Stability or chaos: The turnover rate in the Biden vs. Trump Cabinets speaks for itself

The success or failure of a presidency can often depend on the people chosen for Cabinet-level posts. President Joe Biden has just passed the three-year mark of his first term. His administration has been a model of stability and competence. This follows the four years of chaos and incompetence that marked Donald Trump’s miserable administration.

And that point is clear when you look at the turnover rate in both administrations among the 15 Cabinet members in the line of succession for the presidency as well as the nine additional Cabinet-level positions.

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Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a visiting fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, has written detailed analyses on overall staff turnover in the Trump administration and the Biden administration. There’s Biden, who kept his promise to make his Cabinet the most diverse in U.S. history with more women and members of color, all of whom had considerable political experience. His Cabinet includes Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to be a Cabinet-level secretary, and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve in a president’s Cabinet.

And so far only one Cabinet member has resignedLabor Secretary Marty Walsh, the former Boston mayor, who stepped down in March 2023. A longtime Boston Bruins fan, Walsh accepted an offer to become executive director of the NHL Players’ Association. Julie Su is serving as acting labor secretary because the Senate has yet to confirm her nomination.

And just two of the nine additional Cabinet-level positions have seen change. Longtime Biden aide Ron Klain stepped down as White House chief of staff at the mid-point of Biden’s term, and was immediately replaced by Jeff Zients, who effectively ran Biden’s COVID-19 response operation. He remains in the post.

The second is Cecilia Rouse, the first Black woman to serve as chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, resigned in March 2023 to return to Princeton University and resume her work as a professor of economics and public affairs. She was replaced by longtime Biden economic adviser Jared Bernstein.

That means that 21 of 24 of Biden’s original appointees remain in their positions heading into the fourth year of his term. National Journal White House correspondent George E. Condon Jr. wrote:

In his three years in office, the president has been determined to keep his top team mostly intact, and that team in turn has been determined to avoid the leaks, backstabbing, and controversy that have led to purges and makeovers in almost all the nine presidencies Biden has witnessed in his half century in Washington.

National Journal review of past administrations found that one has to go back 171 years to find a more stable first-term administration.”

Condon wrote that Biden’s 87.5% retention rate in these top positions is topped in U.S. presidential history only by Franklin Pierce, elected in 1852, whose seven-member Cabinet remained intact during his four-year term. Condon added:

The contrast is particularly sharp compared with Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, whose Cabinet chaos was matched by no president in almost two centuries. By the end of his term in office, only four of Trump’s original 15 Cabinet members remained and only one of nine Cabinet-level appointees had survived. His retention rate of 20.8 percent exceeded only the president whose picture he brought to the Oval Office—Andrew Jackson, who had only one of six Cabinet members remaining at the end of his first term.

In January 2023, midway through Biden’s term. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told NBC News, “Not one single member of the Cabinet has left in disgrace, is writing a tell-all book or has bad-mouthed the president. There are no leaks, no backbiting, nothing.”

Only recently has there been a major controversy surrounding a member of Biden’s Cabinet which is under investigationDefense Secretary Lloyd Austin was criticized for his failure to notify the White House, Congress, and the media about his hospitalization resulting from complications related to a procedure to treat prostate cancer.

And House Republicans have scheduled a Homeland Security Committee meeting for Jan. 30 to mark up articles of impeachment for Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his handling of border policy. Democrats have accused House Republicans of launching a “baseless political attack” instead of focusing on a bipartisan solution to the immigration crisis, Axios reported.

Presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky, author of “The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution,” told National Journal:

“Trump’s Cabinet chaos reflected the broader chaos in government. It’s a reason why most people elected Biden. It was because they felt like he would bring calmness and stability back to government and back to the nation.”

She added that this stability is one of the reasons why Biden “has been able to be effective.”

“Up to now, he’s not spending political capital or time on having to get new candidates appointed or finding replacements. It frees up mental space and bandwidth and political capital to get things done,” she said.

Trump promised to bring “the best and the brightest” to his administration. He also said he would run his administration like his business. Unfortunately, as shown in a New York civil lawsuit in which Trump faces up to $370 million in penalties, there was persistent fraud in his business dealings.

