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Trump is taking his time to fill more than 500 key jobs, and that could stymie his agenda

Josh Barro
donald trump air force one

(President Trump.Associated Press/Susan Walsh)

President Donald Trump has an explanation for why he has not yet proposed a nominee for 516 key Senate-confirmable positions.

"In many cases, we don't want to fill those jobs," he told Fox News on Tuesday morning. "A lot of those jobs I don't want to appoint because they're unnecessary to have."

So far, Trump's pace of nominations doesn't lag that far behind former President Obama's: Trump has nominated 33 people, compared to 49 for Obama at this point in 2009. However, a 2010 law was supposed to help this president get people in place faster than previous ones by starting the transition earlier, in the August before the election.

If Trump is serious about his stated intention to leave a lot of jobs unfilled, then his agenda is likely to be undermined. Just because you leave a job unfilled doesn't mean it doesn't get done. Often, it means it gets done by someone who isn't loyal to you.

If you don't put your people in jobs at departments and agencies, then holdover staff and civil servants will have more control over what those agencies do.

I suspect Trump understands this on some level, given how much he has complained — not always without cause — that people in the bureaucracy don't like him and are trying to stop him from implementing his agenda.

Trump's claim that he wants to leave many jobs open might just be his excuse for a transition process that has been slowed by the reluctance of some Republican policy experts to go to work in this administration, Trump's insistence in many cases on finding candidates who were loyal to him through the election, disputes between the White House and agencies over staffing choices, and the disorganization that stemmed from Trump's choice to fire transition head Chris Christie right after the election.

Still, there are reasons Trump is not good at staffing up and strategizing about how to deal with a hostile bureaucracy. It's not an accident that the man's slogan is "You're fired" and not "You're hired."

It's one more reason I expect a lower quantity of policy out of this administration than its backers hope or its detractors fear. If personnel is policy, then choosing not to have personnel is choosing not to have policy.

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