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Trump’s Absurdly Obsequious Cabinet Meeting

Trump Cabinet

Yesterday, President Trump held the first full meeting of his Cabinet, and it included perhaps the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in American politics:

At Monday’s Cabinet meeting — the first President Trump had held with everyone on board — White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus spoke up to thank Trump “for the opportunity and blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”

Priebus said he was offering words on behalf of everyone in the room. But one by one, pretty much everyone else seated around the table took the opportunity to lavish their leader with praise, too, as the media looked on.

“It’s an honor to be able to serve you,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“I am privileged to be here,” said Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta. “Deeply honored.”

“What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership,” Tom Price, secretary of that department, added when it was his turn to speak. “I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership that you’ve shown.”

When other Cabinet members got the opportunity, they offered more specific adulation. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, thanked the president for his “direction in pulling that budget together.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao thanked Trump for visiting her department last week, relaying that “hundreds and hundreds of people were just so thrilled.”

And Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, after noting that some of his colleagues had touted their international travels for Trump, served up this: “A lot of us just got back from Mississippi. They love you there.”

The over-the-top praise of the president by his Cabinet came as the biggest items on his legislative agenda have made little progress, his administration continues to be dogged by investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia, and his disapproval rating in the latest Gallup tracking poll rose to 59 percent.

The effort to buck up the boss drew immediate notice on social media, with some comparing Trump to King Lear. In the opening of the Shakespeare play, the aging king of Britain, having decided to step down from the throne, asks his three daughters to tell him how much they love him.

Here’s some video of the proceeding:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had some fun with the event:

It also brought to mind this scene from the original version of The Manchurian Candidate:

The only Cabinet member who didn’t join in the Trump hagiography was Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who chose instead to say that it was an honor him to represent and lead the men and women in uniform who defend the country. Everyone else, from Secretary of State Tillerson and Reince Priebus to the lowest-ranking Cabinet member responded to their own version of obsequiousness toward Trump that is really just nauseating. These aren’t doe-eyed young staffers we’re dealing with here, but experienced men and women who have long careers in business and politics that pre-date their service in Trump’s Cabinet. The fact that they are willing to bow down to a President like this is embarrassing and silly. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the price for the supposed privilege of serving The Donald.

Interestingly, this happened at the same time that Politico is reporting that Trump has given Reince Priebus until July 4th to “clean up” a White House that is becoming increasingly dysfunctional:

President Donald Trump has set a deadline of July 4 for a shakeup of the White House that could include removing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, according to two administration officials and three outside advisers familiar with the matter.

Although Trump has set deadlines for staff changes before, only to let them pass without pulling the trigger, the president is under more scrutiny than ever regarding the sprawling Russia investigation, which is intensifying the pressure on his White House team.

President Donald Trump has set a deadline of July 4 for a shakeup of the White House that could include removing Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, according to two administration officials and three outside advisers familiar with the matter.

Although Trump has set deadlines for staff changes before, only to let them pass without pulling the trigger, the president is under more scrutiny than ever regarding the sprawling Russia investigation, which is intensifying the pressure on his White House team.

Days after his return from his first foreign trip late last month, Trump berated Priebus in the Oval Office in front of his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and deputy campaign manager David Bossie for the dysfunction in the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversation.

Trump had been mulling bringing on Bossie as his deputy White House chief of staff and Lewandowski as a White House senior adviser with a portfolio that includes Russia, but he told the two at that meeting that they would not be joining the White House until Priebus had a fair chance to clean up shop, according to the sources.

“I’m giving you until July 4,” Trump said, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.

“I don’t want them to come into this mess. If I’m going to clean house, they will come in as fresh blood.”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, in a statement on Sunday, disputed the idea that Priebus is facing a July 4 deadline. “Whoever is saying that is either a liar or out of the loop,” Spicer said.

The Independence Day deadline is timed with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s deadline for passage of the health care bill through the chamber, which is also the start of the July 4th recess. Priebus took the brunt of the blame for the first failure to get a vote on the bill through the House, though the White House and Speaker Paul Ryan were ultimately able to secure its passage on a second try.

