Only the Best People, Part ???

Who can keep count?

“President Trump Signs the Congressional Funding Bill for Coronavirus Response” by The White House is in the Public Domain, CC0

As we continue to struggle through the Covid-19 crisis, the importance of competence in government is continually on display. Or, more accurately, the lack of competence at the federal level has been on display. James Joyner has already noted this morning that loyalty to the president is apparently more important than scientific facts, noting in a headline to his post that Candor on COVID a Firing Offense.

As we try to sort through what the scientists think and what Trumps wants them to think, we find out via Reuters that Former Labradoodle breeder was tapped to lead U.S. pandemic task force.

at the dawn of the coronavirus crisis, Azar appointed his most trusted aide and chief of staff, Harrison, as HHS’s main coordinator for the government’s response to the virus.

Harrison, 37, was an unusual choice, with no formal education in public health, management, or medicine and with only limited experience in the fields. In 2006, he joined HHS in a one-year stint as a “Confidential Assistant” to Azar, who was then deputy secretary. He also had posts working for Vice President Dick Cheney, the Department of Defense and a Washington public relations company.

Before joining the Trump Administration in January 2018, Harrison’s official HHS biography says, he “ran a small business in Texas.” The biography does not disclose the name or nature of that business, but his personal financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 until 2018 he ran a company called Dallas Labradoodles.

Well, then.

And the Reuters reports also highlights Secretary Azar’s rosy public pronouncements to Congress and the public which did not ultimately match reality:

By the end of February, Azar sought more money to attack the crisis as he testified before Congress. “This is an unprecedented potentially severe health challenge globally, and will require additional measures,” he said.

Still, he assured senators his agency was in control. “We have enacted the most aggressive containment measures in the history of our country,” he said.

He again provided words of calm, appearing on Fox News. “But thanks to President Trump’s historically aggressive containment efforts, we’ve actually contained the spread of this virus here in the United States at this point,” he said February 25. “I think part of the message to the American people is we all need to take a bit of deep breath here.”

“The government is working on this. You’ve got the right people on this.”

I have been joking for some time that all political science dissertations by the year 2025 will be on either the Trump administration or Brexit. Surely a huge percentage will now be about comparative governance in response to this pandemic with a lot of focus on the dysfunction of the Trump administration specifically.

A side note: in looking up some info on Azar, I noted that there have been two HHS Secretaries (the first, Tom Price, left due to scandal) and two interims during the Trump administration. This is to contrast with the previous three two-terms presidents who had, respectively, one (Clinton), two (Bush), and two (Obama). (For that matter, Reagan had three over two terms and Bush-41 had one).

The general lack of stability and competence in this administration matters and the current poor response to this health crisis underscores that fact perhaps more than any other event during this administration. We have been exceedingly lucky that this is the first real crisis that the administration has faced, as it is not equipped to deal with much aside from daily press “briefings.”

FILED UNDER: COVID-19, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Well, clearly Trump wanted someone having experience with “labs.”

    37
  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We have been exceedingly lucky that this is the first real crisis that the administration has faced, as it is not equipped to deal with much aside from daily press “briefings.”

    Excuse me if I’m not feeling very lucky just now. 🙁

    7
  3. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: My god man, that was breathtakingly bad! I only wish I had thought of it…

    4
  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s not even that Trump won’t hire capable people, competent, rational people won’t work for a ranting toddler. Watching poor Dr. Fauci wince and cringe his way through Trump’s daily display of mendacity and stupidity is a massive, blinking neon sign screaming, ‘run, run, ruuuun!’

    Early days we saw professionals who were too clueless to realize what they were getting into, but after a few Mattises even the dummies could see they were being invited to climb right into a Trumpster fire. Only the desperately needy, the utterly servile or the corrupt will work for Trump. You know, like Bill Barr.

    17
  5. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    That’s why they pay me the big bucks.

    3
  6. gVOR08 says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Despite a hopelessly inept response to the pandemic, there’s still a chance Trump will get re-elected. If this does get rid of him, yes, I’ll count us lucky. It took near destruction and occupation of their countries to get rid of Mussolini and Hitler. I don’t follow Latin American politics, Dr. T. Are there examples, there or elsewhere, of countries stepping back from autarchy without war or crisis?

    9
  7. wr says:

    You’re doing a heck of a job, Poochie!

    4
  8. Stormy Dragon says:

    @gVOR08:

    As I’ve said before, we’re currently in the crisis phase of the Strauss-Howe generational cycle. The social contract formed at the beginning of the current cycle (right after WW2) has failed, social institutions are weak, and we’ve become unable of working together as a society. What’s going on now is a battle between different groups over what the replacement social contract should be, and this will continue until one group has enough social power to unite society behind a new social contract, beginning the next cycle.

