Within limits, personnel churn in an administration has advantages. Removing poor performers or folks who resist the president’s agenda seems like a no-brainer. And when an outsider assumes the presidency with a shallow bench of supporters, we shouldn’t be surprised to see turnover early on.
Churn doesn’t necessarily entail chaos, but it fosters uncertainty and intrigue. Accordingly to this story in the Washington Post by four — count them, four — reporters, Scott Pruitt, the head of EPA, has been lobbying the White House for Jeff Sessions’ job at the Department of Justice:
Pruitt has made no secret inside the West Wing of his ambition to become attorney general should Trump decide to fire Jeff Sessions, who he frequently derides for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
White House officials have grown agitated that Pruitt and his allies are privately pushing for the EPA chief to replace Sessions, a job Pruitt has told people he wants. On Wednesday night, [White House chief of staff] Kelly called Pruitt and told him the president was happy with his performance at EPA and that he did not need to worry about the Justice Department, according to two people familiar with the conversation.
Normally, that might put the matter to rest, at least for a while. But who knows whether Kelly, aka the adult in the room, will still be in the room next month? According to the Post’s foursome:
Kelly’s own ouster has been widely speculated about for weeks. But two top officials said Trump on Thursday morning expressed disbelief to Vice President Pence, senior advisers and Kelly himself that Kelly’s name was surfacing on media watch lists because his job is secure. Trump and Kelly then laughed about it, the officials said.
But others in the West Wing say Kelly’s departure could be imminent, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has been mentioned as a possible new chief of staff.
Scott Pruitt is doing a fine job at EPA. If he left for another post, it would leave a hole at that vital agency.
Nor is it likely that Pruitt could hit the ground running at the Justice Department, where Jeff Sessions is steaming ahead on enforcing the law, especially immigration law, and undoing key components of the prior administration’s left-wing handiwork. Moreover, Pruitt would face a tough confirmation battle, as would his designated successor at EPA, assuming he or she views the job the way Pruitt does.
When a cabinet secretary pulls in a different direction than the president, as Rex Tillerson seemed to do, clearly he needs to be replaced. But Sessions and Pruitt are pulling in the same direction as the president on policy matters, and doing so effectively.
Sure, Trump is upset over Sessions’ decision, for valid ethical reasons, to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. But replacing Sessions won’t undo that decision. A new Attorney General cannot be confirmed unless the Senate is convinced he won’t interfere with the Mueller investigation.
Indeed, it’s doubtful that a new Attorney General would be confirmed in time to interfere, in any case. Thus, the consequence of firing Sessions would be to put Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Mueller, in charge of the DOJ.
This is not a case in which churn would be advantageous.