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White House Cabinet Turnover Continues, Mulvaney In And Zinke Out


It has been a busy few weeks in the Trump administration departures lounge. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is only the latest member of the administration to announce he is leaving his job.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Budget director Mick Mulvaney is taking on the job of chief of staff on...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: The president announced today Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will step down by the end of the year.

KELLY: All right, to talk about all the recent turnover, we are joined by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Hey there.


KELLY: So a lot of names going by fast there - get us caught up on these latest changes.

KEITH: Right. So Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is out by the end of the year. President Trump said in a tweet that he will announce his replacement sometime this week. Sometimes those deadlines slip, but that's the plan as we know it for now.


KEITH: Now, chief of staff - Mick Mulvaney, who is the current head of the Office of Management and Budget, will be coming in as an acting chief of staff, though it's not sure - it's not really clear how long he will be acting. He could be acting there for the rest of the term for all we know.


KEITH: But he will not be officially leaving the job of budget director, even though they say he will be focusing all of his time and attention on running the White House.

KELLY: He keeps both hats.

KEITH: Yes. Waiting in the wings for Senate confirmation, you already have replacement nominees for attorney general, EPA administrator and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. So that is a lot of turnover.

KELLY: A lot of turnover - and how normal is that at this point, two years into an administration?

KEITH: President Trump would say, yep, people come, people go, especially after the midterms. This is not normal. This is - he is lapping other presidents, lapping his recent predecessors. Depending on how you count, President Trump has had to fill either 11 or 12 Cabinet-level vacancies already. And his top-level staff have had a turnover rate of 65 percent. It is just above and beyond all of his recent predecessors.

KELLY: And the thing is, Tam, it would be possible to dismiss this as inside-the-Beltway soap opera, as the White House turns, whatever you want to call it, except it does actually matter that the White House function. Is it possible to gauge what impact this is having, all this turnover?

KEITH: I spoke to someone named Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution. She's been tracking especially the Cabinet-level turnover. And she says that there is a loss to the president, to his agenda, to his stated goals in the ability of the government to do what he wants the government to do. And she said, you know, these are big jobs and big agencies.

ELAINE KAMARCK: A person coming in, no matter how experienced in management, has an enormous learning curve when they come into a Cabinet position. And so to have a lot of changeover means that the president doesn't get the cooperation he needs from the government, nor can he get the policies that he wants to see happen. So it's a big detriment to a president.

KEITH: And she points to his inability to get the wall built or to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as some examples.

KELLY: And I know it's a big question, but in just a few seconds, what's driving all this change?

KEITH: President Trump sours on people. Also, he - the transition was not smooth, and he brought in a lot of people that he didn't know or didn't have experience.

KELLY: All right, NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks very much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.