August is nearly always sleepy in Washington.
Not this year.
John Kelly seized control of Donald Trump’s White House Monday morning, making his first act as chief of staff the ouster of Anthony Scaramucci, who had just landed the open communications director job 10 days prior.
He’s expected to bring order to a Trump administration in chaos, which the president needs urgently: A recent Gallup poll showed that dissatisfaction with the government and its leadership is the most pressing political issue facing the United States today.
Nineteen percent picked it as their top concern, followed by healthcare. In June, a quarter of the survey’s 1,009 respondents chose government dissatisfaction. The margin of error is 4 percent.
The Trump administration is doing some governing, but non-stop White House drama is overshadowing it.
On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the Baltics in the face of Russian aggression during a speech in Estonia; the Treasury Department sanctioned Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro; and the presidentially appointed opioid task force released its interim report, calling on Trump to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency.
Staff dysfunction dominated the day.
The New York Times reported just a half-hour before the president was scheduled to preside over his first ceremony awarding a Medal of Honor that Trump had fired Scaramucci.
Then, just about the same time when the ceremony was beginning, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement saying, “Mr. Scaramucci felt it was best to give Chief of Staff John Kelly a clean slate and the ability to build his own team.”
The ceremony celebrated Vietnam veteran James McCloughon, but the White House did not prepare seating for the 70 reporters attending, and they had to find space among the camera platforms, leading to confusion and more chaos for what should have been an easy win of a news cycle.
An hour later, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Security Advisor General H.R. McMaster headlined the White House press briefing to publicize the administration’s decision to sanction Maduro for steamrolling human rights and oppressing Venezuelans.
At the very same time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs the president’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, hosted a wide-ranging public call to discuss his group’s interim report.
He was encouraged by participation from the public and noted that more than 8,000 Americans submitted commentary and ideas, and he said that’s why the commission was delayed in issuing the report.
Christie called on the president to declare a public emergency to drive attention to the issue.
The report suggests the president should “grant waiver approvals for all 50 states to quickly eliminate barriers to treatment resulting from the federal Institutes for Mental Diseases (IMD) exclusion within the Medicaid program.” And it says that action “will immediately open treatment to thousands of Americans in existing facilities in all 50 states.”
Among a variety of other measures, the report calls for a national media campaign to raise awareness about opioid addiction.
And after a weekend full of aggressive and threatening maneuvers by enemies like North Korea and rivals like Russia, it was Pence in Estonia who offered the administration’s tough-toned response.
“No threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east,” Pence said of Moscow.
“Regrettably, last week Russia took the drastic step of limiting the United States’ diplomatic presence in that nation,” he continued, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that he would kick hundreds of U.S. foreign service officers out of his country.
Pence traveled to Europe in February to meet with NATO leaders. He took an extended diplomatic tour of Asia in April. And he will travel to South America for meetings later this month.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated after publication.