During the last several weeks, there has been much drama in the Trump administration. Early in March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was pushed out in favor of CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Even more recently, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin was also fired. It’s increasingly becoming a trend, but is it something we need to be concerned about, or just the new way of doing things from our unconventional commander-in-chief?
Shulkin’s departure marks the fifth Cabinet-level official to either be removed or selected for another role by Trump, as former Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly was when he moved to chief of staff last July. By comparison, at the same point in time during his presidency, Barack Obama had no changes to Cabinet-level officials, though three would leave or move a few months later. George W. Bush’s Cabinet was even more fixed, only experiencing one departure his first two years.
Clearly something is running differently. Looking at the context, three of Trump’s departures – Tom Price, Tillerson and Shulkin – have been outright fired, while Kelly and Pompeo have been moved up. Of the fired three, both Price and Shulkin had faced scandal over travel expenses, while Tillerson had been at loggerheads with the president for months. Is the Trump administration more prone to scandal then? Not quite, as Obama’s first Attorney General Eric Holder, after being held in contempt of Congress over an investigation, remained in office for almost three more years.
President Trump then, is taking more aggressive action in shaping his Cabinet, removing those not performing to his liking and shifting people to new positions he believes they’d be well-suited for. Though this may seem out of the trend in the United States, Trump’s actions more closely fit the global norm. Our northern neighbors Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had eight Cabinet members change in the same time period as Trump’s five. In not even a year, the United Kingdom and Theresa May went through an election and seven Cabinet changes.
Why is Trump’s Cabinet considered to be in such shambles by American standards? Part of the reason is constitutional and the other cultural. Canada and the United Kingdom both operate under a parliamentary system, meaning the legislature elects the prime minister as leader of the country, who then appoints their Cabinet ministers. Prime ministers have the power to appoint and dismiss their ministers unilaterally, only being checked by whether their government continues to be supported by a majority of members in the legislature.
However, in the United States, the president has a few more hoops to jump through before he/she can put Cabinet secretaries into place. Once the president has nominated a Cabinet hopeful, they must be confirmed by the Senate by a majority vote. This has historically served two main purposes, allowing time to critique the president’s nominees and determine their fitness for office, and to deter the president from changing the Cabinet too much during their tenure and thus provide stability.
Culturally, the United States is much more used to having the executive checked by a strong legislative power, in contrast to the parliamentary nations mentioned earlier where prime ministers have immense powers inherent to their office. Trump’s actions may be indicative of a larger shift, as the president of the United States continues to accumulate more power and influence at the expense of the other branches.
No matter what you think about President Trump, the next few years will be interesting to watch as this still rookie administration continues to develop in power. The Cabinet is one of the most influential and important institutions in our politics, as its members administer millions of employees and trillions of budget dollars in their departments that have power over many aspects of our lives. Whether the high level of turnover in Trump’s Cabinet and other positions is just an early bump in the road or a chronic issue remains to be seen. Maybe this new style of governance is here to stay.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.