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Opinion Meet the Trump saboteur in charge of undermining Biden — and America

Russell Vought at the White House in October 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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If, in the new year, pandemic vaccines aren’t available as promised, Americans can’t return to work because economic relief isn’t delivered or an adversary successfully attacks the United States because national security agencies couldn’t pay for new defenses, a hefty share of the blame should be placed on a man you’ve probably never heard of: One Russell Thurlow Vought.

As President Trump’s budget director, he conspicuously failed in his stated goal of controlling the debt. Despite his efforts, the debt increased by $6 trillion on his two-year watch as director of the Office of Management and Budget, the biggest jump in history.

He also has been disastrous in his fiscal forecasts. On Feb. 10, he predicted 2.8 percent growth for the year, saying, “our view is that, at this point, coronavirus is not something that is going to have ripple effects.” A few weeks later, the economy collapsed.

But what Russ Vought is very good at is sabotage. He’s sabotaging national security, the pandemic response and the economic recovery — all to make things more difficult for the incoming Biden administration. That he’s also sabotaging the country seems not to matter to Vought, who has spent nearly two decades as a right-wing bomb thrower.

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He has blocked civil servants at OMB from cooperating with the Biden transition, denying President-elect Joe Biden the policy analysis and budget-preparation assistance given to previous presidents-elect, including Barack Obama and Trump himself. Transition figures warn that it will likely delay and hamper economic and pandemic relief and national security preparation (the Pentagon is the other key agency resisting transition cooperation with the incoming administration).

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Thursday afternoon, Vought released a bombastic letter accusing the Biden transition of making “false statements” about OMB’s uncooperativeness — and then essentially confirming that it would not cooperate: “What we have not done and will not do is use current OMB staff to write the [Biden transition’s] legislative policy proposals to dismantle this Administration’s work. . . . Redirecting staff and resources to draft your team’s budget proposals is not an OMB transition responsibility. Our system of government has one President and one Administration at a time.”

Nobody should have expected otherwise from Vought.

He was the author of a Sept. 4 memo attacking critical race theory and canceling racial sensitivity programs, which he called “divisive, anti-American propaganda.” The issue, apparently prompted by a segment Trump viewed on Fox News, became key to the final weeks of Trump’s race-baiting campaign.

Vought was also the mastermind of Trump’s executive order that attempts to reclassify tens of thousands of civil servants who work in policy roles so they can be easily fired. Vought has proposed reclassifying 88 percent of OMB staff (425 people).

He was a key figure in the Ukraine imbroglio, freezing military aid to the country as Trump pushed for Ukraine’s president to announce a probe of Joe and Hunter Biden and the Democrats. The Government Accountability Office determined the budgetary freeze violated the Impoundment Control Act. Vought also ignored a subpoena during the impeachment inquiry.

Vought’s 2017 nomination to be OMB deputy director (he later served 18 months as acting director and has served five as director) was nearly undone over a 2016 article in which he wrote: “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, his Son, and they stand condemned.”

Vought spent seven years on the vanguard of conservative extremism as a senior official at Heritage Action, the political wing of the Heritage Foundation. The group fought GOP leadership and pushed lawmakers into unyielding positions.

During that time, Vought wrote a series of rambling posts for arguing that “incrementalism doesn’t work for the right,” that Republicans “are fundamentally in their DNA unwilling to fight” and that Republicans needed to have “a willingness” to shut the government down. He exhorted Republicans to “embrace the sort of brinkmanship that shows they are playing to win.” He railed against a 2012 infrastructure bill as “communism.”

Before Heritage, Vought worked for the right-wing House Republican Study Committee whose job, he said, “is to push leadership as far to the right as is possible and flat out oppose it when necessary.”

He has continued to lob grenades from inside the White House. At an antiabortion rally, he claimed credit for blocking Planned Parenthood’s funding. He infuriated Democrats by refusing to share projections with Congress.

But when it comes to governing, Vought has been a loser. He ran the botched White House response to the 2019 government shutdown, issuing legally dubious decisions and, as one Republican budget expert told The Post, “making up the rules as they go along.” It became the longest-ever shutdown and ended in Trump’s surrender.

Now Vought is intentionally botching the transition, without regard for the dire consequences Americans could suffer. This is what happens when you put an arsonist in charge of the fire department.

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