And, as The New York Times noted, Trump “created a  cabinet of mostly wealthy, white men with limited experience in government, mirroring himself.”

Vox wrote in May 2017:

CEOs don’t persuade people; they dictate. And they fire those who refuse to carry out their demands. Even more importantly, a CEO of a privately held company (like the Trump organization) operates like a king over his personal fiefdom. His employees work for him; they have no higher obligation to shareholders.

And three years later, during the 2020 campaign, The Hill wrote about just how tumultuous the Trump administration had been:

Trump operates like the federal government is just a backdrop for a never-ending episode of “The Apprentice,” except that he dominates every scene. And, just like “The Apprentice,” Trump is constantly trying to make every scene more outrageous than the one before. After all, dull is death in the TV business.

Trump fired some Cabinet members he considered disloyal or incompetent by his standards. Others resigned because of differences over policy issues.

The turnover in the Trump administration began less than a month after his inauguration when national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign following claims he misled the administration over his communications with Russia’s ambassador. In December 2020, Trump pardoned Flynn, who had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Trump then ran through three more national security advisers—H.R. McMaster, John Bolton, and Robert O’ Brien. Bolton, who was fired over policy differences, has warned that Trump could do  “irreparable” damage to the country if elected president again.

There were four White House chiefs of staff under Trump: Reince Priebus, John Kelly, Mick Mulvaney, and Mark Meadows.    

Meadows was among the 19 people indicted with Trump in the criminal racketeering case brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for allegedly conspiring to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia. 

Kelly became an outspoken critic of Trump. CNN reported that Kelly told friends this about Trump:

“The depths of his (Trump’s) dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life,” the retired Marine general has told friends, CNN has learned.

Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO, after he called the president “a moron.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin called Trump “an idiot,” while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the president had “the understanding of a fifth or six grader,” according to Bob Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House.” Mnuchin was one of the few Cabinet members to survive four years in the Trump administration.  

Three of Trump’s Cabinet members left after being linked to scandals involving misuse of government funds for personal purposes: Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceSecretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin. Zinke, of Montana, is now a member of the House GOP caucus.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced out in November 2018, because he recused himself and appointed a special counsel, Robert  Mueller, to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. His successor, William Barr, resigned in December 2020 after debunking Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the presidential  election.

And then, with just weeks left in Trump’s term, two more Cabinet members—Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos—were among the administration officials who resigned after the mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump has since derisively referred to Chao, the wife of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in social media posts as “Coco Chow,” which she criticized as an anti-Asian slur.

In July 2023, NBC News reached out to 44 of the dozens of people who served in Cabinet-level positions during Trump’s term, not all of whom responded. A total of four publicly said they support his reelection bid. Several were coy about where they stood. And there were some who “outright oppose his bid for the GOP nomination or are adamant that they don’t want him back in power.”

“I have made clear that I strongly oppose Trump for the nomination and will not endorse Trump,” former Attorney General Bill Barr told NBC News. Asked how he would vote if the general election pits Trump against President Joe Biden, a Democrat, Barr said: “I’ll jump off that bridge when I get to it.”

At the time, some former Cabinet members told NBC that they were supporting other candidates in the Republican primary. Former Vice President Mike Pence and Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, challenged Trump for the nomination. Haley is hanging on in the primary race by a thread.

It’s not clear how many of these former Cabinet members will join the stampede within the GOP to endorse Trump now that he’s won the first two nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, especially since he’s been acting like a Mafia don in threatening Republicans who oppose him.

But on the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 insurrection, former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who was fired by Trump on Nov. 9, 2020, issued this warning about the former president in an interview on CNN.

“I do regard him as a threat to democracy, democracy as we know it, our institutions, our political culture, all those things that make America great and have defined us as, you know, the oldest democracy on this planet,” Esper said.

