The Wall Street Journal this morning reports the astonishing news that national security officials have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Trump because they feared it might be leaked or compromised. They don’t trust him, to put it bluntly, and as a result, he knows less than previous presidents have known. It’s the latest development in an emerging pattern.
One of the most remarkable features of President Trump’s eventful first four weeks is that, while he is in theory the most powerful person in America and the world, in practice he is losing power by the day. “We don’t know who’s in charge,” said Senator John McCain, a member of Trump’s own party, in the wake of Mike Flynn’s resignation as National Security Adviser. McCain was talking about the U.S. national security apparatus, but he could have been talking about the federal government generally. The past month is a case study in how and how not to wield power.
Andrew Puzder’s withdrawal yesterday from consideration as Labor Secretary comes two days after Flynn’s resignation and 12 days after Vincent Viola withdrew from consideration as Army Secretary. Trump appears weak, unable to have his preferred candidates in their posts. He has only himself to blame. Puzder was late with his paperwork, giving opponents time to build a case that alienated no fewer than seven Republican senators. Viola withdrew after discovering that he couldn’t satisfactorily disengage from his businesses, which might have been pointed out to him before he agreed to be nominated. Flynn was doomed by leaks to the Washington Post and New York Times, and Trump was reduced to blasting the leakers in an early morning Twitter tantrum. Again he looks ineffectual. After all, the leakers work for him.
His executive orders on immigration were quickly consigned to judicial limbo, where they may remain for weeks or months. Had they been written more carefully, with the help of expert advisers, they might have stayed in force. But because they weren’t, other members of the government, federal judges in this case, have overridden the president’s power.
With unified government in Washington, Trump should be driving policy forward with speed and confidence. Instead, just the opposite is happening. His and the GOP’s top policy priorities – Obamacare replacement, infrastructure funding, a tax overhaul – have almost disappeared from the news. That’s only partly because his people problems and impulsive tweeting are a continual distraction. Team Trump is not visibly doing the hard work of advancing those policy priorities; it has not proposed specifics on any of them and has objected to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s detailed tax proposal without suggesting a fix. The work is apparently being done in the House and Senate.
The big picture is that time and again, others – bureaucrats, leakers, judges, legislators – are thwarting or preempting Trump. The most blusterous president in memory is getting pushed around. Causes include poor staff work, possibly bad advice, and his own lack of discipline. All those problems can be fixed. But for now, the man who has been handed the most powerful position on earth is, for better or worse, squandering it.
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What We’re Reading Today
Fox News is under federal investigation…
…for payments it made in connection with sexual harassment claims against former chief Roger Ailes. The investigation focuses on whether Fox failed to inform shareholders of settlements of claims against Ailes. The probe became public after one of the victims’ lawyers said his client had received a subpoena relating to “alleged violations” by Fox. Fortune
Verizon’s Yahoo purchase to move forward
Lowell McAdam‘s Verizon will apparently complete its purchase of Marissa Mayer‘s Yahoo internet business at a price reduced from the original $4.8 billion by up to $350 million. Analysts expected a bigger price cut after Yahoo disclosed two huge data breaches, but the new deal requires Altaba, the company left over after the sale, to assume much of the liability for any breaches that haven’t been discovered. Re/code
Labor Secretary nominee withdraws from consideration
Republican senators informed the White House that they would not have enough votes to confirm Andrew Puzder, forcing the fast-food leader to withdraw his name. His nomination was fraught with issues, including the revelation that Puzder didn’t pay taxes on an undocumented immigrant personal employee and video of his ex-wife accusing him of abuse. Politico
Snap sets its valuation
Evan Spiegel‘s company has set a valuation between $19.5 billion and $22.2 billion preparation for its IPO. Snap had previously sought a valuation between $20 billion and $25 billion. CNBC
Building Better Leaders
CEOs with a pilot’s license…
…are less risk averse in the office. They spent more on research and development, and their companies filed nearly twice as many patents each year, compared with companies whose CEO weren’t pilots. WSJ
The World’s Most Admired Companies
Tim Cook‘s Apple is No. 1, Jeff Bezos‘s Amazon No. 2. Fortune
Artificial intelligence tools for hiring…
…are gaining ground. The most advanced AI assistants keep candidates up-to-date on their status and answer company policy questions. SHRM
Trump to have ally review intelligence agencies
In response to leaks that President Trump blames for the departure of Michael Flynn as national security adviser, the president is expected to tap Cerberus Capital Management co-founder Stephen Feinberg to review the agencies. Intelligence circles see the move as an attempt by Trump to impair their independence and reduce the flow of information. NYT
Spies withhold information from Trump
The practice has become more common as intelligence officials fear the president will leak sensitive information. Trump has had an antagonistic relationship with the agencies; yesterday he accused them of undermining him by leaking information. WSJ
Trump administration looks to shore up Obamacare…
…while the GOP continues to search for a way to repeal the law. As Bruce Broussard‘s Humana announced it was pulling out of the exchanges next year and Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said Obamacare is in a “death spiral,” the Trump administration finds itself protecting the Affordable Care Act against collapse. Fortune
Up or Out
Alphabet has tapped Gregory McCray to head its Access division, which includes its Google Fiber service. Business Insider
Fortune Reads and Videos
“Day Without Immigrants” protest…
…may force many businesses to close today. Companies in Washington, Austin, and Philadelphia will likely close as thousands of immigrants are expected to refuse to go to work or send their kids to school, in protest of President Trump‘s policies. Fortune
The most underrated CEOs
Our analysis of the World’s Most Admired Companies shows that Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos top the list. Fortune
Google CEO responds to a 7 year old…
…who applied for a job. CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that “I’m glad that you like computers and robots…I think if you keep working hard and following your dreams, you can accomplish everything you set your mind to.” Fortune
Pokemon Go to get a major upgrade
In the first major update since the game was launched last year, 80 new Pokemon will debut this week. Fortune
Activist investor Carl Icahn turns 81 today. Biography