Talk of Trump’s July 4 deadline has made the rounds in the White House, but insiders and those close to the president are not holding their breath, given the perpetual talk that Priebus and other senior staffers are on the way out.

Trump’s first deadline for the firing of Priebus — and many staffers he brought on from the Republican National Committee — was the 100-day mark.

The president then considered the idea of a Memorial Day shakeup when he returned from the foreign trip.

“It’s become comical that every holiday becomes a referendum on Reince,” said one adviser to the president.

Sensing his impending doom even before he was criticized for fallout related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, Priebus had joked, “I’ve got one foot on a banana peel and another out the door,” according to a person with knowledge of the conversation.

Deadlines haven’t been Trump’s only tactic for warning Priebus about his possible dismissal from the top of the administration.

Trump has openly floated the idea of other potential chiefs of staff, including former campaign aide David Urban and Wayne Berman, an executive at private equity giant Blackstone and adviser to Blackstone CEO Steve Schwarzman. Shortly after national security adviser Michael Flynn was fired in February, Trump invited New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the White House to help brainstorm about a new chief of staff, according to a White House official and outside adviser with knowledge of the situation.

But those who have known Trump for years, such as his former campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, say the “You’re fired” persona associated with his “Apprentice” fame doesn’t match up with the man away from the cameras.

“I don’t think he likes to gratuitously fire people,” said Nunberg, who was himself fired by Trump. “He wants to give people chances.”

(…)

a former campaign official said Priebus has been more effective in recent weeks in bringing order to the White House, despite the chaos outside, including Comey’s dramatic testimony before the Senate last week and Trump’s subsequent accusations against him.

“For the first time in the White House, there’s true structure and discipline and order instilled, despite other distractions that might be out there,” the former official said.

“They are getting down to the work of governing and moving the ball forward.”

The biggest problem that Priebus faces, of course, is Trump himself. More than once, the White House has started out the week attempting to focus its messaging on a given policy topic only to see it derailed by events completely out of the control of Priebus or any of his staffers. Most of them time, this happens thanks to something that the President himself has tweeted or the fallout from one of those tweets. Last week, for example, was supposed to be about the Administration’s infrastructure plan, which still hasn’t been introduced or put in any form that can be presented to Congress. Instead of focusing on infrastructure, though, the White House found itself having to respond to questions about things the President said either on Twitter or in off-hand remarks to the press as well as the testimony of former F.B.I. Director last Thursday. This was only the latest example of a White House staff that has been taken off track from doing its job thanks to things the President has said or done, something that has been a common theme during the 144 days that he has been in office. The difficulty of moving anything forward under those conditions should be obvious, and no change in personnel in charge at the White House or changes to the communications team is going to be able to do any better absent a change in behavior by the man at the top. Since that seems unlikely, I wouldn’t expect any change in personnel to lead to better results for an Administration that appears to be doing worse in its opening months than any in recent memory. Although you wouldn’t know that from the effusive praise we heard yesterday.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Cory says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen “obsequious” used in a headline. Well done, sir.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  2. Moosebreath says:

    It sounded better in the original (North) Korean.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  3. CSK says:

    Well, that would gag a skunk.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  4. CSK says:

    I mentioned this on another thread, but Dana Shell Smith, U.S. ambassador to Qatar, has quit. Can you blame her? She got sick of being sabotaged by her boss.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  5. KM says:

    The leader is good, the leader is great!
    We surrender our will as of this date!

    Or for the average Trumpkin – “Na na na na na, Leader, leader. Batman, I mean Trump!”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  6. Mr Bluster says:

    I didn’t get a harrumph out of that guy!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  7. Jen says:

    Trump has hit a new high today–60% disapproval in Gallup’s daily tracking poll.

    I really don’t understand why Priebus–or anyone in that office–is trying so hard to cling to their jobs; what a nightmarish work environment. (Priebus had one of the longer and more…effusive…statements yesterday.) That cabinet meeting was horrifying, and absolutely felt like we were watching some cable footage of an authoritarian regime somewhere else on the planet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1

  8. Not the IT Dept. says:

    What kind of gaping void would you have to have inside you to sit there and listen to this kind of crap? He’s nuts. Completely fruitcake.

