opinion

Swamp Things

Who’s Next Off the Island on Survivor: White House?

Omarosa was way over her head, but at least she did no real harm. The same can’t be said about the administration’s pseudo-royalist destroyers of the planet.

opinion

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

White House chief of staff Gen. John Kelly admits he can’t control the president’s tweeting so that 90 percent of the problems with Donald Trump’s behavior persist. But he showed he has some control by firing Trump’s favorite hanger-on, Omarosa Manigault  Newman. Trump fired her himself on The Apprentice but hired her to work in the White House in a vaguely defined communications job that came with an open door to the Oval Office.

Every knife was out for her after she brought her 39-person wedding to the White House for a photo shoot. On Tuesday, Kelly had had enough and fired her for real. While the White House put out the fake news that it was amicable and she would be working until January, she is actually only being paid until then. While Trump said at his photo op Thursday, amid stacks of paper to proclaim he was killing regulations that are already dead--that “I like Omarosa, Omarosa's a good person” she was forced to leave the premises, and the Secret Service has deactivated her pass.

Now that Kelly has shown what he can do, there are a couple more Trump appointees he should drain from the White House swamp. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke is out of control, abusing taxpayer funds for his own needs when he isn’t busy allowing drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opening up 58 million acres of trees to logging, and turning over a large swath of the 230 million acres preserved by Teddy Roosevelt to private plundering by the fossil fuel industry.

That, of course, pleases the coal-loving president. But does Zinke living like a Russian oligarch please him as well? Zinke’s latest outrage is commandeering a military helicopter to meet Vice President Michael Pence for a play date to go horseback riding in Rock Creek Park. Putting aside what this affectation for jumping on steeds to go vote (Roy Moore) or to get to work on his first day at Interior or the above afternoon on horseback, how does any public servant justify spending $6,250 on a horse ride, unless proving a Reagan-like manhood is now part of the job?

Zinke ordered another chopper for $8,000 to attend emergency training exercises in West Virginia. He didn’t have time for the two-hour drive there because he wanted to attend a political event, the swearing-in of Rep. Greg Gianforte, a wealthy donor ($15,800) to his prior campaigns. Gianforte is the Montanan who assaulted a reporter but still won a special election for Zinke’s old seat.

President Trump has stocked his administration with two types of appointees. There are former members of Congress who believe rising to a Cabinet position means living like Washington royalty with a fleet of cars, a battalion of bodyguards, thousands of subjects, and servile personal staff willing to indulge their visions of grandeur. The second type believes they are doing the public a favor by serving in government and the lucky taxpayer should be happy to underwrite their prior lifestyles. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is the best example of that. But in Betsy DeVos, Linda McMahon, Wilbur Ross, and all Goldman Sachs alums, he has company. Their excesses were explained by the president when he said that although he likes “poor people,” he wants rich ones in his Administration.  

It apparently takes a lot of creature comfort to destroy the environment. Joining Zinke in living large is comrade-in-arms EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who heads up an operation so captured by the industry that his excessive rollback of regulations, banning of scientists, meeting almost exclusively with lobbyists, and keeping a private email address is just how he rolls. Like Zinke, who has flown on chartered flights to the Caribbean, Las Vegas, and frequently to his homes in California and Montana, Pruitt also prefers private jets and is already under investigation for charging private flights costing $58,000 to the government, many landing suspiciously close to his home in Oklahoma, where he may run for governor.

He’s also flown to the Vatican for vague reasons and flew last week with four aides to Morocco to encourage the purchase of U.S. liquefied natural gas, hardly part of his agency’s mission. He likes perks, building a $25,000 custom-made soundproof phone booth in his office for making private calls when there is already such a room in the building. Citing vague feelings of being threatened, he’s taken personnel away from investigating environmental crimes to add bodies to his 24/7 security detail, triple what his predecessor had. While some officials say security is an annoyance, others, like Pruitt, thrill at having an entourage, men and women in black whispering into their wrists and sweeping through rooms before they step inside.

There are other abuses of tax dollars. Vice President Mike Pence cost the government about $250,000 for a detour to an Indianapolis Colts game for a Trump-ordered walk out over players kneeling in protest of police brutality. Former Secretary of House and Human Services Secretary Tom Price spent $1 million on private aircraft, while Mnuchin spent $800,000 and Energy Secretary Rick Perry more than $50,000. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell, chartered government aircraft for trips to New York and Paris.

In Kelly’s effort to bring the Trump White House within norms of behavior, firing Omarosa is just a beginning. She was a drama-creating diva  but with no real authority, she didn’t cause much harm outside the West Wing. Not so Zinke and Pruitt, who are causing lasting damage to the country’s open spaces, air, and water. Their mutual questioning of climate change has set California on fire. The White House approves of all that. But what they don’t want is any more heat for favoring the wealthy and failing to drain the swamp. By keeping Zinke and Pruitt, they are polluting it.