Large Turnover in Trump Cabinet Likely After Mid-Terms

What’s Happening

As many as a half-dozen members of President Trump's Cabinet are expected to resign following the Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections.

Why It’s Important

During less than two years in office, Trump has already seen eight Cabinet officers leave. If any more of them depart, it could become the largest such exodus in decades, Politico pointed out.

Current and former administration officials, as well as other Republicans with ties to the White House, told the news site that Nikki Haley's recent decision to step down as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations will prove to be just one of numerous resignations.

Who Might Be Next

Others who are said to be considering new job options are Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

While some turnover is common at the midway point of a four-year presidential term, Trump's team is particularly vulnerable due to clashes with the White House and alleged ethics violations.

  1. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been assumed to be the next official to be let go from his post. Trump has repeatedly criticized the former Alabama senator for recusing himself from the Justice Department's investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin's operatives where Sessions, who was a campaign official, allegedly misled Congress about his Russian contacts.

  2. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Ever since Trump called Mattis a “Democrat” in September, there have been rumors that Mattis’ job is in danger. The President was reacting to critical comments Mattis made in Bob Woodward's unflattering book about the Trump White House. Woodward wrote that, following a meeting regarding North Korea, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — 'a fifth- or sixth-grader.'” The former Marine Corps commander denied the quote, calling it “fiction.”

  3. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke's future at the Interior Department is also uncertain because he allowed his wife and others to travel with him on government planes and aboard ships at taxpayers' expense. Security expenditures and other costs for a vacation trip to Turkey and Greece with his wife last year reportedly totalled more than $40,000.

  4. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the multi-millionaire investor Trump picked to head the Commerce Department, is accused of having stolen more than $120 million from business associates during his career. Forbes magazine wrote that Ross “could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.” One of his former partners called him a “pathological liar.” Trump recently hinted at being unhappy with the commerce secretary's performance, remarking at an Oval Office meeting that Ross is “past his prime.”

  5. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The President has blasted Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, for failing to adequately carry out his orders to stop illegal immigration. The so-called “caravan” of refugees headed north through Mexico may be exacerbating Trump's dissatisfaction with Nielsen.

Other Notable Examples of Departures from the Cabinet

Trump fired former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly once called the president a “moron” and was often at odds with White House advisers. The administration's first Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, was forced to resign following revelations that he exploited his office for personal gain.

Other Cabinet members who have left the administration include former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Health and Human, Veterans Affairs chief David Shulkin and Services Department Secretary Tom Price who was under fire for using government airplanes for personal travel.

Trump has had three national security advisers. Michael Flynn lost the position after lying about his Russian connections. His successor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, resigned earlier this year. The current adviser is John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush.

Going Forward

Political considerations will play a large role in determining who succeeds any Cabinet members who leave. “The president is looking to get better performers,” one of Politico's sources said. “All of these decisions are being made in the context of the re-election campaign. Trump wants the strongest possible A-team going into 2020.”

Trump has already had more turnover in his Cabinet than Bill Clinton, George W. Bush or Barack Obama experienced during their entire presidencies, according to the Brookings Institution.

If Democrats seize control of Congress in the Nov. 6 mid-term elections, they are likely to be highly skeptical of anyone Trump nominates for the Cabinet.

“Getting people vetted and confirmed is no easy thing, even if the Republicans keep their majority in the Senate,” said Chris Lu, a White House Cabinet secretary under Obama. “It could be well into 2019 before the president has a full Cabinet that is up to speed and carrying out his agenda.”

In selecting new officials, the administration hopes to avoid any further scandals such as those faced by current Cabinet members. 

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