ROBERT COSTA: Hello. I’m Robert Costa. And this is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online where we left off on our broadcast.
Joining me around the table, Yeganeh Torbati of Reuters, Michael Shear of The New York Times, Nancy Cordes of CBS News, and Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
Tonight we pick up with President Trump’s promise to streamline the federal government. The plan, outlined in Thursday’s Cabinet meeting, is part of the president’s pledge to make government more efficient. Proposals include a possible merger of the Education and Labor Departments; taking the food-stamp program out of the Department of Agriculture and moving it into the Department of Human and Health (sic; Health and Human) Services, HHS; and merging the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration’s food-safety regulators. Why now, Mike, is this administration – amid all of the immigration talk, they’re moving on the federal government.
MICHAEL SHEAR: Well, look, I think there’s a lot of suspicion among advocates for these various programs that this is not a sincere effort to try to improve the programs and consolidate waste and fraud and abuse, but rather is a – is kind of undergirded by the president’s antipathy towards and conservative Republicans’ antipathy towards the big, sprawling bureaucracy, and that what’s really intended here is to try to shrink some of these programs and eliminate the ones that they don’t want to – that they don’t think are effective, that they don’t think should be in existence. And I think, you know, nothing that this administration does makes a whole of sense in terms of timing, in terms of, you know, when something would happen makes a lot of sense, so you know, I think this is when the – you know, this particular piece of the project came forward. And the fact that it’s swamped by the immigration debate I don’t think they managed very well.
MR. COSTA: Where does this go on Capitol Hill? There are a lot of conservatives in the Republican Party on Capitol Hill. Is this something that they want to champion ahead of the midterms?
NANCY CORDES: I think it’s amazing how little attention this got on Capitol Hill. I mean, partly there was –
MR. COSTA: That’s why it’s in the webcast. That’s why it’s the webcast. (Laughter.)
MS. CORDES: No, but it really is striking. Normally this is the kind of thing that Democrats would be railing against and conservatives would be cheering. But, first of all, it got overshadowed by the immigration crisis. But also, you know – well, two things. First of all, it requires congressional approval and, you know, Congress is unlikely to take a move like this, especially in an election year. But second, there are real questions about whether this administration really has the staff and the expertise to successfully make huge changes to the federal bureaucracy like this. I mean, they’re saying if you can’t even keep track of children and who they – which parents they belong to, how do we know that you could efficiently merge multiple agencies? So it really just got very little attention.
MR. COSTA: But these agencies, Education and Health, used to be together.
DAN BALZ: Well, there – between 1932 and 1984 there were 100 proposals put forward by presidents to reorganize parts of the federal government. Almost every president at one point in their presidency decides the federal government needs to be reorganized. One of the things in this proposal is to consolidate job-training programs. This has been a proposal that goes back –
MR. SHEAR: Obama did it multiple times, yeah.
MR. BALZ: – many presidencies. It rarely gets done. It’s a very complicated thing to do.
I think on the one hand give them the benefit of the doubt: the federal government is big, sprawling, inefficient, and things get put in places for no particular reason other than that there’s some constituency that puts them there, and it creates inefficiencies that if you’re trying to run these programs you would like to fix them. But the other reality is, as Nancy says, it’s very difficult to get these through Congress. And even if you were able to reorganize in the way they are proposing, it doesn’t necessarily mean the laws will get changed easily because those they would have to change legislatively.
MR. COSTA: I wonder what the Cabinet secretaries think. Who gets to keep the top job? (Laughter.)
YEGANEH TORBATI: Betsy DeVos is in favor of consolidating, you know, Education and Labor. And, you know, the Education Department dates back to Jimmy Carter. It’s not like we have to keep these departments forever just because we had them at one point. In some ways it makes a lot of sense to consolidate Education and Labor together. But I think even people who would support such a move in theory are suspicious of the Trump administration’s motives and also ability to actually carry it out. And of course, I mean, they’re against waste and abuse and fraud and bloat in some parts of the government, but then when it comes to the part that I cover – DHS, or immigration enforcement and Border Patrol – they’re very much in favor of expanding those capacities.
