Senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway this week complained that the media has been paying too much attention to only one of President Trump’s executive orders — namely, his temporary ban on refugees and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries — and not enough to the many others Trump has signed since taking office.
So Seth Meyers did just that.
On Tuesday’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” the comedian used a segment called “The Check In” to delve into a less-discussed executive order, specifically one that instituted an immediate federal hiring freeze, with a few exceptions.
The order arguably has been covered less than Trump’s travel ban, possibly in part because it has not triggered numerous protests and lawsuits, nor does its fate rest with an appeals court weighing its constitutionality.
Nevertheless, Meyers persisted.
The order Trump signed on Jan. 23 stated that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.” Military personnel and other positions deemed “necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities” were exempted.
In his segment Tuesday, Meyers pointed out that the hiring freeze seemed to run counter to one of Trump’s most frequent campaign promises: that he can fix the problems with how poorly the Department of Veterans Affairs was run.
“And he’s right about that. For many years now, under both Bush and Obama, many parts of the VA have been found guilty of fraud and of providing shoddy health care to our veterans,” Meyers said. “Now one of the main problems at the VA is that many departments, including VA hospitals, are chronically understaffed. But one of Trump’s first moves as president was to put a freeze on federal hiring.”
Meyers cut to footage of White House press secretary Sean Spicer saying that the focus on VA staffing was overblown and that hiring more people was not the answer.
“Hiring more people is not the answer,” Meyers said, sarcastically. “Unless the question is: ‘Where are all the (expletive) people? Does anyone work here?!’ ”
Meyers also noted that the hiring freeze had the potential to hurt veterans in another way, since they receive a preference in federal hiring. As The Washington Post reported on the day the executive action was signed:
Veterans — who make up 31 percent of the federal workforce — could also be disproportionately affected by the move because they receive a hiring preference when it comes to federal jobs. One unit of the Pentagon, according to an official who asked for anonymity to discuss personnel matters, is in the process of hiring between 20 and 30 veterans and is now looking at whether to put the hires on hold.
Depending on how the exemptions are interpreted, according to New York University public service professor Paul Light, the freeze might affect fewer than 800,000 employees, or more than one-fifth of the overall federal workforce.
“A lot of the people affected by this freeze are people who served this country, people for whom Trump promised to fight,” Meyers said. “And instead he’s making it harder for them to assimilate back to civilian life by, in some cases, taking away their ability to work.”
In the rest of the segment, Meyers summarized Trump’s complicated history with veterans issues: He opened by cycling through a handful of clips of Trump talking about veterans throughout his campaign:
“The vets. Oh, those vets. I love those vets. We’re going to take care of those vets.”
“I’ve worked hard for the vets.”
“There’s nobody bigger or better at the military than I am.”
Meyers did credit Trump for once donating $1 million to help build a Vietnam veterans memorial in New York City. But Meyers also reminded viewers that Trump got out of serving in the Vietnam War, cutting to another clip in which Trump explained “I had a foot thing.”
During his transition, Trump was criticized for his lack of outreach to veterans groups. Meyers mentioned a December post from veterans advocate Paul Rieckhoff, who was frustrated at the time that the president-elect had managed to fit rapper Kanye West into his schedule, but no major veterans groups.
Meyers brought his Tuesday segment full circle by commenting on Trump’s numerous executive orders in general.
“This whole thing is just another example of Trump signing these executive orders in haste, without thinking about the consequences and in turn leaving a trail of chaos,” Meyers said. “You know, at first I thought he was just showing off his signature, but now I think he’s going, ‘Hey, could someone read this to me? I feel like it might be a terrible idea.’”