    What kind of adult would sit there and dish out this kind of crap? Only someone who’s handed his/her family over to Trump as hostages. Otherwise I can’t understand it. They don’t need anything from this jerk in their professional or personal lives – why are they sitting there doing this??? I’m telling you, hostages is the only possible answer.

    This is not a phrase I use very much because I think it’s been greatly abused in the past, but this is truly un-American.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  9. michael reynolds says:

    In an obscure way this is all gratifying to me. In my work I’m known for taking a dark view of human nature. Had a review the other day by an adult reader who said she couldn’t finish one of my books because she didn’t want to believe kids could behave that way – but she suspected I had it right and the result was just too depressing.

    Americans just love to imagine themselves as strong, silent types who’ll do the right thing. In reality at least 90% of humans are abject cowards, followers not leaders, cattle in the collective herd not individuals.

    I am disappointed by Republican cowardice but not at all surprised. People are weak and stupid, and the only thing that has saved this republic has been the elitist institutions so hated by the mob. We live in an age of posturing and signaling and impotence; an age of deliberately curated ignorance, stupidity as a lifestyle choice.

    And mea culpa: long before it became acceptable to be an atheist I was brutal in my condemnation of organized religion. Now I’m coming to believe that a certain percentage of humans are simply incapable of operating in the world unless they think some sky fairy will reward and/or punish them.

    On the plus side, as a retreating tide makes slimy rocks appear prominent, the general degradation of the American people makes me feel better about myself. In full awareness of my many, many sins (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) I can say with some pride that I am the moral and ethical superior to every person on Trump’s cabinet.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 35 Thumb down 4

  10. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Of all the things in this crazy administration, this is one of the absolute weirdest. The man (and I use the term loosely) is pathologically insecure. And talk about a textbook case of being surrounded by yes men. I wouldn’t hire anyone in that room for any job at all in the future (well, maybe Mattis or Pompeo)–what utterly craven cowardly brown-nosers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  11. Pete S says:

    I was thinking this would be a great way to run my next Department meeting, assuming I want all of my employees to walk out thinking I am a bigger idiot than they did when they walked in.

    I said back during the debates that what Trump needs is for someone to have the courage to publicly just look at him, then say “What is wrong with you”? Obviously nobody in this group has that kind of character or integrity, if they did they would not have been invited to the meeting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  12. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Colbert dealt with this last night: (starts at 2:25)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_qOnuaLsYQ

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. CSK says:

    @Mr Bluster:

    Oh, that’s perfect. There’s a line in Blazing Saddles for every occasion, isn’t there?

    And of course, “We’ve gotta protect out phony baloney jobs” works beautifully for the grovelers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  14. Mr Bluster says:

    “Mr. President, it’s an honor to represent the men and women of the Department of Defense, and we are grateful for the sacrifices our people are making in order to strengthen our military so our diplomats always negotiate from a position of strength,” Mr. Mattis said as Mr. Trump sat, stern-faced.

    This is not the way to curry favor with Republican President Pud. I wonder how long he will keep his job?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. Joe says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Another sunshine and unicorns speech from Mr. Reynolds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 14

  16. Modulo Myself says:

    There’s such a degree of East German/Soviet style delusion in Trump’s world. Everybody knows he’s a weak moron, but somehow they praise him and defend him. It’s like when Khrushchev told the Congress in 1956 about Stalin’s crimes. Everybody knew about them, but still the shock was enough to give people nervous breakdowns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. drj says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I can say with some pride that I am the moral and ethical superior to every person on Trump’s cabinet.

    It’s not a particularly high bar to clear, though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  18. the Q says:

    Pete S., Trump will have is Roy Cohn/Joe McCarthy “have you no decency you prick” moment.

    Remember, Cohn was the young Trump’s mentor and attorney back in the 70s and 80s and Trump has adopted that POS’s angry, take no prisoners and always punch back attitude.

