The Michael Flynn firing as National Security Adviser and rejection of Andy Puzder to be labor secretary were major embarrassments for the Trump White House, but that might be all it is, based on recent history.
He is certainly not the first high-level presidential appointee to go down in flames a short way into a new presidency.
Keep in mind that, despite the Democratic obstruction and delays, it’s a near certainty that President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees—and for that matter his pick for Supreme Court—will all be confirmed. The most controversial nominations—for attorney general, secretary of state, treasury secretary, education secretary and health and human services secretary—were already confirmed. Then there’s Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, who will likely survive a close vote.
Some sweeping personnel matter had to come up. With any luck, for Trump, these will be it.
Flynn had to leave after what White House press secretary Sean Spicer called an “evolving and eroding level of trust” that Trump had for his once-trusted confidante. In fact, Spicer said “evolving and eroding level of trust” several times, explaining that the White House counsel determined this wasn’t a legal matter but a trust matter.
This stemmed from Flynn speaking with the Russian ambassador in December, when they talked about sanctions relief. Such a discussion could be problematic since Flynn was not yet in his official job. Flynn also told Vice President Mike Pence that there was no discussion of sanctions relief for Russia and Pence defended him on national TV. Spicer suggested that Flynn misled a number of other administration officials. One day after Spicer’s description, Trump told reporters Flynn was a “good man” and blamed the “fake media” for his downfall.
Liberal outlets such as Huffington Post say the White House is “in flames.” Democrats smell blood for a partisan advantage, as always, but an inquiry is certainly reasonable in this case. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said that it’s “highly likely” the Senate will investigate Flynn. There are still some unanswered questions.
Flynn and Puzder are gone now and it’s not unlike past presidents’ problems.
President Barack Obama nominated former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to be the HHS secretary. But that nomination was derailed because of Daschle’s tax problems and lobbying work.
A federal investigation derailed Bill Richardson, Obama’s first nominee to be commerce secretary.
President George W. Bush demonstrated some bush league vetting even in his second term by nominating former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to be homeland security secretary, when it was revealed he had a former household employee with questionable immigration status.
Similarly, four years earlier, the newly elected President Bush’s first choice for labor secretary, Linda Chavez, had to step aside after news that an illegal immigrant had previously lived in her home.
Neither of them learned from President Bill Clinton’s first nominee for attorney general, Zoe Baird, who famously had to step aside because of “Nannygate,” hiring an illegal immigrant to take care of her children.
And President George H.W. Bush’s first nominee for defense secretary, John Tower, was rejected by the Senate in 1989 regarding issues about his personal life.
All of these were big news at the time, reported as major setbacks for presidents, while the opposition party was gleeful.
One difference with Flynn and the others, including Puzder, is that these people weren’t approved, whereas Trump is replacing his national security adviser less than a month into his presidency. But national security advisers don’t face Senate confirmation.
High level personnel setbacks were hardly a death blow to any of these presidencies—mostly a bump in the road. Barring some startling revelations about Russia, this will likely be a small bump too.
Fred Lucas is a columnist for Political Storm and the White House correspondent for The Daily Signal. He is the author of “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections” (Stairway Press, 2016).