At the White House, meanwhile, the Trump administration’s pandemic response, after a brief feint in the direction of responsible behavior, has again devolved into chaos, with President Trump warring with his own “pathetic” pandemic task force coordinator and regarding 1,000 dead Americans a day with nonchalance: “It is what it is,” he told Axios during an interview broadcast Monday night.
The common denominator, the man with a lead role in both, is Mark Meadows, the new White House chief of staff. During his seven years in Congress, he developed an unsurpassed reputation for blowing things up and making sure bills didn’t pass. But he has virtually no experience at getting things done.
At deadlocked congressional negotiations Monday, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) complained to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who successfully cut two pandemic-relief deals with lawmakers, that Meadows had been a “bad influence” on Mnuchin. A person familiar with the private exchange confirmed the account, first reported by Politico.
Asked by reporters Tuesday whether Meadows could close a deal, Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was unconvinced: “I don’t know. This is his first big deal. We’ll see.”
Meadows, publicly pessimistic, is reportedly bored with talks; he has said he’d be happy to have Trump take executive actions instead and essentially shut off the stimulus spigot with the country teetering on the cusp of depression.
Previous Trump chiefs of staff Reince Priebus, John Kelly and (to a lesser extent) Mick Mulvaney tried to temper the president’s wildest instincts. Under Meadows, Trump seems to have no guardrails: tear-gassing peaceful demonstrators for a photo op, embracing Confederate generals and flag, proposing delaying the election and sabotaging the post office’s ability to handle mail-in ballots, disparaging the late John Lewis while voicing sympathy for accused sex criminal Ghislaine Maxwell, hiring a senior campaign adviser who argued that he’d like to see Trump be “a tad bit more of a fascist” (as the Daily Beast’s Scott Bixby reported), appointing a conspiracy theorist to a top Pentagon position after the Senate declined to confirm him, and promising a health-care plan that never materializes.
Now, The Post reports, White House decision-making meetings on the pandemic are “led by Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows.” Trump has been publicly trashing task force coordinator Deborah Birx, again contradicting his team about hydroxychloroquine, and touting the advice of a “doctor” who warns of “demon sperm” and “alien DNA.”
Meadows, who ran a sandwich shop before succeeding in real estate, made a splash just months after taking office in 2013 by becoming an informal leader of a “suicide caucus” and primary architect of a 16-day government shutdown in a failed attempt to defund Obamacare.
In 2015, he tried to oust House Speaker John Boehner by filing a “motion to vacate” that served as a no-confidence vote. Boehner, who prevailed but retired soon after, later told Politico’s Tim Alberta that Meadows is “an idiot. I can’t tell you what makes him tick.”
Meadows and his “Freedom Caucus” of ultraconservatives also defied Republican leadership that year by opposing giving the Obama administration enhanced authority to negotiate a Pacific trade deal; Meadows was temporarily stripped of a subcommittee chairmanship.
In 2017, Meadows hobbled House Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obamacare, threatening to block anything short of “full repeal” and forcing a politically damaging amendment to remove protections for preexisting conditions. The effort failed in the Senate.
In 2018, he killed Speaker Paul Ryan’s hopes of immigration reform, threatening to oust Ryan: “If he gets it wrong, it will have consequences for him.” Meadows, then chairman of the Freedom Caucus, had negotiated a bill with House Republican colleagues for weeks, but as an agreement neared, the Freedom Caucus blew up negotiations by warning about “amnesty” in the bill. Immigration legislation died on the floor.
Later in 2018, Meadows was the primary architect of another government shutdown, this time inducing Trump to force a disastrous, 34-day shutdown in a failed attempt to get Congress to pay for Trump’s border wall.
The antics made Meadows the most feared person in the Republican caucus and “the most powerful man in the House,” as Vox dubbed him.
But not anymore. Tearing things down is easy, yet governing is hard. Meadows’s anti-government vandalism probably won’t save Trump, but it could bring us all down with him.
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