MR. COSTA: Another thing that I noticed was Mick Mulvaney, the head of the OMB and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, out in front, always mentioned as a possible chief of staff if General Kelly should step down from his post – Mulvaney everywhere in this administration. (Laughter.)
MR. SHEAR: Yeah, I mean, you know, once you have at least two jobs, I mean, the sky’s the limit, it seems like. (Laughter.) But, look, part of that is that President Trump is – you know, he likes loyalty, but he also in particular likes people who are pushing forward his particular agenda, right? This is why Scott Pruitt is still in his job at EPA, because it’s – you know, amid all the scandals involving him, he’s pushing forward President Trump’s deregulatory agenda. And Mulvaney has been particularly effective in – you know, in doing what President Trump wants to do.
MR. BALZ: the seeds of this were actually in the first Mulvaney budget a year ago.
MR. SHEAR: Right. That’s right.
MR. BALZ: An idea to shrink the federal government dramatically –
MR. SHEAR: Which was dismissed –
MR. BALZ: Which was dismissed.
MR. SHEAR: – because the president’s first budget proposal is always dismissed as sort of dead on arrival. But that’s right. It was there.
MR. BALZ: Right. It was a signal of where he thought they ought to try to go.
MR. COSTA: And finally, the passing of an editorial icon of the right. Charles Krauthammer was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and pundit who helped shape Republican ideology and, at times, broke with it. He is credited with defining the Reagan doctrine, to explain President Reagan’s foreign policy, and he was an advocate for the Iraq War. He was also a critic of both President Barack Obama and President Trump. A diving accident while attending Harvard Medical School left him paralyzed from the waist down. Despite his disability, he graduated and went on to become a leading political commentator. He died Thursday from cancer. He was 68 years old.
We’ve seen from Republicans on Capitol Hill this outpouring for Krauthammer. To me, what was notable about what I heard from those on Capitol Hill, there are still traditional Republicans, traditional conservatives who do crave that ideology, that kind of conservatism, even in the era of President Trump.
MS. CORDES: And the civility. I think that’s something that you heard from both Democrats and Republicans this week, is that, you know, they miss the kind of civility that both sides employed to debate, to agree, to disagree. And to a lot of them, Charles Krauthammer really exemplified that. I thought it was really touching, and a greater reminder, what he said in his last column, when he said that he doesn’t have any regrets and he lived the life he wanted to live. And I think it’s a great reminder to all of us to think about what kind of life – you know, it can be really difficult, you know, just day to day keeping track of everything that’s going on and everything that you need to do. But, you know, important to think about the big picture and what kind of life you want to lead.
MR. BALZ: He had a very clear conservative views, although, ironically, he wrote speeches for Walter Mondale many years ago. But in having those conservative views, he brought subtlety and nuance to it. He had an independence of mind in the way he approached those. So whether you agreed or disagreed with the basic overarching point, there were things in the way he made arguments that made him quite readable. And I know he – you know, he was a columnist on our op-ed page. And almost every Friday, when his column posted on our website, it became the number-one read piece on the website.
MR. SHEAR: And I think that both the column and the tone and the voice in the column, and his sort of mannerism, you know, on shows like this or, you know, television shows and the like, where people got to know him that way, people crave that kind of civility, that kind of gentlemanly – I mean, you know, his points were tough. His points were – I mean, he didn’t mince words when he was going after, you know, an ideology or a politician that he disagreed with. But in this era in particular, when we have become, you know, over the last two, two and half years, used to the kind of language from the Oval Office and from a lot of other parts of the – you know, of the political process, it’s in some ways reassuring that people are kind of looking to somebody like that and saying, gee, we need more of that.
MR. COSTA: And he was a – it’s a human story. I used to see him at different things in Washington. And for someone who was disabled, he was a fighter. Always showed up. Tough man. And we will miss Charles Krauthammer.
That’s it for this edition of the Washington Week Extra. While you’re online, take the Washington Week-ly Quiz, where we test your knowledge of national news, sports, and even a little entertainment. I’m Robert Costa. See you next time.