Weekend Reads Mick Mulvaney's bad week just got worse
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Mick Mulvaney’s week went from bad to worse on Sunday, as he again tried to explain why President Donald Trump and the administration had withheld aid to Ukraine for weeks — one of the Democrats’ central questions in their impeachment inquiry.
Mulvaney fumbled during an interview on “Fox News Sunday” when he cited two reasons for the delay, whereas he had originally listed three during his Thursday press briefing at the White House. He continued to blame reporters for any misunderstanding, a feat that can be tough to pull off when his answers were all delivered on camera and when the host, Chris Wallace, kept rolling that tape.
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And he threw red meat to liberals and Democratic presidential candidates who have long questioned the appropriateness of the Trump family continuing to profit from its business holdings while Trump serves as president.
“At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business,” Mulvaney said to Wallace about Trump’s original decision to hold the next G7 summit at his resort in Doral, Fla. — a decision he reversed late Saturday.
“I just have to pick up: You say he considers himself in the hospitality business?” Wallace asked. “He’s the president of the United States.”
Mulvaney’s interview did not play well among Trump allies and advisers, with one calling it a “self-immolation.”
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More broadly, it was the latest sign of turbulence during the acting chief of staff’s roughly 10-month tenure. It was also a symbol of the struggle within this White House to manage and fight back against the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, all while facing deep criticism from fellow Republicans over the administration’s handling of Syria and the G7 venue. During the past week, White House aides have felt under siege. One former administration official called it one of the White House’s worst weeks during Trump’s presidency, and aides and allies started to contemplate the length of Mulvaney’s tenure in the West Wing.
In recent months Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has grown fed up with Mulvaney at various points and has spoken poorly of his laissez-faire management style, said one Republican close to the White House. At first, Kushner was quite pleased with Mulvaney’s hands-off approach because of its departure from the tense reign of Gen. John Kelly, Mulvaney’s predecessor, and because it allowed Kushner to operate freely. Yet that sentiment was waned in recent months, the Republican said, as the White House has started to feel more chaotic.
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A senior administration official said that Kushner was supportive of Mulvaney as the acting chief of staff, and that when there have been complications in the White House, Mulvaney and Kushner have a close enough relationship to “hash it out.”
The White House press office declined to comment on the record on Sunday. Later, it did not respond when asked whether White House aides or allies were drawing up lists for Mulvaney’s replacement.
On,” former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime friend of the president’s, called Trump’s decision to hold the G7 at Doral an “unforced error” and Mulvaney’s Thursday briefing “a mistake.”
Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff to President Barack Obama and a former mayor of Chicago, had his own advice for Mulvaney on the same program: “Get yourself a lawyer and do it fast.”
Christie added: “I’ve said this to the president as recently as this week. We have to be in friend-making mode. OK? There’s a time to be combative and there’s a time to be in friend-making mode, vis-à-vis your own party. And right now, when you’re facing impeachment — which by the way, is predetermined, as I’ve said before.”
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Mulvaney tried to help on that front over the weekend by hosting Republican lawmakers at Camp David.
He appeared on TV twice this past week to publicly defend the president at a time when few other top officials are willing to go on-air, and he agreed on Thursday to go out on camera to deliver the news that the president was intending to hold the G7 at one of his own resorts, even though several White House officials, from lawyers to advance staff to operations aides, were looped in on the decision.
“It’s not lost on me that if we had made the decision [on Doral] on Thursday, we would not have had the press conference on Thursday regarding everything else. That is fine,” Mulvaney said to Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
Another senior administration official said that some White House aides had been frustrated by the media’s reaction to Mulvaney’s appearances, but that Mulvaney himself was still focused on his job and fighting for the president.
Several White House aides and Trump allies presume Mulvaney’s job is ultimately safe during the impeachment proceedings. That’s in part, they say, because no one else would want the acting chief of staff job right now and partly because Mulvaney is too much at the center of the Ukraine scandal for Trump to unceremoniously dump him as he has done with other senior aides like John Bolton, his former national security adviser.
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