    6
  9. DrDaveT says:

    As we continue to struggle through the Covid-19 crisis, the importance of competence in government is continually on display. Or, more accurately, the lack of competence at the federal level has been on display.

    Even before Trump, competence in government was anathema to the Republican agenda. If government can be competent, people might want more of it. Competent government puts dry rot into every GOP plank. Competent government regulates business, which is bad for bidness. Competent government actually collects the taxes you owe, and slows the inexorable siphoning of wealth from the masses to the moguls.

    Republican administrations (with occasional Democratic collusion) have been deliberately sabotaging the ability of the federal government to be competent since Reagan. In this, Trump is even more Republican than his predecessors.

    11
  10. Kathy says:

    We need a complete Trumpish-English dictionary. In this case:

    Good people: people willing to kiss the Orange Ass

    Best people: people eager to kiss the Orange Ass.

    7
  11. An Interested Party says:

    Despite a hopelessly inept response to the pandemic, there’s still a chance Trump will get re-elected.

    It is long past time to start talking about how many deaths Trump has caused through his inaction and ineptness…the Democrats need to stress this point repeatedly and definitively…and it is no accident that we now have a second Republican administration in a row that has, just like the one that came before it, caused widespread pain, death, and destruction…this point also needs to be made repeatedly and definitively…

    4
  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:
    @Stormy Dragon:

    What Stormy said.

    The expected behavior of the political and leadership class in a time of crisis is to put aside partisan issues and work for the betterment of the country. That is happening in many countries, but not here. It is most plainly seen in the trouble that Congress has had in passing relief legislation. Moscow Mitch won’t bailout the states and cities as it serves his purposes in screwing over public employees and the poor. On the Dem side there are attempts to use the relief bills a vehicle to guarantee voting rights. On both sides there have been attempts to add extraneous provisions to these bill that have little or nothing to do with helping the populous deal with the pandemic.

    Given that this will be a 3-5 year struggle, we shouldn’t be hopeful that we’ll come out of this well. Politico has a depressing take on the subject this morning.

    4
  13. Scott says:

    I’ll just copy this from the Open Forum. Same category.

    In the Only The Best People category

    Fox News regular Anthony Tata to be tapped as Pentagon policy chief

    Tata is best known as an avid Trump defender and author of the “Threat” adventure series. He has been featured in Trump tweets for lauding the president on Fox News, where he has spoken out about Trump’s firing of Navy Secretary Richard Spencer over the war crimes case of former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, and also about Trump’s decision to send troops to the U.S.-Mexico border.

    Tata retired from the Army in 2008 after an Army probe found he had been having affairs with “at least two” women, the News & Observer reported. He served as North Carolina transportation secretary but resigned in 2015, citing a need to spend more time with his family and the demands of his side career as a novelist. He also considered running for Congress.

    What his actual qualifications may be are undisclosed.

    6
  14. gVOR08 says:

    But they are the best people. To do what Trump wants done.

    1
  15. Pete S says:

    @Scott:

    His qualifications are obvious:

    1 Affairs with 2 women
    2 Having a side job while holding a senior government position
    3 Going on Fox News and not criticising Trump

    Hell, this guy is overqualified for the Trump administration. Most of the lackeys only manage two check one or two of these boxes. Looks like he has been padding his resume.

    4
  16. James Joyner says:

    @Scott: @Pete S: Nothwithstanding his weirdness, he’s conventionally qualified:

    Anthony J. Tata (born September 7, 1959) (/ˈteɪtə/), is a retired United States Army officer, author, and public servant. He was a brigadier general of the United States Army (1981–2009), and later served as a school district administrator for two large school districts in the District of Columbia and North Carolina. He served as Secretary of Transportation of North Carolina from 2013 to 2015 under Governor Pat McCrory.[1]

    Leaving aside his other issues, he’s a West Point and SAMS grad with decades of useful experience. He’s an odd choice, though, for OSD-Policy, since his Army experience looks to have been almost exclusively tactical.

    5
  17. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “Nothwithstanding his weirdness, he’s conventionally qualified:”

    James, your comment contradicts itself. Also, after Pompeo, Flynn and what-his-name former Acting Navy Secretary, perhaps we should give the Academies a rest.

    5
  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: @Stormy Dragon: I see Piketty as a better explanation. Long story short, inherited capital accumulates, the wealthy use it politically to assure they continue to accumulate wealth. This process was interrupted by WWI and WWII which destroyed a lot of capital. This led to 30 years of democracy and general prosperity. But capital is once again accumulating, and throwing it’s weight around.

