Acosta’s Resignation Comes Amid White House Vacancies
“It’s not as if there’s no one there,” Stier added, “but you have folks serving in acting roles across these critical functions who are restricted in their ability to function as well as they were meant to.”
Replacing Acosta, for now, is Patrick Pizzella, the deputy secretary who was tapped for the top job yesterday on an acting basis. As Stier mentioned, other Cabinet members working in a similar acting capacity include Defense Secretary Mark Esper (at a time when tensions are escalating with Iran), and the Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan (amid reports that migrants, including many children, are being detained in squalid conditions at the southern border). Inside the White House, Mick Mulvaney remains the acting chief of staff seven months after he was named to the position. He also never relinquished his title as director of the Office of Management and Budget, which he has nominally led since 2017. Russell Vought is heading that shop on an acting basis, at a moment when the government is close to running out of money.
A recurrent management problem in the administration is Trump’s inability to find qualified people for top jobs and to stick with them once they’re installed. His habit is to restlessly sample people of varied backgrounds. Since taking office, he has surrounded himself with military generals and civilians, campaign loyalists and political foes, conservative ideologues and apolitical technocrats, Fox News celebrities and complete unknowns. Many have washed out, and the only ones he seems to fundamentally trust are family members, even as he’s mused about sending his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and daughter Ivanka Trump back home to New York. Stier’s group found that just 57 percent of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed by the Senate. At a comparable period in Barack Obama’s presidency, the figure was 75 percent. Trump has withdrawn more than twice as many nominees as Obama had at this point in their respective presidencies.
That’s translated to a parade of people coming and going. Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has studied “serial” turnover in Trump White House jobs, what she casts as a “common phenomenon.” When Stephanie Grisham replaced Sarah Sanders as Trump’s press secretary last month, she also took on the role of communications director—the fifth person to hold that job. (Anyone in a job that involves getting Trump good press is in a precarious spot, his concern about media coverage being bottomless.) Apart from the volatility atop the NSC, five different people have served as deputy national security adviser, Tenpas noted—a position crucial to coordinating foreign-policy decisions across the government.
Acosta had hoped to hang on, counting on Trump’s loyalty. Trump praised his performance yesterday as the two spoke with the press outside the White House. “He’s Hispanic, which I so admire,” Trump said, “because maybe it was a little tougher for him, and maybe not.” But Acosta had other run-ins with the White House. Some officials had attended meetings with his deputies over the past year and complained that he wasn’t moving quickly enough to carry out Trump’s deregulatory agenda within the Labor Department, former administration officials told me. Asked for comment, Mulvaney said in a prepared statement: “I push all of the Cabinet secretaries on the deregulatory agenda, as it is a top priority of the president. That in no way should be interpreted as displeasure with any Cabinet member, including Secretary Acosta.”