    You can see it in everything Trump does. If someone insults/doubts/criticizes him, he immediately goes on the warpath. Just look at his reaction to Comey – “liar” “leaker” “weak” “nutcase” etc.

    Very soon the public will tire of the antics as they did with Tail Gunner Joe. And the fall will be spectacular.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. JohnMcC says:

    I’ve discovered that there is some sort of developmental task that comes around as I get older and now that I’m in my 70’s I’ve grown introspective in some ways. Self-reflective. I’ve realized that a tendency to walk out of meetings, give 2 weeks notice at perceived slights and similar sorts of employer-pissing-off behaviors were not the epic events that my pride painted them back in the day.

    But I’ll be damned if I can see myself or any of my paternal lineage sitting in that meeting. There’s some kinds of honor that do not have to depend on brittle juvenal pride and quick anger that would lead any decent person to abandon that room and everyone in it as fast as their feet would carry them.

    That video will forever be hung around the neck of the Republican party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  20. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Joe:
    Joe…I think he was writing specifically about you…

    I am disappointed by Republican cowardice but not at all surprised. People are weak and stupid, and the only thing that has saved this republic has been the elitist institutions so hated by the mob. We live in an age of posturing and signaling and impotence; an age of deliberately curated ignorance, stupidity as a lifestyle choice.

    Nice lifestyle choice…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. charon says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    I’m telling you, hostages is the only possible answer.

    So who has something on them? Russians, I suspect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  22. Facebones says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I can say with some pride that I am the moral and ethical superior to every person on Trump’s cabinet.

    Read more: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/trumps-absurdly-obsequious-cabinet-meeting/#ixzz4juZ3FKIq

    This is like that ad where Chuck E. Cheese brags about how their cardboard pizza beat Pizza Hut in a taste test. Aim for the stars, kid!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  23. Rodney dill says:

    @Mr Bluster: that wins the internet’s for today.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: “In full awareness of my many, many sins (mea culpa, mea maxima culpa) I can say with some pride that I am the moral and ethical superior to every person on Trump’s cabinet.”

    You do realize that’s not a very high bar to clear, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    Rats! An hour too late. Quick thinking drj!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: @drj:

    It’s a very low bar, but I do not have an exaggerated view of my own past behavior. One could search the internet for days and find no cases of me claiming to be a role model.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. J-Dub says:

    Trump has given Reince Priebus until July 4th to “clean up” a White House

    So Priebus has until July 4th to get Trump impeached. Easy enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  28. J-Dub says:

    @michael reynolds: What is your nom de plume? I need to check out some of these books, you know, for the teens in my house.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. michael reynolds says:

    @J-Dub:
    I write as Michael Grant. There’s another Michael Grant, but he’s a dead classicist, and I’m neither.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  30. CSK says:

    Trump has made another appointment: Cindy McCain as “ambassador-at-large for human rights.”

    Apparently he’d been throwing job offers at her for months, and this was the first one she’d consider.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Jen says:

    @CSK: That’s interesting. Considering Newt’s about-face on Mueller, I’m wondering if Trump thinks appointing wives means that their husbands will suddenly do his bidding. I think he might have miscalculated if he thinks McCain will now fawn all over him, but who knows…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    I know; I was thinking the same thing. It’s bizarre…but this is TrumpWorld, right? A place where logic and rationality do not obtain, and never have. We don’t even know if this was Trump’s idea, or whether someone close to him pushed him to do it–although God knows why. I don’t think trump himself has suddenly developed a letch for elderly bottle blondes, given that he’s famous for saying that women should be discarded after age 35.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  33. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Charon: I mean Trump has their wives and kids locked in a dungeon beneath Trump Tower.

    Don’t let the Russia thing run away with you – that concerns Trump alone, his family and a few campaign members – of which both Sessions and Flynn were part of.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  34. Pch101 says:

    Until further notice, Godwin’s Law has been suspended.