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‘He’s trying to get a rise out of us’: Watch Elaine Chao respond to Trump’s racist taunts

It’s no surprise that when Donald Trump has no argument to make, he resorts to racism and xenophobia. Trump's most recent target has been former U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. He has been relentlessly attacking Chao and her husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. While Chao initially stayed quiet in regards to the attacks, she responded back to Trump last week after Trump repeated a racist nickname he has used for her before, the Courier-Journal reported.

In an interview with CNN, Chao called the nickname a "racist taunt" and said he's "trying to get a rise out of us.”

"He says all sorts of outrageous things, and I don't make a point of answering any one of them," Chao said.

After Trump revived his racist nickname of her overnight, Former Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says, “He’s trying to get a rise out of us. He says all sorts of outrageous things, and I don't make a point of answering any of one of them.”

— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 29, 2022

The response follows several incidents when Trump was racist towards Chao, including a Sept. 30 post on Truth Social in which he referred to Chao as "Coco Chow."

"Is McConnell approving all of these Trillions of Dollars worth of Democrat sponsored Bills, without even the slightest bit of negotiation, because he hates Donald J. Trump, and he knows I am strongly opposed to them, or is he doing it because he believes in the Fake and Highly Destructive Green New Deal, and is willing to take the Country down with him?" Trump said.

He continued: "In any event, either reason is unacceptable. He has a DEATH WISH. Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!"

While it's not new that Trump is making racist attacks on individuals—he’s done that throughout his role in the public eye—the attacks follow Trump’s broken relationship with Chao’s husband.

According to the Courier-Journal, McConnell’s relationship with Trump broke at the end of Trump’s presidency when the Kentucky Republican said Trump is "practically and morally responsible for provoking" the Jan. 6 riots. While McConnell voted to acquit Trump of inciting the insurrection in a 2021 impeachment trial, his previous comments clearly rubbed Trump the wrong way.

But instead of just targeting him, Trump took to targeting his wife, who moved to the U.S. from Taiwan as a child.

Commenting on the language Trump used towards her, Chao said Thursday it's "helpful if the media does not repeat" the racist comment he has been making.

"I mean if it were the N-word or any other word, the media would not repeat it," she said. "But the media continuously repeats his racist taunt."

Trump continues to rant about McConnell and Chao. His latest attack includes claims that they both have a conflict of interest with China.

Trump's racist obsession with Elaine Chao is really something. Almost every day now he mentions her.

— George Conway🌻 (@gtconway3d) January 11, 2023

Comments questioning their interest in China follow a pattern. In another social media post in August, Trump not only called Chao "crazy" but accused McConnell of trying to get “rich on China.” 

Seems like Trump will never learn the value words have. Despite studies showing that several of his comments, including referring to the novel coronavirus as the “China virus,” have encouraged attacks on Asian Americans, Trump continues to perpetuate his hateful rhetoric.

RELATED STORY: 'Hate has no place': This AAPI Heritage Month, let's work on ending anti-Asian hate and bias

GOP disarray: Trump blasts Mitch, Bowers calls out GOP ‘fascism,’ Colorado senator switches to Dems

While Joe Biden and fellow Democrats are getting things done, the GOP is increasingly in disarray as it embraces the MAGAverse and the cult of Trump. In fact, so much is going on that it might be time for periodic roundups of the internal fissures within the GOP.

Democrats still face an uphill battle in the November midterms, but the tide is turning in our favor. So let’s start with the dust-up between Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Last week, McConnell conceded that the House has a better chance of flipping than the Senate. During a stop in Kentucky, McConnell told reporters:

“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” McConnell said. “Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” he added, without mentioning any names.

But it was clear that he was referring to Trump-backed candidates in key swing states who are all trailing their Democratic opponents in recent polls—Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, J.D. Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia, and Blake Masters in Arizona. McConnell is backing pro-impeachment incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, while Trump is supporting her 2020 election denier rival, Kelly Tshibaka, in Alaska’s Senate race.  

That didn’t sit well with the master of the MAGAverse. Over the weekend, Trump posted this on his Truth Social platform:

Why do Republican Senators allow a broken down hack politician, Mitch McConnell, to openly disparage hard working Republican candidates for the United States Senate. This is such an affront to honor and to leadership. He should spend more time (and money!) helping them get elected, and less time helping his crazy wife and family get rich on China!

