Washington is a company town, and companies love to have meetings. So, it was a surprise when a few days before Christmas, Politico led one of its stories with this most remarkable sentence: “About two months ago during a fire drill, the White House emptied, and aides congregated outside. It was their first-ever all-staff meeting, an official quipped at the time.”
That seems … unexpected for an administration that we were assured repeatedly was experienced, highly skilled and super smart. But maybe it shouldn’t have been unexpected.
So far, this senior White House staff has produced a string of embarrassments. It’s not just the policy failures concerning inflation, border security or Afghanistan. It’s a simple lack of competence at the jobs they are being paid to do.
The good Lord knows there was plenty of wandering around in the Trump administration, and there were way too many people hired who were actively hostile to the president’s agenda.
But for the most part, things got done. The team produced tax reform, trade deals, vaccines, a new branch of the military, energy independence and a secure border. The economy was good, enemies were killed, and no Americans needed to be evacuated from foreign countries. Team Trump managed to keep the congressional Republicans together on the misguided and punitive first impeachment. Judges and other appointees were confirmed.
Team Biden is something entirely different. They are well-credentialed, well-experienced, well-known Washington hands. Yet they are not any good at what they do — whether that is policy development or legislative affairs or diplomacy or managing the enterprise.
They were “surprised” when Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona doused filibuster reform with cold water. They were “shocked” when Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, said he wouldn’t support the reconciliation legislation as it was then constructed.
Did these people just get here?
Unfortunately, they did not. Most worked in the Obama administration; many worked in the Clinton administration. Nevertheless, they always seem to be the last people to know when something will happen.
It’s understandable. The media routinely protects Democrats by not pointing out where they have failed. Unlike Republicans, who face constant and mostly hostile scrutiny from the media, Democratic operatives and elected officials don’t, so they become lazy and overconfident.
How much clearer could Mr. Manchin have made his position? Nevertheless, the media kept asking him the same questions repeatedly in hopes of hearing different answers. Team Biden undoubtedly believed — like its friends in the media — that if asked enough times, the answers would eventually change.
The Office of Legislative Affairs seems particularly in over its head. Not once but twice (for the reconciliation legislation and voting “reform”), they have sent the president to Capitol Hill without a victory remotely in sight. They allowed the press secretary to poison the waters with Mr. Manchin by attacking him from the podium in the press room.
It would be one thing if there were a list of achievements. But there isn’t. The administration got the American Rescue Plan passed. Senate Republicans got infrastructure passed. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell helped pass the debt ceiling increase.
Liberals continue to wait for legislation that taxes the rich, federalizes elections, empowers labor unions, gives statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico, “reforms” the police, increases the number of Supreme Court justices, kills the filibuster (a Senate rule), etc. “Moderates” who represent rich folks are still waiting for the cap on deductions of state and local taxes to be removed.
The State of the Union address, scheduled for March 1 (far and away the latest ever), undoubtedly will be among the longest in history and will come in the wake of the failed efforts on the federalization of voting and building back better. That will place President Biden in the uncomfortable position of reminding everyone of recent failures.
All of this should make people wonder about the value of being credentialed, experienced and known Washington veterans. Maybe simple competence is more important than whether the media likes you, or you went to the right schools, or you pal around with the right people.
Washington is a company town. The last CEO engaged in a bit of a hostile takeover, which the company men on both sides of the aisle could not tolerate. The current CEO was perfectly adequate at his last job with the company. It only required him to go to funerals and make speeches. But he and his team are clearly way out of their depth now.
That means it is only going to get worse for them and for all of us.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.