Two new problems popped up for the Trump transition team, while one nominee performed so ably as to create doubt as to why she shouldn’t be in a more senior role.
First, the bad news for the administration: Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) reportedly has a “nanny problem,” as they used to say in the 1990s. The Associated Press reports that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested that President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for director of the Office of Management and Budget should remove himself from consideration:
It comes after the New York Times reported that Mulvaney acknowledged failing to pay more than $15,000 in payroll taxes for a household employee.
Mulvaney, a conservative congressman from South Carolina, made the acknowledgement in a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Budget Committee ahead of his confirmation hearing. He said he paid the money after discovering the issue as part of his confirmation review. Similar tax problems have sunk previous nominees.
In a statement Schumer said: “If failure to pay taxes was disqualifying for Democratic nominees, then the same should be true for Republican nominees.”
Two Bill Clinton attorney general picks — Zoë Baird, who hadn’t paid her nanny taxes, and Kimba Wood, who employed an undocumented immigrant — both got yanked. We find it remarkable that any public official has not operated with those precedents in mind. The Trump team may not want to take the heat for supporting someone who didn’t pay his taxes — in an administration premised on the notion that the rich and powerful get away with everything while regular Americans don’t.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) was holding his own, trying to sidestep questions about his stock transactions when he let on that he had personally — not through a broker — directed some trades. Under questioning from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Price conceded that he purchased stock in a private offering of an Australian biotech company, Innate Immunotherapeutics, after a fellow congressman — who sits on its board — told him about the company. The Post reports: “That means President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be health and human services secretary ‘may very well have’ violated a 2012 law, the Stock Act, as well as other House ethics rules, said Larry Noble, general counsel for the nonpartisan ethics watchdog, the Campaign Legal Center, and former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission.”
Ironically, these are not two billionaires who never operated in the public sector. Both have been congressmen (Price since 2005 and Mulvaney since 2011). Whether Republicans remain willing to stick by these nominees remains an open question. Either way, Democrats will score points. If they are pulled, Democrats will say that the Trump team is not ready for prime time; if they go forward and get confirmed, Democrats will claim that the GOP hypocritically expanded the swamp.
Alas, one nominee stood out today, head and shoulders above these troubled nominees. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who lacked foreign policy experience, apparently took her confirmation very seriously. She was poised and definitive in ways secretary of state nominee Rex W. Tillerson was not. She vowed not to be silent when American values are at stake. She called Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings a human rights violation. She called Russia’s bombing of Aleppo a human rights violation. She supported continued sanctions on Russia until it changes its behavior. She even acknowledged (“No, it’s not”) that Trump’s comment comparing Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin was not a way to make friends with our German ally. She called out Russia for violating the integrity of Western democratic elections. Like James Mattis, she said she did not favor simply pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, but rather, wanted to police it scrupulously. She was gracious, poised and cooperative as a witness.
Is Haley more knowledgeable, better prepared, more temperamentally suited to public examination than Tillerson? To an outsider, it surely appeared that way. Moreover, she has also been elected twice as governor and spent much of her adult life in politics. She understands how to converse with lawmakers, when to defer and when not to. She knows not to insult the intelligence of lawmakers by winging it through a hearing. Her public-sector executive experience also served her well, as she analogized to consensus-building and goal-setting she had undertaken in South Carolina, without claiming this was identical to running a mission at the United Nations. She defended alliances, said she did not favor “slash and burn” cuts to U.N. funding, but rather, a surgical approach in which the United States would use its leverage to force reforms.
Whatever she did to prepare — maybe six years as governor of a growing state, including leadership during a racially charged incident, means something — it suggests that “fresh eyes” can be a plus for a nominee, provided that she comes with analogous experience, careful study and solid instincts.
Maybe if Tillerson bombs out, Haley could fill the spot for secretary of state. She would probably get overwhelming support.