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The Briefing: Government by whim, no matter the consequences

WASHINGTON – Rapper Kanye West may admire President Trump's "dragon energy," but it often seems the commander in chief is about as deliberative as a dragon.

And at such times, Trump's dragon decisions often turn out to be monstrous.

The latest such episode came Thursday, when Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician whom Trump picked to be veterans secretary despite a near-total lack of management experience, withdrew his nomination.

A friend noted that the name "Ronny L. Jackson" seemed better suited to a country singer than a Cabinet secretary. And by the time he withdrew, Jackson's background – which includes allegations of pill-pushing and wild drunkenness – seemed more befitting a country singer, too.

Which raises the question: How on earth could the president have nominated a person for one of the government's toughest management jobs without at first at least doing a deep dive into his history?

Because it's the Trump way.

From the start of his administration, Trump has gone with his gut time and again only to wake up the next morning with a headache.

And somehow doing so has given Trump more confidence to act on his impulses, not less.

Note the following from the Washington Post's David Nakamura and Josh Dawsey, who cover the White House on a daily basis:

White House allies in Washington suggested that Trump has been liberated to manage his administration as he did his private business, making decisions that feel good in the moment because he believes in his ability to win – regardless of whether those decisions are backed by rigorous analysis or supported by top ­advisers.

If the president dislikes rigorous analysis or advice from his aides, perhaps he ought to at least examine his own track record.

Let's look, in chronological order, at how a few of Trump's gut decisions have turned out:

  • In his first month in office, Trump issued an executive order that amounted to a travel ban on visitors from seven countries – without involving longtime government officials in its drafting and without even telling his head of Customs and Border Protection in advance. Chaos ensued at airports around the world. And inevitably, immigration lawyers challenged Trump's order in court, forcing Trump to redraw the order twice and setting off a legal battle that will not end until the Supreme Court rules on the case this summer.
  • Last July 21, Trump named Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director, even though he was a New York financier with no real communications background. "The Mooch" was brash and loyal, and that made Trump love him – for a few days. Then Scaramucci went off on a wild, on-the-record rant, disparaging his new White House colleagues to Ryan Lizza, then of The New Yorker. Suddenly the Mooch didn't look like such a great communicator, so new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly fired him after only 10 days on the job.
  • Last July 25, Trump impulsively tweeted out a ban on transgender troops in the U.S. military without consulting the nation's top military officer, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But a month later, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis essentially disagreed with the president, ordering that transgender troops could remain on duty pending a deeper review of the issue. And inevitably, like the travel ban, this issue ended up in the courts, which so far have said transgender people must be allowed to enlist.
  • And then there's Ronny Jackson, whose propensity for prescriptions left him with the nickname "candy man." His qualifications for heading the government's second-largest agency apparently included saying that Trump was in such good health that with a better diet, "he might live to be 200 years old.” Trump liked Jackson so much, it seems, that the president didn't even subject him to the kind of vetting that all other modern presidents of both parties has forced upon their nominees.

“The White House still seems to be feeling its way on the nomination process, and does not fully appreciate how important it is to do a thorough vetting and FBI background check on nominees," Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, told the Associated Press.

And it's not just nominees that go unvetted. It's key, world-shaking moves – like Trump's tariffs on steel and aluminum, like his on-the-spot decision to engage in direct talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Fifteen months into the Trump administration, then, we know what we've got.

It's government by whim, no matter the consequences.

Happening today

President Trump welcome members of the 2018 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams to the White House, then meets, has lunch and holds a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ... House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and colleagues unveil further details of their "Better Deal" agenda: a proposal for "investing in America's workers, pioneering future frontiers and modernizing government" ... The House Energy and Commerce Committee's Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee holds a hearing called "Do Not Call: Combating Robocalls and Caller ID Spoofing" ... The National Press Club holds a discussion called "Trolling the News: Protecting Journalists from Online Harassment" ... And Jordan Klepper, host of Comedy Central's "The Opposition w/Jordan Klepper,'' discusses the role of satire in the current political climate at a forum hosted by The Washington Post.

Good reads

The New York Times tell the story of mass shootings through the eyes of emergency room doctors ... The Wall Street Journal looks at the newly strained relationship between President Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen ... Vox explains the Senate bill that aims to protect special counsel Robert Mueller ... The New Republic examines the fight that public workers are fighting to remain middle class ... And Politico reports that the newest partisan battle in the House involves the firing of the House chaplain.

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