What the dysfunction around hiring H.R. McMaster says about Donald Trump's administration

What the dysfunction around hiring H.R. McMaster says about Donald Trump's administration
US President Donald Trump (R) walks away after naming US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (L) as his national security adviser and Keith Kellogg (C) as McMaster's chief of staff at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb. 20.
Source: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump (R) walks away after naming US Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster (L) as his national security adviser and Keith Kellogg (C) as McMaster's chief of staff at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Feb. 20.
Source: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Donald Trump's new national security adviser is a stark contrast to Michael Flynn. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster is a well-liked intelligence community leader who is a noted student of history, known for writing a book that says the military needs to stand up to the president with facts. McMaster's appointment was roundly praised by Democrats and Republicans alike — but this development papers over the larger story at play.

On Thursday, Trump's first pick for the position declined the job. Retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward reportedly called the offer a "shit sandwich" because he would not have control over his staff and might clash with White House staffers. (Because McMaster is on active duty, there's speculation he may have had to accept Trump's offer.) Then, a National Security Council staffer was fired for making comments critical of Trump at a private dinner in Washington, D.C. The dismissed staffer reportedly sees Bannon as running a shadow national security operation that advises Trump without the input of the formal national security team.

All this comes after Flynn was dismissed for speaking with the Russian ambassador about sanctions before Trump took office, and then lying about it to the FBI (and Mike Pence). None of these developments suggest the NSC is functioning effectively, or is necessarily Trump's first point of advice on military matters. But this dysfunction is part of a much broader problem: According to the Washington Post, Trump has only nominated individuals to fill about 6% of 549 key positions in his administration. More than 515 jobs, all of which require Senate confirmation, have yet to draw their nominees. The NSC's problems may be largely driven by political vs. military concerns. But the longer Barack Obama appointees remain in a holding pattern or positions go unfilled, the more dysfunction can spread among all levels of government.

This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America — and how it affects you. Welcome to the political newsletter that was happy to celebrate Washington and Lincoln on Monday. 

Want to receive this as a daily email in your inbox? Subscribe here

Another weekend of protests

Not My President's Day protests flared up across the country on Monday, with thousands of people from New York to Los Angeles gathering to oppose Trump. The Associated Press reported the turnout was much smaller than the Women's March, one of the largest demonstrations in United States history. Large crowds in New York City packed the streets to protest Trump's anti-media and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In Washington, D.C., signs took aim at alleged but unconfirmed ties between Trump and Putin, reading, "My President? Nyet." Smaller demonstrations against Trump also took place in South Dakota and Utah.

So far, this burgeoning protest movement has remained largely uncoordinated at a national level. Some groups have spearheaded continued activism, and others are trying to facilitate it. But that could change in less than a week. This weekend, the Democratic National Committee will vote to select its new chairman. Rep. Keith Ellison and former labor secretary Tom Perez are the leading candidates. Whoever wins will have to decide how to channel grassroots opposition to Trump and Republicans into ballot box victories for Democratic candidates, a goal that has eluded the party for years.

John McCain's words and actions

On Sunday, after being asked about Trump's comments that the media are the "enemy" of Americans, John McCain said this: "The first thing dictators do is shut down the press." It was just the latest in a string of stinging rebukes to Trump issued by the Arizona senator in recent weeks. The Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, whom Trump mocked for being "captured," has attracted the mantle of "leading Trump critic." But if that's so, why does McCain's voting record so closely align with Trump's agenda?

In this Congress, McCain has voted in line with Trump's position 94% of the time. He opposed only one of Trump's Cabinet nominees. This suggests McCain is willing to rebuke Trump in public to keep (or regain) his "maverick" label, but isn't fundamentally in disagreement with the president on key issues. That latter point shows McCain has come full circle from 2000, when he said he was moving to the left, through his rightward pivot in 2008, to today's much more conservative McCain. Liberals: McCain could prove this narrative wrong, but don't expect him to be your savior in the Senate.

Looming immigration changes

This week is expected to bring a new executive order on immigration that will narrow who is banned from entering the U.S. Trump is expected to target the same seven countries, but only people without visas or who have never entered the U.S. will be barred from coming into the country. People with green cards or visas from those countries would face no restrictions. This comes after a federal appeals court upheld a lower decision to stay Trump's first order that shut down all travel from those seven countries. Whether this new order would still prevent refugees from entering the U.S. and whether existing visas will be revoked is unclear. The new order is expected to remove reference to letting Christians seeking refuge enter the U.S., but not Muslims — a key point of contention in the legal battle over the order. Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said this weekend that the order would be a "tighter, more streamlined version" of the original.

Meanwhile, various reports have increased uncertainty around what the White House is planning regarding deportation. A McClatchy story late last week said Kelly is considering prosecuting parents who smuggled their children into the U.S. That is part of a larger strategy to put hundreds of thousands of additional people on lists for expedited deportation. Another proposed part of this pivot on immigration, which the White House has yet to approve, would send all immigrants who are deported to Mexico — regardless of their country of origin. These releases come as immigrant families are reporting a heightened and constant fear of deportation.

News and insight you cannot miss:

•  Jewish groups are again condemning Trump's lackluster responses to charges that his election has fueled increases in anti-Semitism. (He said Tuesday morning that these threats "are horrible, and are painful.) That comes as tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis were vandalized and 11 Jewish Community Centers reported bomb threats. (Mic)

•  Milo Yiannopoulos has faced condemnation from all sides after a recording of him defending pedophilia was released over the weekend. Yiannopoulos lost a book deal, and Breitbart is reportedly considering firing him. (Mic)

•  A camp of indigenous protesters at Standing Rock are surrounded by militarized police and have a day to go until they will be required to evacuate. On Wednesday, everyone in the camp could face arrest. (Mic)

•  The petition to prevent Trump from making an official state visit to the United Kingdom has reached more than 1.8 million signatures — its goal was 100,000.

•  "I didn't think I'd ever leave the CIA. But because of Trump, I quit." A former Obama national security staffer explains why he left the government. (Washington Post)

•  Trump is golfing — a lot. But his aides are loathe to admit it. (CNN)

•  Investing in infrastructure in the U.S. has fallen off Trump's legislative radar and may no longer be a first 100 days priority. Maybe that has something to do with Trump's governing style. (Huffington Post)

•  Breaking with Trump's statements, the secretary of defense says in Baghdad: "We're not in Iraq to seize anybody's oil." (New York Times)

Correction: Feb. 21, 2017

A previous version of Navigating Trump's America misstated the percentage of key positions in the Trump administration that have yet to draw nominees. That number is about 6%.