Gaffes, ‘established facts’ and cabinet battles... politics as normal under Trump

The President is already facing battles in the Senate to confirm his chosen cabinet members and should be careful about picking too many fights

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The Independent Online

Another day, another batch of stories surrounding the personal conduct of US President Donald Trump’s picks to join his administration, or those already within it.

While senior aide Kellyanne Conway is no stranger to a gaffe, she earned a rebuke from the White House for promoting the products of Trump’s daughter Ivanka – with some suggesting she could have potentially broken ethics laws over conflicts of interest.

Such issues have become a regular occurrence for Trump and his team, and while Trump appears unconcerned, having set out his stall as a man that would not conform to the “politics as normal” model and would bring in the type of characters that Washington would not expect.

The case of Ted Malloch, cited as Trump’s pick for US ambassador to the EU, is another who has faced press attention in the last couple of days – with the Financial Times detailing aspects of his autobiography called Davos, Aspen & Yale that may have been embellished or contradict the available evidence. These include claims that Margaret Thatcher called him a “genius” and “global Sherpa” during an event in 1992. Video appears to show that Thatcher did not use such remarks although Malloch said the “global Sherpa” was an “established fact”.  

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Malloch also recently claimed that he “helped bring down the Soviet Union”. After a period in the State Department, he served as deputy to the executive secretary in the UN Economic Commission for Europe, from 1989 tom 1991, saying the role was “ambassadorial-level”. Officials have said the role is not seen as equivalent, but Malloch told the FT: “The role was always described to me as such.”

While such things may seem small beer, Malloch – an economist who has yet to be nominated by Mr Trump for any position – already faced opposition by EU politicians over remarks that suggested the bloc needed “taming”. Such inflammatory language would appear to do little to ensure that Malloch could provide positive ties with the EU as an ambassadorial role would suggest.

It is also symptomatic of a larger problem. With Trump already facing battles in the Senate to confirm his chosen cabinet members – Tom Price was sworn in as Secretary of Health and Human Services on Friday having got through a narrow 52-47 party-line vote the previous evening – the President should be careful about picking too many battles.

The Vice President Mike Pence has had to step in to break a Senate tie and confirm Education Secretary Betsy DeVos  after two Republicans voted against her, with Senate Democrats fighting tooth-and-nail against a number of other nominees too. There will eventually come a time – despite his bravado – when Trump comes up against a battle he can’t win.

That might come in the Supreme Court in the battle over his immigration ban, something he promised the electorate and needs to follow through on for his own credibility (seemingly whatever the consequences). But, as with his phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, where he backed the “One China” policy over Taiwan despite earlier rhetoric seemingly to the contrary – it might make sense for Trump to play the pragmatist and back away from other contentious picks – before one comes to back to bite him. 

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