The shake-up at the Department of Veterans Affairs — out with Secretary David #Shulkin and potentially in with White House physician Ronny L. Jackson — is being portrayed, correctly, as President Trump surrounding himself with Cabinet officials with whom he feels personally comfortable. A broader question arises, however, over the extent to which this president prizes or disparages expertise.
Defenders of the president can point to his national security team to rebut suggestions that he resists recruiting people with experience and expertise to advise him. Though he has run through more than his share of foreign policy advisers, one reality is that they have mostly brought either military, business or relevant congressional experience to their positions.
That was certainly true of his early team: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, who has since become White House chief of staff. McMaster and Tillerson are on their way out, however, with Pompeo nominated for State and #John Bolton selected as the president’s third national security adviser.
Bolton comes to the job with many critics, who see him as far too hawkish at such a dangerous time internationally. But he is no novice when it comes to the issues, nor is he a stranger to the inner workings of government and the bureaucracy. For Pompeo’s replacement, Trump has picked CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel, a career intelligence official. She could face a challenging confirmation process but nonetheless has strong support from former intelligence community officials for her capabilities and experience.
The domestic side of Trump’s Cabinet is another story. Shulkin was a holdover from the Obama administration and early on was praised — even singled out — by Trump for his leadership of an agency long plagued by scandal and inefficiencies. Though he had the background to run the agency, he leaves under a cloud of his own making — the misuse of taxpayer money that drew a rebuke from the department’s inspector general. In his final weeks, he ran a divided agency bunkered in his office, as portrayed vividly by The Washington Post’s Lisa Rein. Shulkin is among several Trump Cabinet officers who have faced ethical questions.