Elaine Chao, McConnell’s wife, served as secretary of Transportation during Trump’s four-year term, but resigned shortly after the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol. 

Immediately after the insurrection, McConnell took to the Senate floor to say that Tump is “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events” of Jan. 6. However, he spinelessly voted to acquit Trump at his second impeachment trial a few weeks later.

As for Chao, whose family emigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan when she was a child, there have been questions raised as to whether she aided her father’s shipping company through her government positions. The U.S. Transportation Department's Inspector General's office investigated Chao for potential violations of ethics rules and misuse of her position, and published its findings in March. Chao's father, James S.C. Chao, founded a shipping company, now called the Foremost Group, which her sister Angela now heads. The firm does significant business in China.

McConnell’s criticism of Trump was relatively mild compared with what Arizona’s ousted House Speaker Rusty Bowers had to say about Trump and his party in an extraordinary interview with The Guardian. Bowers, a staunch conservative, testified in a public hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection about the pressure he faced to overturn Arizona’s presidential election result that gave Joe Biden a narrow win.

Earlier this month, Trump got his revenge when Bowers lost a Republican primary race to challenger David Farnsworth, who claimed that the 2020 election had been satanically snatched from Trump by the “devil himself.”

Bowers detailed to The Guardian how Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and John Eastman pressured him to have the state legislature use an arcane Arizona law to switch the election outcome to Trump. He resisted the bullying. ”The thought that if you don’t do what we like, then we will just get rid of you and march on and do it ourselves—that to me is fascism,” Bowers said.

With the primary loss behind him, Bowers, who is a Mormon, felt unhindered in letting loose on Trump and the GOP. “The constitution is hanging by a thread,” he told The Guardian. “The funny thing is, I always thought it would be the other guys. And it’s my side. That just rips at my heart: that we would be the people who would surrender the constitution in order to win an election. That just blows my mind.”

Bowers said he remains optimistic that the GOP will one day find its way back on to the rails, but said that things are likely to get much worse before they get better. He said the Arizona GOP seems to be lost at the moment. “They’ve invented a new way. It’s a party that doesn’t have any thought. It’s all emotional, it’s all revenge. It’s all anger. That’s all it is,” Bowers said.

And in Colorado, one GOP state senator went even further when he announced Monday that he couldn’t remain a Republican any longer and was defecting to the Democrats. State Sen. Kevin Priola wrote in a two-page letter that there is “too much at stake right now for Republicans to be in charge.” He added: “Simply put, we need Democrats in charge.”

Priola cited two main reasons for switching parties: Many Republicans peddling false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and the party’s efforts to block legislation that would fight climate change even as Coloradans endure worsening wildfires and drought.

Priola has served in the Colorado legislature as a Republican since 2009, first as a representative and then, starting in 2017, as a senator. Term limits bar him from seeking reelection in 2024. His defection increases the Democratic state Senate majority ahead of the November elections.

“I haven’t changed much in 30 years; but my party has,” Priola wrote. “Coloradans cannot afford for their leaders to give credence to election conspiracies and climate denialism,” he wrote, adding: “Our planet and our democracy depend on it.”

Cartoon: ‘EZ-Leave!’ To Show You Care

Now that President Trump has become the first president in the history of the United States to be impeached twice, more of his Republican allies will no doubt slink away. Resignations have already been piling up from the cabinet level on down since Trump incited a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol building.

Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao and Mick Mulvaney, among others, have just had it up to here with this president. Why, some switch must have flipped and made Trump a madman, right? (Mulvaney even said that today’s Trump is not the one he knew eight months ago.)

I’m happy complicit Republicans are finally trying to un-complicit themselves, I just wish they had found their spines when Trump tried to get Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on Joe Biden or when the administration separated thousands of children from their families or right after the “both sides” comment about Charlottesville or . . .

Enjoy the cartoon, cross your fingers for an impeachment conviction and visit me over on my Patreon pages if you can help support my work — and get behind-the-scenes goodies for yourself!