    Trump is a bona fide fascist. That isn’t hyperbole — he genuinely wants to be a dictator. And you can bet that the Republicans, hungry for power, will back him until they have no choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  35. charon says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Don’t let the Russia thing run away with you – that concerns Trump alone, his family and a few campaign members – of which both Sessions and Flynn were part of.

    Does it really? The Russians were looking hard to find dirt on a large range of people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  36. Kylopod says:

    @the Q:

    Very soon the public will tire of the antics as they did with Tail Gunner Joe. And the fall will be spectacular.

    Maybe. The trouble is, I’ve seen so many predictions of his impending “spectacular” fall go on to fizzle out, color me a little skeptical that it’s going to happen in the future.

    Part of the problem is your use of that phrase “the public.” There is no singular entity called “the public.” Instead, it’s a bunch of factions, most of which are not going to change no matter what happens. First there are the hardcore Trumpies, probably comprising about 30% of the populace. Literally nothing will turn them against their dear leader. Then there are partisan Republican voters for whom Trump may not be their ideal Republican president but they feel compelled to support him simply because, for the time being, he’s the only Republican president they’ve got. Then there’s the majority of Americans who didn’t vote for Trump in the first place. They never liked him, but that fact wasn’t sufficient to stop him from rising to power.

    Finally, there are those swing voters who said “what the hell” and cast their vote for Trump last November. These voters (including the supposed Obama-to-Trump voters) have received a lot of media attention, but they are substantially fewer than any of the previously mentioned groups–probably no more than 2% of the electorate. In a close election even a group that small can matter. But it’s easy to get fooled into thinking there are a lot more of them than there actually are.

    This last group is potentially persuadable, but they’re vastly outnumbered by Americans whose opinions are set in stone. Trump was the most unpopular presidential nominee in history, and he managed to win the election anyway, largely because there are a lot of voters who supported him knowing full well how awful he was. And the vast majority of them would support him again in a heartbeat. Elected Republicans have no incentive to abandon him at this point–if they did, they’d have done so a long time ago.

    Maybe the Trump bubble will eventually burst (I’m sure there’s plenty more that will come out, of course), but by all rational accounts that should have happened already, and the fact that it didn’t should make us all extra-cautious about assuming it will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  37. Mr Bluster says:

    that wins the internet’s for today.

    I cannot take any credit for the work of these Einsteins of comedy.

    Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg RIP, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor RIP & Alan Uger.
    (Brooks will bump over 91 in two weeks.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. mike shupp says:

    Just to be … difficult … I don’t think the Democrats ought to make a big thing out of Trump antics such as this, or belabor Republicans with betraying their supporters with a badly designed health insurance bill, etc.

    In my dream world, come election time Democrats would air 4 or 5 or 6 minutes of those Cabinet officers expressing their happiness and simply close with an announcer soberly stating “We completely agree. This is the best any Republican president can be. Vote for Democrat Joe Blow this November.” Similarly, we might imagine an announcer reading the bullet points for a CBO analysis of the Republican’s health care proposals, so many dollars cut from millionaires’ taxes, so many millions of people dropped from Medicaid, elderly people facing ten thousand dollar premium increases, etc., concluding with something like “It’s HARD to create a perfect health care bill. Democrats join all Americans in saluting these fine Republican additions to our national medical programs. For different ideas, vote for Democrat Hoe Blow this November.”

    And so on. Let the guys commenting at HotAir and City Journal and The Federalist choke to death while they scream about how vilely the Democrats are treating The World’s Most Deeply Loved President EVAH! and don’t dare repeat a bit of those vile things in their podcasts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. wr says:

    @Mr Bluster: “Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg RIP, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor RIP & Alan Uger.”

    With all due respect, I currently work for Norman Steinberg, and as of yesterday — the last time I checked — he was pretty darned alive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  40. MBunge says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize says “Hi!”

    Hillary Clinton’s “I’m With Her” campaign slogan also says “Hi!”

    And I wonder how much the person who just shot a GOP Congressman and others shares Michael Reynolds’ view of the world?

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 11

  41. Mr Bluster says:

    @wr:..Please forward my apologies to Mr. Steinberg. Clearly I can not read. GB

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0