy recommendations for Donald Trump.
In his new post, John Bolton’s brashness and straight talk might actually put him in good stead with the Twitter-obsessed President of the United States. And among his critics, there are many who hope that others in the administration will provide a much needed counterpoint to Bolton’s views.
The top candidate for that tough job appears to be Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, a retired Marine general whose relations with Trump are said to be solid (unlike ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Bolton’s predecessor H.R. McMaster.)
About a week after the president announced the Bolton appointment on Twitter, the incoming national security advisor met with Mattis for the first time at the Pentagon.
“Mr. Secretary, it’s so good to see you. Thank you for inviting me over,” Bolton told Mattis upon his arrival.
“Thank you for coming. It’s good to finally meet you. I heard you’re actually the devil incarnate, and I wanted to meet you,” Mattis joked.
Behind the scenes, Pentagon aides have told reporters that they are bracing for friction. But in public at least, Mattis is downplaying any differences.
“No reservations, no concerns at all,” he said before their initial meeting, adding:
“Last time I checked he’s an American. I can work with an American, OK? I am not the least bit concerned about that kind of thing.”