President Trump directed his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to leave the room to cough when his top aide let out a short rasp during the president’s back-and-forth in the Oval Office with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.
‘‘If you’re going to cough, please leave the room,’’ Trump said during one segment of the lengthy interview, which aired on Sunday evening.
He shook his head as he warned Mulvaney, ‘‘You just can’t, you just can’t cough.’’
The president was in the middle of answering a question about his financial records when he became distracted by the sharp sound of his chief of staff expelling air from his lungs. Trump tripped over his words, requesting to Stephanopoulos, ‘‘Let’s do that over.’’ Appearing to point at Mulvaney, he said, ‘‘He’s coughing in the middle of my answer.’’
As an aside to Stephanopoulos, Trump said: ‘‘I don’t like that, you know. I don’t like that.’’ The ABC anchor and chief political correspondent laughed, remarking, ‘‘Your chief of staff.’’
The president asked if the ABC team wanted to do the shot over, and then went back to discussing his financial statements, maintaining that he would like to make them available to the public. Pressed by Stephanopoulos, who noted, ‘‘It’s up to you,’’ Trump said: ‘‘No, it’s not up to me. It’s up to lawyers; it’s up to everything else.’’
Trump has explained his decision to withhold his tax returns by asserting without evidence that they are under audit and asserting that the public isn’t interested in them. His move had broken with the custom of every president since Jimmy Carter. It also appears to go against the findings of the IRS, which indicated in a memo last month that only the rare invocation of executive privilege can thwart a congressional subpoena for the tax information.
GOP mutters as Trump sidesteps Senate for aides
President Trump’s latest anointment of an acting head of a major federal agency has prompted muttering, but no more than that, from Republican senators whose job description includes confirming top administration aides.
Their reluctance to confront Trump comes as veterans of the confirmation process and analysts say he’s placed acting officials in key posts in significantly higher numbers than his recent predecessors. The practice lets him quickly, if temporarily, install allies in important positions while circumventing the Senate confirmation process , which can be risky with Republicans running the chamber by a slim 53-47 margin.
The latest example is Ken Cuccinelli, who last week was named acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services. He is an outspoken supporter of hard-line immigration policies, and his appointment was opposed by some key Senate Republicans.
Definitive listings of acting officials in Trump’s and other administrations are hard to come by because no agency keeps overall records. Yet Christina Kinane, an incoming political science professor at Yale, compiled data in her doctoral dissertation, ‘‘Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments.’’
Kinane found that from 1977 through mid-April of this year — the administrations of President Carter through the first half of Trump’s — 266 individuals held Cabinet posts. Seventy-nine of them held their jobs on an acting basis, or 3 in 10.
Under Trump, 22 of the 42 people in top Cabinet jobs have been acting, or just over half.
And though Trump’s presidency has spanned only about 1 in 20 of the years covered, his administration accounts for more than 1 in 4 of the acting officials tallied. Kinane’s figures include holdovers from previous administrations, some of whom serve for just days.
GAO to probe moves on lands cut from Utah monument
A government watchdog will investigate whether the US Interior Department broke the law by making plans to open up lands cut from a Utah national monument by President Trump to leasing for oil, gas, and coal development.
Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico said Monday in a news release that the Government Accountability Office informed his office last week that it has agreed to his request that it look into whether the Interior Department violated the appropriations law by using funds to assess potential resource extraction in the lands cut from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
GAO spokesman Charles Young confirmed the inquiry. The Interior Department didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.
Udall is the ranking member of Senate’s subcommittee for the Interior Department.
President Clinton created the monument in 1996. Trump downsized it by nearly half in 2017.
Buttigieg ‘almost certain’ there was gay president
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is seeking to become the first openly gay president of the United States, said in an interview that aired Sunday that it is statistically ‘‘almost certain’’ that the country has had previous gay presidents.
‘‘I would imagine we’ve probably had excellent presidents who are gay; we just didn’t know which ones,’’ Buttigieg said during an interview on ‘‘Axios on HBO.’’
Host Mike Allen pressed Buttigieg, 37, on whether being young, liberal, and gay would be liabilities if he becomes the Democratic nominee against President Trump.
‘‘People will elect the person who will make the best president,’’ Buttigieg said. ‘‘And we have had excellent presidents who have been young. We have had excellent presidents who have been liberal.’’ He added that the country has also probably had some who are gay.
‘‘You believe that we’ve had a gay commander in chief?’’ Allen asked.
‘‘I mean, statistically, it’s almost certain,’’ Buttigieg replied.
‘‘In your reading of history, do you believe you know who they were?’’ Allen asked.
‘‘My gaydar doesn’t even work that well in the present, let alone retroactively, but one can only assume that’s the case,’’ Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg entered the race as a little-known mayor from a modest-sized city. But in recent months, he has become one of the more prominent candidates in the crowded Democratic field, regularly polling among the top five nationally.
On Sunday, he stepped off the campaign trail following a deadly shooting by a police officer in his city, and he canceled a planned appearance Monday at an LGBTQ gala in New York hosted by the Democratic National Committee.