Moore is just the latest casualty of Trump’s nomination process – POLITICO
Hours after withdrawing as a candidate to serve on the Federal Reserve Board, Stephen Moore expressed shock that his critics had pored over his divorce records and decades-old columns.
“If I had any sense that this would happen — people would be looking at my writings from 20, 25 years ago — I would have told the president, ‘Wait a minute, I can’t do a Senate confirmation,’” Moore told Fox Business Network on Thursday.
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But the White House probably should have seen it coming.
Past administrations have historically spent weeks or even months trying to identify potentially damaging information about candidates for administration jobs — long before their nominations are announced. Yet Trump’s White House again appeared to neglect the basic vetting that has for decades been the cornerstone of the nomination process.
“What went wrong here was the vetting process,” Moore acknowledged during Thursday’s interview.
Indeed, many in the administration were unaware of some of Moore’s past writings, according to a person familiar with the matter.
And Trump’s team appeared to be slow to react to Moore’s mounting problems. The White House, which did not respond to a request for comment on this article, announced this week that it was reviewing Moore’s writings, long after Moore had started facing heavy criticism for his outlandish past statements about women. And as of Thursday morning, Moore was telling journalists that the White House still backed his nomination.
“It’s just sloppy,” said one veteran lawyer who helps guide clients through the confirmation process.
The Trump administration’s long-standing vetting problems have contributed to a surge in doomed nominees.
In total, Trump has withdrawn 62 nominees since taking office, according to data provided to POLITICO by the Partnership for Public Service, a nonprofit that tracks federal vacancies. At this point in his presidency, Barack Obama had withdrawn 30 nominees. The figures include only people who were formally nominated, so Moore and others who took themselves out of consideration before their official paperwork was sent to the Senate aren’t counted.
The Trump administration has struggled for years to adequately vet nominees, dating back to the presidential transition, when Trump filled his Cabinet with friends and associates with little regard for the rigor of the traditional government hiring process, according to transition officials.
Less than one month after Trump took office, his first nominee for labor secretary, Andy Puzder, pulled out after facing a series of damaging revelations, including that he hired an undocumented household staffer and was once accused of abuse by his ex-wife. Later, his nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronny Jackson, withdrew amid questions about Jackson’s behavior as a physician at the White House.
In the past three months alone, two high-profile candidates for top administration jobs have pulled themselves out of consideration, in addition to Moore. Trump announced last month that he would not nominate Herman Cain, a former pizza executive, to the Fed amid opposition from some Senate Republicans. And in February, Heather Nauert removed herself from consideration to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations after learning that she had employed a nanny without the correct work authorization.
Current and former administration officials insist that they’ve made strides in professionalizing the White House’s internal vetting operation. But they say the president himself sometimes undermines that process by making major staffing decisions on his own, with little consultation and with little notice.
“He’s impatient and impulsive,” a former senior White House official said. “When he makes a decision, he wants to move forward. There aren’t any people around him urging caution.”
More than two years into his presidency, Trump is surrounded by fewer senior White House aides who are willing to discourage his inclinations. These days, the White House is permeated by a “let Trump be Trump” mindset, an approach spearheaded by acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.
“It’s been a steady march toward an unrestrained president,” the former official said. “We’ve now reached the complete extreme of the spectrum in which the president is deciding something in private based on the recommendations of one or two people.”
Bradley Moss, a lawyer who has represented clients seeking employment in the federal government, said the chronic problems getting high-profile nominees confirmed are “the result of nothing less than the president’s own personal disdain for vetting and his personal preference for gut intuition.”
The news of Cain and Moore’s pending nominations to the Fed caught many Senate Republicans by surprise. Trump announced his plans to tap Cain during a question-and-answer session with reporters following an event in the Oval Office, and he revealed Moore’s candidacy in response to a shouted question on the tarmac at Palm Beach International Airport. The unexpected announcements left White House officials with no time to brief lawmakers and get their feedback.
White House officials have instead often assumed that Trump’s nominees will easily win the necessary support from Senate Republicans, especially since they require only a simple majority vote in the chamber. But Senate Republicans have shown in recent weeks that they’re unwilling to simply green-light all of Trump’s nominees.
In the meantime, the president is increasingly relying on acting officials to fill senior roles across the government. Trump has said in private and in public that he likes acting officials because they give him more flexibility and they don’t need to go through the Senate confirmation process. Both the Homeland Security and Defense secretaries — two crucial positions tasked with protecting the country — are serving in an acting capacity.
Watchdog groups also remain alarmed by the sheer number of positions for which Trump has neglected to nominate anybody. At the State Department, more than 30 senior positions are vacant. There are more than a dozen senior-level vacancies at the Justice and Defense departments.
“Our government is still not fully and effectively staffed at the most senior levels,” said Max Stier, who leads the Partnership for Public Service, which advised the Trump transition team as it started staffing up the government.
Lawyers who represent potential nominees say the number of well-qualified individuals interested in joining the administration has slowed. And for those who are interested, the vetting process can sometimes be confusing and unorganized, the lawyers said.
“We had a client who thought he was all set and then at the last minute, they said, ‘No, we’re going to hold things up,’” one of the lawyers said. “We had no idea even who to call to find out what the holdup was.”
But people close to the White House said the president is facing bigger problems than sloppy vetting, adding that many in the West Wing are unbothered by the recent string of withdrawals.
“Compared to all of the stuff Trump is dealing with, this stuff barely registers,” a former administration official said. “Is anybody going to remember Steve Moore in three months?”
Burgess Everett contributed to this story.