Misbehaving cabinet members get a scolding from John Kelly

A scolding for misbehaving cabinet members from Chief of Staff John Kelly, the Hope Hicks replacement game, the blurred lines between politics and official business in the West Wing, a potentially imminent conclusion to the Russia investigations in Congress, and the union factor in the Pennsylvania special election--it's all on Inside Politics.

Posted: Mar 13, 2018 10:47 AM
Updated: Mar 13, 2018 10:50 AM

Here are the stories our D.C. insiders are talking about in this week's "Inside Politics" forecast, where you get a glimpse of tomorrow's headlines today.

1) Cabinet behaving badly

White House chief of staff John Kelly has led a fire drill of sorts at the White House in recent weeks: Calling in a handful of Cabinet members whose first class travel, lavish spending or management style have led to embarrassing headlines.

The Cabinet secretaries were pushed to be more careful, and to put in place better checks on bad and questionable behavior.

GOP congressional leaders are among those who have been grumbling, or passing along rank-and-file grumbling, about months of "Cabinet behaving badly" stories. A lot of Washington can be confusing, or eye glazing, to voters, but they understand expensive first class travel, or paying $31,000 for a dining room set. It helps feed a perception among some voters that chaos is abundant in the Trump administration but common sense in short supply.

The alarms raised by Kelly are welcomed by veteran GOP operatives outside the White House. But there also is a deep sense among leading GOP voices that the fact it took more than a year for this issue to get high-level attention is more proof the White House political and management teams are not up to snuff, or so overwhelmed with constant West Wing drama that they are not policing the rest of the administration.

2) A new Hope

The angling to be the next White House communications director is fierce.

Trusted presidential confidante Hope Hicks is leaving, and competing factions in the West Wing have different opinions on who is best suited for that plum and important job.

Politico's Eliana Johnson shared what her sources are saying -- that two names at or near the top of the list are White House aide Mercedes Schlapp, said to be a favorite of chief of staff John Kelly, and Tony Sayegh, who holds the top communications job at the Treasury Department.

Hicks had a unique role in Trump's orbit, with trust built up from her days at the Trump Organization and in the Trump campaign.

So as she goes, Johnson said anyone pushing to be her replacement would be wise to remember the President has a habit of speed dialing trusted allies not on the White House payroll.

"The question in my mind is whether it matters who replaces Hope Hicks," Johnson says. "It may matter internally, but I think the President is likely to continue to call on her as he accumulates advisers outside the White House as people leave and he continues to call them on the phone."

3) A campaign year legal reminder

Call it a continuing education: Top White House aides are getting some important legal advice about the dos and don'ts of campaign-year politics.

Compliance with the so-called Hatch Act is always a key requirement for executive branch employees. The law prohibits those in government roles from taking sides in campaign battles. It's an issue front and center of late because of a recent finding that White House counselor Kellyanne Conway crossed the line during last year's Alabama Senate race.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times reports the White House counsel's office is requiring aides to review the rules, and it's even issuing advisories after some of President Trump's more political tweets.

"One thing we've seen a lot of with this White House is the blurring of the lines between the political and the official," Davis says. "I'm told that Kellyanne Conway, who was reprimanded last week for having violated the Hatch Act, is not likely to be disciplined by President Trump, but White House lawyers have stepped up their warnings and reminders to people in the West Wing, even going so far as to send around individual emails when the President tweets, saying, 'This one is a political one, don't retweet.'"

4) Look for the union turnout

Pennsylvania's special congressional election on Tuesday is not only a test of President Trump's sway.

A giant factor, both in the district and looking forward to the November midterms, is whether members of union households turn out in big numbers, and whether they are swayed by the President's new tariffs on steel and aluminum.

CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson broke down the numbers, and the high stakes.

"Union members make up about 30% of the electorate," Henderson says. "Obviously, a Democrat hasn't been on the ballot there the last two cycles in that district. Republicans say Saccone is really strong with actual members rank-and-file, if not the leadership, so it'll be a real test of the political muscle of unions, and we'll certainly have some lessons going forward for the rest of the cycle."

5) From Congress, with discord

It is report time for one of the big Russia meddling investigations on Capitol Hill, and maybe for a second as well.

The Senate Intelligence Committee plans a report in the coming days on the question of Russia election interference, with an eye on detailing what is being done and what more needs to be done to prevent it from happening again. That committee, with only a few hiccups, has a good track record of bipartisanship.

The House Intelligence Committee is a very different story. It has been ripped apart by partisanship almost from the get-go and is at a crossroads now. Democrats say there is a lot more ground to cover, but most Republicans want to call it a day.

Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post took us inside that debate, including the question of whether the House panel will try to put pen to paper.

"They could turn at this point to actually start report writing, which is what many people in the GOP want them to do, because they want this to be done. But if they do, that's of course going to inspire incredible political backlash from Democrats," Demirjian says. "So these next two weeks are pretty critical for watching where Congress is going to go, and that's going to set the tone for the debate there's going to be about this Russia issue going forward into the political season."

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