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In ‘Executive Time’, the president is doing everything but presiding

Do Trump’s detractors really want him to take a more active role in the White House?

February 4, 2019

4:30 PM

4 February 2019

4:30 PM

Is Donald Trump a new Winston Churchill? Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who fancies himself an expert on history, entered the lists today to defend Trump from allegations that he’s spending too much time loafing on the job. Churchill, too, Gingrich suggests, was a late riser who enjoyed luxuriating in his pajamas in between delivering speeches denouncing the depredations of the Nazis. Today, Gingrich tweeted: ‘The distortions of the hate Trump movement are never more obvious than in the reaction to the President’s leaked schedule. The ignorance of history of the current elites is pathetic. Churchill slept late, worked late, took a nap every afternoon (getting into his pajamas).’

In fact, Gingrich may be confusing Churchill’s Siren Suit, an outfit rigged up for him by the venerable British firm Turnbull and Asser, with the lowly PJ. Still, Churchill definitely was in favor of catching a few Zs during the day: ‘Nature has not intended mankind to work from eight in the morning until midnight without that refreshment of blessed oblivion which, even if it only lasts 20 minutes, is sufficient to renew all the vital forces.’

Gingrich’s defense of soporiferous habits was prompted by the release from an anonymous White House staffer of Trump’s schedule over the past several months in which he has gobs of so-called ‘Executive Time’ scheduled each day. Those inclined to the view that Trump is a lazy douchebag have seized upon the schedules to conclude that Trump is even lazier than they suspected. Watching television, playing golf — you name it, the president is doing everything but presiding. Trump is hardly the first president to get dinged for failing to worker harder. H.L. Mencken said that ‘Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored.’ Ronald Reagan quipped that they could put a plaque on his chair in the cabinet room reading, ‘Ronald Reagan slept here.’ His biographer Lou Cannon wrote, ‘Reagan may have been the one president in the history of the republic who saw his election as a chance to get some rest.’

For its part, the Trump White House is not resting easy. Madeleine Westerhout who is director of something called Oval Office Operations didn’t go down the Churchill route. Instead, she directly took on the allegations that Trump is a layabout: ‘What a disgraceful breach of trust to leak schedules. What these don’t show are the hundreds of calls and meetings @realDonaldTrump takes everyday. This POTUS is working harder for the American people than anyone in recent history.’ Sarah Huckabee Sanders was slightly more sinuous, averring that Trump has his own way of doing things. Her statement is presumably intended to be supportive, but could be read in with grim satisfaction by Trump’s adversaries: ‘President Trump has a different leadership style than his predecessors and the results speak for themselves.’

Indeed they do. The Washington Post reports that Republican senators are starting to get antsy about the administration’s failure, or refusal, to fill many posts: ‘From the Justice Department to Veterans Affairs, vast swaths of the government have top positions filled by officials serving in an acting capacity — or no one at all. More than two years into Trump’s term, the president has an acting chief of staff, attorney general, defense secretary, interior secretary, Office of Management and Budget director and Environmental Protection Agency chief. To deal with the number of vacancies in the upper ranks of departments, agencies have been relying on novel and legally questionable personnel moves that could leave the administration’s policies open to court challenges.’ When Trump does fill positions, however, his choices are more than questionable. Today, he nominated an oil lobbyist named David Bernhardt as interior secretary.

Meanwhile, Trump is blowing up negotiations with Iraq over his imprudent statement that American troops are stationed in that country to ‘watch Iran.’ Trump should be watching his words more carefully. The official line was that American forces would remain based in Iraq to counter any incipient ISIS insurgency, not as a counterweight against Tehran. So the question for Trump’s detractors has to be whether they really want him to take a more active role than he already is in the White House.

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