President Trump enjoyed another good week. A positive omen as he works to build momentum in the run-up to Inauguration Day.
Among the week’s successes were an invitation to the Syrian peace talks, a process from which President Obama has been excluded, and Lockheed Martin announcing that it is close to deal with the Pentagon to lower costs “significantly” for the dramatically over-budget F-35 project.
These wins were crucial for Trump, not only because they reinforce his brand as the inveterate dealmaker, but also because they were long-standing issues that President Obama was unable to resolve.
In Syria, the Obama administration has been working unsuccessfully for more than a year to begin peace talks, only to find itself frozen out of the inner circle. The result was far more than just a bruised national ego. It demonstrated the United States’ rapidly eroding leadership role in the Middle East, which was creating a vacuum that Russia, Turkey and Iran were more than happy to fill. Trump’s ability to get the U.S. back into the peace talks preserves Washington’s ability to maintain it’s strategic initiatives in the Middle East and demonstrate its status as a regional power.
Although the F-35 announcement is certainly more parochial, it’s no less important. Trump has positioned himself uniquely as a defense hawk, but also a fiscal hawk; a president who will focus on strengthening our military while reducing the costly bureaucracy. Part of that comes through an assessment of military contracts, especially those that are over-time and over-budget.
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control,” Trump tweeted in December. “Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”
Trump didn’t just wait until Inauguration Day. He’s met with Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson several times and apparently reached a breakthrough in negotiations on Friday.
“I certainly share his views that we need to get the best capability to our men and women in uniform, and we have to get it at the lowest possible price,” Hewson told reporters in Trump Tower after her meeting with the president-elect. “So I’m glad I had the opportunity to tell him that we are close to a deal that will bring the cost down significantly from the previous lot of aircraft…and moreover it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the United States.”
But the biggest story of the week was the relative smooth sailing of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees. Byron York writes for The Washington Examiner:
This was supposed to be the week President-elect Trump’s nominees endured tough grilling and determined opposition in Senate confirmation hearings. “Trump Cabinet picks face extreme vetting ahead of confirmation,” USA Today reported last month, predicting that several Trump picks could face a very difficult time on Capitol Hill.
Now Week One is ending, and the tough grilling mostly didn’t materialize. And all of Trump’s first week of nominees seem headed toward confirmation.
Some of the hearings went so well that press accounts declared them a “lovefest.” Chao’s hearing certainly qualified, as did Kelly’s. Others, like Mattis’s, were smooth and businesslike. Still others, like Sessions’, ended up being far less adversarial than expected, either because Democratic attacks lacked energy and focus, or the nominee was able to deftly handle the situation, or both. Only Tillerson’s was problematic, due to a combination of the nominee’s lack of experience in the field and a mini-drama set off by a senator of Tillerson’s own party. Even with that, though, Tillerson looks to be in solid shape.
Yes, Donald Trump will most likely lose one of his nominees—that would be par for the course over the last few presidents—but the generally positive hearings spoke volumes about Democrats’ plan to target eight of his Cabinet selections.
Maybe Democrats’ opposition research team needs revamped, or maybe their message just needed to be finer tuned, or maybe, just maybe, Trump’s Cabinet picks are actually qualified to do the job they’ve been selected to do. Each of the men and women who testified demonstrated themselves to be different, at least when compared to the recent string of bureaucrats and insiders who have stuffed presidents’ inner-circle, but they also demonstrated why each of them has risen to through the ranks in their various fields.
They are talented. They are intelligent. They are well-spoken. And they can brush aside middling attempts to bring them down like an adult swatting a fly.
Amid all the tumult swirling around him, Donald Trump proved this week to be a leader who can get things done. And perhaps more importantly, someone who can surround himself with similarly strong advisers.