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Is the Trump administration struggling to get up to speed?

Little more than two weeks into President Trump’s administration, there are reports of early struggles behind the scenes for the president and his staff. Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report, NPR's Tamara Keith and Glenn Thrush of The New York Times join John Yang to discuss the inner workings of the White House and the lag in hiring and confirmations for the Trump administration.

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    But first: a look at what we know about the inner workings of the Trump White House and the at times chaotic rollout of executive actions.

    We have our Politics Monday team of Tamara Keith of NPR and Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report. And, tonight, we're also joined by Glenn Thrush, the White House correspondent for The New York Times.

    Glenn, let me start with you.

    You have a not only — because you're the only one of us, I think, who has been immortalized on "Saturday Night Live."



    So, you had a story this morning in The New York Times that had all sorts of interesting details on the inner workings of the Trump White House.

    What struck you as you were reporting that story?

  • GLENN THRUSH, The New York Times:

    Well, what struck me is — and I will use this metaphor — is that the Trump White House, this very small crew of ideologues and operatives who are loyal to the president, have begun carpet-bombing the world with these executive orders, insults and taunts hurled at leaders around the world, while they are still essentially building the plane.

    The point is, there is a tremendous amount of audacity and a lot of boldness coming out of Stephen Bannon, who is the president's chief strategist, who is the brain behind what is essentially 250 executive orders that have been at least looked at, dozens and dozens which are likely to be unveiled over the next 12 months, while the president is figuring out how to operate the basic levers of power in Washington, D.C.

    And my partner and I, Maggie Haberman, point out just how fundamental that is. When we say operate the levers of power, we mean that literally. There are staffers in the West Wing of the White House who don't know how to operate the lights yet.


    Tam, you have done a little reporting on this in terms of the historical record.

    How unusual is this for an outsider from Washington coming into the White House like this to have this sort of — it's been described as chaos and disorganization?

  • TAMARA KEITH, National Public Radio:

    Well, you don't have to go back too far, because there was an outsider who came in, in 1993 from Arkansas, brought a bunch of people from Arkansas in, and thought that they didn't need the people who were experts and who had done it all before.

    And it was pretty problematic for about the first year-and-a-half of the Clinton administration, where they had a lot of trouble getting their nominees through and similar hiccups. So, there is a model for it.

    And about a year-and-a-half into the Clinton administration, there was sort of a staff shakeup and they brought in somebody with some more Washington experience, Leon Panetta, to be chief of staff.


    Amy, could this be by design?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    Well, listen, we saw that Donald Trump as a candidate, Donald Trump as a businessman, his management style is chaos and conflict, and it won him the nomination, and it won him the White House.

    He's been successful in his business dealings with this. So why not use it at the White House, right?

    The question is, how long can you keep going like this? I know a lot of folks come to Washington saying, I'm just going to run Washington like you run a business.

    Well, Washington isn't a business. Running the government isn't like running a business. It is big and complicated. And for the first time in his life, he's got a whole bunch of people that not only answer to him, but who he has to answer to, namely the two other branches of government that he's learning right now.

    So, will this continue to happen? Maybe. I talked to some folks who say, you're not likely to see him change. But, at the same time, you saw during the course of the campaign he would make course corrections. Remember, he went through two campaign managers after — and then finally landing on Kellyanne Conway.

    So, he could make some changes when he sees that the outside pressure is coming, whether it's in stories like the one that Glenn had this morning or other frustrations that he's feeling personally.


    Glenn, you talked about them trying to figure out how to turn the lights on, but also in some of the offices they're trying to turn the lights on, there aren't — there is no one in there anyway, right?


    Well, I think, you know, they put forth figures. The chief of staff, Reince Priebus, says that they're meeting their staffing expectations comparable to what President Obama had eight years ago.

    The truth of the matter is, though — and I should say we spoke with 40 to 50 people for this story over the course of the last two weeks. The problem isn't getting names on a list. The problem is that the president of the United States only likes six to eight people in his orbit at any given time.

    The most telling image — and this is a president, remember, who's very visual — is around the Resolute desk in the office, you have four hardback chairs arranged. That's about the number of people who have influence on him on any given day.

    And what a lot of people said to us was, we have tried to bring in new people, but we're afraid, if they underperform or if the president doesn't like him, he will take it out on us, and we will lose our seats in one of those four chairs.

    So, this management style that worked very well in Trump Tower, the question is, as Tamara put it, is, will he be able to adjust his management style which worked in business and branding to a much more complicated job, probably the most complicated job on the planet?


    Glenn, we should point out that the president, continuing his love affair with your publication, tweeted out this morning.

    He said: "The failing New York Times writes total fiction concerning me. They have gotten it wrong for two years and now are making up stories and sources."

    On Air Force One on the way back from Florida, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, called it literally the epitome of fake news.

    I don't know if you want to respond to that or not, but that's what they're saying about your reporting.


    Our reporting, I think, is substantial, and solid and well-sourced. And every detail in — major detail in that story was run by officials in the Trump White House before it was published.


    Tamara, you have also looked at the record on getting Cabinet nominees in place and also the sub-Cabinet officials.



    And there are about 700 important positions that require Senate confirmation. At this point, the Trump administration has named about 35 people of those 700. Now, many administrations take a while to name some of the sub-Cabinet, but, at this point — in part, this is because of the Senate and Senate Democrats, and, in part, it's because of the types of nominees that were picked and because of the fact that they weren't pre-vetted by the Office of Government Ethics before their names were announced.

    But in terms of the Cabinet, Donald Trump has the fewest Cabinet members confirmed of anyone going back to World War II. There's no precedent for a president this far in having so few people.

    As one person I talked to said, you're going into the Super Bowl and you don't have the team on the field.


    And, remember, too, nobody thought he was going to win, OK, including people in the campaign.

    I was talking to — I'm sure all of us were talking to people within Clinton orbit who were coming into town looking for houses from around the country, thinking, well, I'm certainly going to get a job in the administration, I have been promised a job in the administration.

    That was all set to go. So, I think that's a big piece of it. And as Tamara pointed out, too, he's got people, at least at the Cabinet level, lined up. Getting them through the process, which we're now having another night where we're going to have an all-nighter on the Senate with Democrats trying desperately to block Betsy DeVos, hoping for one more Republican vote to sink her nomination.


    And there are three Cabinet-level nominees who have not completed their ethics process still.

    So, although the Trump administration complains, and somewhat rightfully, that they don't have enough people on hand, even though they have named them, there are three people who haven't completed that basic process that, in the past, would have been done before they were even named.


    And over the weekend, we had a secretary of the Army designee draw because of troubles with untangling from ethics issues.






    Amy Walter, Tamara Keith, Glenn Thrush, thanks for being with us.


    Of course.


    You're welcome.


    Great to be here.

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