    Looking at Sleeping Dog’s link, the writer lists three questions he feels throw doubt on emerging from this well:
    Do we have confidence in Economics? We should. OK, there are disputes and gray areas, but basically the reason to distrust Econ is the hired guns serving the interests of the rich.
    Do we have confidence in liberal democracy? Most of us would say yes, with the qualifier it’s not working well right now. But liberal democracy is a threat to the wealthy, or at least they see it that way, and it would be working OK if they, through their Republican flunkies, weren’t sabotaging it.
    Do we have confidence in each other? Yes and no. Most of the Trumpskyites I’ve met are good people, just ignorant and deceived by FOX and the rest of the RW propaganda apparatus, some of which is funded by, and all of which supports the Kochs, Adelsons, Mercers, et al.

    The COVID-19 crisis screams out for leftist solutions, reality is funny that way. So there may be hope that the crisis will destroy the Republican Party and we can start over. But I see little or no change in the underlying conditions, so I expect the new stability to look a lot like the old stability. The only real hope I see is that over the very long term interest rates have been declining. The “savings glut” that led to the 2008 crisis may be a new normal. Piketty’s insight is that capital grows faster than GDP, so capital’s share relative to GDP goes up. Maybe we’ve accumulated enough capital and driven interest rates low enough to break that trend. Maybe Koch, Adelson, Mercer, et al represent a last gasp rather than a new normal. Or maybe not.

    3
  19. Stormy Dragon says:

    @gVOR08:

    It could easily both. Strauss-Howe is purely descriptive and doesn’t provide any explanation for what causes the cycle. Piketty’s theory could be the cause or one of the causes driving the cycle.

  20. Stormy Dragon says:

    @gVOR08:

    Most of the Trumpskyites I’ve met are good people

    Here I think a deontological framing is more useful than a virtue ethical framing. People aren’t good or bad. People do good and bad things.

    Are Trumpskyites more or less likely than non-Trumpskyites to do good or bad things?

  21. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: My point is a narrow one: He is qualified, by resume, for the job he’s been nominated for. I think he’s disqualified himself by his television flackery and the affairs but he’s a demonstrably smart guy with tons of relevant training, education, and experience. But he’s a very different case than a dog groomer being tabbed to head a pandemic task force.

    4
  22. Kingdaddy says:

    Let’s get all political science-ish for a moment. Failed states aren’t merely the result of problems at the elite level of society. Other people must be getting something out of the dysfunctional status quo, or find it merely acceptable. To cite an extreme case, Lebanon didn’t collapse into anarchy in the 1980s just because politicians in and out of office couldn’t get along, or misbehaved. “Putinism” isn’t just about Putin’s consolidation of power and ongoing re-definition of the Russian constitution. A lot of people had to be OK with those outcomes.

    3
  23. DrDaveT says:

    @Kingdaddy: So what does Red State America think they’re getting from Trump (or their Republican senators), that makes them want to keep them in power?

    I think it would be interesting to see that analysis, with the top-level split being “things they are willing to admit publicly” vs. “things they are not willing to admit publicly”. The former could be explicitly debunked by a Democratic candidate; that won’t work for the latter.

    2
  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08:

    It took near destruction and occupation of their countries to get rid of Mussolini and Hitler.

    And I’m pretty certain you could not find a German or Italian who lived thru it who felt “lucky.”

    1
  25. Gustopher says:

    Before joining the Trump Administration in January 2018, Harrison’s official HHS biography says, he “ran a small business in Texas.” The biography does not disclose the name or nature of that business, but his personal financial disclosure forms show that from 2012 until 2018 he ran a company called Dallas Labradoodles.

    The website for Dallas Labradoodles is similarly circumspect:

    Because of some life changes, the Harrisons had to relocate to the east coast. This created a perfect opportunity for the Toliver family. We had been helping the Harrisons with the puppies for several years, and during this time we fell in love with these incredible dogs. So, when they had to move, we were able to pick up where they left off. We are committed to continuing the high standards that Dallas Labradoodles has become known for.

    You have to wonder — is Harrison embarrassed about the Labradoodles before his time in the Trump administration, or are the Labradoodles embarrassed that he now works for Trump?

  26. 95 South says:

    Brian Harrison is the Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He previously served as the Deputy Chief of Staff, a position to which he was appointed in January 2018. Mr. Harrison also worked in the office of the Deputy Secretary at HHS during the George W. Bush Administration, and has held positions at multiple other federal agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Office of the Vice President at the White House. He has worked as a director at an independent public affairs firm, helping oversee their healthcare portfolio, and, prior to returning to government, ran a small business in Texas. He studied economics at Texas A&M University and lives in Arlington, Va., with his wife and three sons.

    https://www.hhs.gov/about/leadership/brian-harrison/index.html

  27. @95 South: And, therefore?

