Trump personnel office weighs asking appointees to offer their resignationsOctober 10, 2020
The White House Presidential Personnel Office is considering asking nearly every political appointee in the Trump administration to write and tender provisional letters of resignation right before the election, according to two senior administration officials.
The personnel office would then decide which ones to accept and which to reject — giving President Donald Trump maximum flexibility in choosing his team in a possible second term.
The potential maneuver has angered some officials as appointees calculate their next career moves — weighing their loyalty to the president and his agenda against the danger that he may lose in November and leave them scrambling for gainful employment.
“It’s a rotten way to treat people who risked their own reputations and career paths to join the administration and have been working tirelessly to get the president over the finish line,” said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as to not publicly antagonize the White House.
The personnel office is led by Johnny McEntee, a 30-year-old former Trump body man who has sought to replace political appointees seen as unreliable allies of the president with unquestionably loyal devotees of Trump.
McEntee, who traveled frequently with Trump before the White House was struck by a coronavirus outbreak, has clashed with some top agency officials over his efforts to install loyalists throughout the executive branch. In some cases, the new appointees had not even finished college at the time of their arrival.
Asked for comment, a senior White House official said it was “standard practice to review personnel going into a potential second term,” but stressed that “no definitive plans are in place.” McEntee didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
But veterans of the personnel office say that asking for provisional resignation letters ahead of an election — rather than, say, in January before Inauguration Day — would be highly unusual.
“None of the Republican administrations have done that before,” said a former official who has worked in the personnel office in past GOP administrations. A former senior Obama White House PPO official also said that the office did not ask for letters of resignation from all political appointees back in 2012, and slammed the potential move as “incredible.”
The two current senior administration officials said PPO’s pending order for these resignations is not yet widely known within the administration — nor was it clear the president is aware of the personnel office’s plans or has approved them. Trump said in August that he considers “firing everybody.”
If Trump loses, it’s unclear if any of the resignation letters would be accepted or if appointees would be allowed to leave the administration on their own terms. But administration officials expect a mad scramble to find post-Trump employment, raising the prospect of an already hollowed out federal government emptying further in its final months.
The officials familiar with PPO’s plans said they would instill fear and uncertainty in political appointees, and complained that the potential order would complicate their ability to find new jobs. It’s easier to find a new job from a secure perch, they said.
If Democrats take power, Trump appointees who had well-established careers and good reputations before the current administration are much more likely to be able to line up their next gigs than those who owe their current jobs solely to Trump.
And even if Trump does win re-election, one of the officials said, “This might create some anxiety because people have lives and they have to prepare for any kind of circumstances.” This person added: “So if you have to cut them before they’re prepared, it’s gonna cause some chaos in their lives.”
Other signs of friction between McEntee and other administration power centers have emerged in recent weeks.
In mid-September, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows announced internally that many of the White House liaisons at the agencies were going to be replaced. The memo led to speculation among some officials that Meadows had to send it out because McEntee was unable to get it done on his own, perhaps because officials below him were receiving pushback from the agencies and needed senior-level backing.
And Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, also publicly embarrassed the powerful personnel chief by accidentally letting reporters see his notes at a speech a couple weeks ago. The notes revealed that Carson was “not happy” with how PPO was handling his department.
“I am very loyal to you and after you win I hope to stay in your administration,” read the typed-up notes, which appeared to be talking points for a chat Carson was going to have with Trump. “I am not happy with the way PPO is handling my agency.”
PPO conducted interviews of almost every political appointee earlier in the summer, which were widely viewed as being loyalty tests. During the interviews, appointees were also asked whether they planned to stick around for a potential second term and what job they would want if so.
The officials said that once such a request for a resignation letter becomes widely known in the administration, it’s certain to hit morale. The personnel office’s move would backfire on the White House, they said, and cause disgruntled officials to leak damaging information on the president or his top aides.
“It seems like a loyalty test before an election isn’t the smartest way to drive positive work attitudes,” one of the senior administration officials said.
“Humans are fickle,” the person added. “They’re working hard to get the president reelected and at the same time, being told they’re not loyal enough. It’s kind of a mind f***.”