  28. 95 South says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “Amateur Photographer Appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University”

  29. @95 South: None of this:

    He has worked as a director at an independent public affairs firm, helping oversee their healthcare portfolio, and, prior to returning to government, ran a small business in Texas. He studied economics at Texas A&M University

    suggests any reason to be in charge of a pandemic task force.

    What qualifications does he have for the job?

  30. I mean, come on, make an actual argument.

    The defense of hiring an amateur photog as Dean of Arts and Sciences is pretty easily countered by the rest of said dude’s cv. The same cannot be said for making Harrison head of a pandemic task force.

    Show me where I am wrong.

    Tell me why you would hire Harrison for such a role.

  31. 95 South says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Deputy Chief of Staff sounds like great experience for a Chief of Staff. I don’t see any evidence online that Harrison is head of the coronavirus task force. He’s not mentioned on the wikipedia page for the Coronavirus Task Force. Pence is in charge of that. As Chief of Staff for the head of HHS I’m sure he’s involved, but I don’t see anything specific. So this is more like “Amateur Photographer Appointed College President”.

  32. @95 South: From the article:

    This January, Harrison became a key manager of the HHS virus response. “Everyone had to report up through him,” said one HHS official.

  33. @95 South:

    Pence is in charge of that

    He is now.

    Azar was originally, and Harrison was a key manager.

    Are you really going to tell me that he is the best person to have had such a job?

    And are you really going to base this off his HHS web site bio?

  34. @95 South: Again, from the article:

    Shortly after his televised comments, Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19. The aide, Brian Harrison, had joined the department after running a dog-breeding business for six years. Five sources say some officials in the White House derisively called him “the dog breeder.”

  35. 95 South says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: A key manager. A chief of staff in charge of day-to-day operations. That’s your complaint? An executive needs a chief of staff he can trust with day-to-day operations. Harrison and Azar have worked together before.

    You know that day-to-day operations of a staff don’t require health care experience. I want an executive to have health care experts advising him on health care matters, and a chief of staff he can trust handling day-to-day operations. You want that too. If this were any other president you’d see “Deputy Chief of Staff Chosen for Chief of Staff” and you’d be fine with it.

    And you know you’ve been duped. You know the difference between “head” and “a key manager”.

  36. @95 South: It would be awfully helpful if you would read the article.

    And it would be additionally helpful if you provide evidence beyond his HHS bio.

  37. @95 South: And I will note, again: “Azar tapped a trusted aide with minimal public health experience to lead the agency’s day-to-day response to COVID-19”

    Was he qualified to do that job?

    If this were any other president you’d see “Deputy Chief of Staff Chosen for Chief of Staff” and you’d be fine with it.

    Odds are, you are correct. Are you really going to assert that this president has a good track record with personnel? And that that track record doesn’t give one pause for additional concern when assessing these situations

    Can you provide evidence beyond a one paragraph bio on the HHS web page?

  38. 95 South says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I read the article several times looking for where it said he was heading or leading the task force. Did I miss it? Can you back up your assumption of incompetence? If not, we’re just two people with assumptions one of whom wrote an article without basis.

  39. 95 South says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Why do you believe White House gossips? Your article is based on TRUMP staffers making fun of someone who got promoted instead of them. Do you only believe them because you like what they say? How is that going to be worse than his HHS profile? The article uses the word “labradoodle” four times including in the headline and mentions that Harrison was deputy chief of staff once.

  40. @95 South: Look, if you are satisfied he is qualified, cool. I can even understand why you are giving the whole thing a positive read. I will confess I have a hard time giving this administration the benefit of the doubt on staffing. I do find it problematic that Harrison had a central roll early in the Covid-19 response (a response that was manifestly sub-par). If you are fine will it, awesome.

    Beyond that, I am not even sure what your point is save that you are satisfied with a one paragraph bio as the entire basis of your position.

    I will gladly admit that there is almost certainly more to know here. My frustration is that you are not providing it while continuing to argue about the subject.

  41. You also seem to be missing the criticism of Azar here.

    What is your point?

  42. 95 South says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I remember when a peanut farmer ran for president. Commentators derided him for his profession, ignoring that he’d been a governor of a large state. Four years later, an actor got the same treatment. I didn’t know enough to call it un-American back then. If you want to spend half an article arguing against Azar’s policy choices, that’s fair. The rest is disrespectful to a public servant and human being and lowers the level of public discourse, which is already in the dumps.

    Michael Reynolds said that as a Trumpist, I must be a liar or a fool. But I’m not a Trumpist. By Michael’s standards, he’s a liar or a fool. But I’ll take it further. If “Trumpist” means anything, it’s willingness to slander. Michael is a Trumpist. This article is Trumpist.

    The first, most essential step to becoming what you hate is the belief that you could never become what you hate.