Trump’s job picks keep quitting, with John Ratcliffe the latest to go

Trump's job picks keep quitting, with John Ratcliffe the latest to go

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Friday to include the withdrawal of DNI pick John Ratcliffe

WASHINGTON – On his first day in office, President Donald Trump formally nominated Andrew Puzder as his labor secretary, handing a key position in his administration to a fast-food magnate who he’d boasted would save businesses from “the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations.”

But Puzder couldn’t even save himself.

Puzder, who ridiculed his own restaurant employees as “the best of the worst” and said he’d like to replace them with robots, withdrew his nomination less than a month later amid devastating revelations he had once employed an undocumented housekeeper and failed to promptly pay taxes on her.

Puzder was one of the first, but not the last, of Trump’s nominees to fall. The pattern has been repeated again and again as more than five dozen of Trump’s picks for various jobs either withdrew or saw their nominations pulled before they were put through the confirmation process in the Senate. 

“We’re way over two years into this administration, and there are very large blocks of the government where you simply don’t have confirmed leadership,” said Max Stier, president and chief executive officer of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that has been tracking the nominations process.

Sixty-three of Trump’s nominees have taken themselves out of consideration or saw their nominations pulled – nearly twice the casualty rate under President Barack Obama, who had withdrawn 32 nominations at the same point in his presidency, according to data collected by Stier’s group.

In Trump’s case, the number is actually higher. The Partnership for Public Service data includes only job candidates who were formally nominated. It doesn’t count nominees for federal judgeships or candidates whom Trump said he intended to nominate but who took themselves out of the running before their official paperwork was sent to the Senate.

The latest Trump pick to withdraw is Rep. John Ratcliffe, who said Friday he is withdrawing his bid to become Director of National Intelligence, days after the president put forth his name. The announcement comes after Democrats and some Republicans have raised questions about whether the Republican congressman from Texas exaggerated his work as federal prosecutor of terrorism cases.

Other chosen-but-not-formally-nominated dropouts include Herman Cain and Stephen Moore, whom Trump announced last spring that he would appoint to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors.

Both quit before Trump ever made their nominations official: Cain withdrew in April after his selection for a position overseeing the central bank touched off a considerable backlash among Democrats and some Republicans in Congress. Moore dropped out less than two weeks later after an uproar over his controversial writings about women and other issues.

Critics, including some Republicans in Congress, have suggested Trump’s high withdrawal rate is caused by the administration’s failure to properly vet the backgrounds of potential nominees.

Some blame the president himself. Trump has complained that the vetting process is “too ugly and too disgusting” and, at times, has chosen to follow his gut instincts instead of the counsel of his advisers – with occasionally disastrous results.

“The president who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ has chosen so many conflict-of-interest-ridden lackeys to run our nation’s government, precipitating a parade of ethics scandals, resignations and withdrawals,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

Schumer said the Trump administration seems to have a two-part test for vetting nominees: “Views that are far out of the mainstream and a willingness to enable the president’s constantly changing positions no matter what.”

“This approach is failing the American people,” he said.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Here’s a closer look at 14 of Trump’s high-profile nominees or picks who never made it through the confirmation process:

Andrew Puzder

Position: secretary of labor

Formally nominated: Jan. 20, 2017

Withdrew: Feb. 15, 2017

Puzder, who was chief executive officer of CKE Restaurants, the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains, faced a torrent of criticism over workplace conditions at his restaurants, his opposition to raising the minimum wage and expanding overtime eligibility for workers, and his derogatory comments about some of his employees. The final blow to his nomination was his admission that he had employed an undocumented housekeeper and failed to promptly pay taxes on her. Puzder withdrew before he even received a confirmation hearing in the Senate.

Vincent Viola

Position: Army secretary

Formally nominated: Jan. 20, 2017

Withdrew: Feb. 3, 2017

Viola, the billionaire owner of the Florida Panthers and a West Point graduate, received plaudits from Trump for “distinguished military service” and a “highly impressive” track record in business. Viola quickly pulled his nomination after citing difficulties in divesting himself from his businesses.

Mark Green

Position: Army secretary

Nomination announced: April 7, 2017

Withdrew: May 5, 2017

Green, a physician and Iraq War veteran, was Trump’s second pick for Army secretary after Viola withdrew his nomination for the post. Green quickly came under fire from advocacy organizations for gays and lesbians that denounced him as “a social issues warrior” and from other minority groups over comments that some considered derogatory toward the Islamic faith and its followers. Green called the attacks “false and misleading” but nevertheless took himself out of consideration before he was formally nominated for the job. A Republican aligned with the tea party, he was elected to Congress last November as a representative from Tennessee.

More: Sen. John McCain: Army secretary nominee’s past comments ‘very concerning’

Tom Marino

Position: director, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Formally nominated: Sept. 5, 2017

Withdrew: Oct. 17, 2017

Marino, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, withdrew from consideration for the drug czar’s job less than two days after reports he backed legislation that restricted the enforcement of opioid laws. The Washington Post and “60 Minutes” reported that Marino was the key lawmaker behind legislation that made it virtually impossible for the Drug Enforcement Administration to freeze suspicious narcotics shipments from drug companies.

More: Trump’s drug czar nominee withdraws after his role backing opioid industry exposed

Matthew Petersen

Position: U.S. district court judge, District of Columbia

Formally nominated: Sept. 11, 2017

Withdrew: Dec. 18, 2017

Petersen, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, served on the Federal Election Commission with White House counsel Don McGahn but had no trial experience when Trump chose him for a lifetime federal judgeship in the District of Columbia. At his confirmation hearing, Petersen was unable to answer basic questions about legal procedure while being grilled by Sen. John Kennedy, R-La. Days after a video of the exchange went viral on social media, Petersen withdrew, saying his nomination had become a distraction for the administration.

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K.T. McFarland

Position: U.S. ambassador to Singapore

Nomination announced: Jan. 8, 2018

Withdrew: Feb. 5, 2018

McFarland, who served as Trump’s deputy national security adviser, was tapped twice for the Singapore ambassadorship. Trump first picked her for the job in May 2017, but the nomination stalled in Congress as she came under scrutiny by investigators looking into contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives. Trump announced the following January that he would resubmit McFarland’s nomination, but she withdrew from consideration less than a month later.

More: K.T. McFarland to leave White House amid NSC shakeup

Steven Gardner

Position: director, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement

Formally nominated: Jan. 8, 2018

Withdrew: Sept. 6, 2018

Gardner, a Kentucky mining consultant who questioned whether humans play a role in climate change, won praise from coal groups but criticism from environmentalists when he was chosen to lead the Interior Department’s mining agency. Gardner pulled his nomination before he ever got a confirmation hearing. He blamed his departure on his inability to reach a consensus on the terms of an ethics agreement despite a year of negotiations with the Office of Government Ethics.

Ronny Jackson

Position: Veterans Affairs secretary

Formally nominated: April 16, 2018

Withdrew: April 26, 2018

Jackson, a Navy rear admiral, served as physician to the president and received glowing reviews from Obama and Trump before Trump picked him to become secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump disclosed in February that Jackson was his choice for the job and formally nominated him a few weeks later. By then, Jackson had come under withering criticism for a lack of management experience and for accusations by colleagues that he improperly dished out opioids, drank on the job and fostered a hostile work environment at the White House medical office. He withdrew his nomination after a few weeks.

Ronald Vitiello

Position: director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Formally nominated: Aug. 16, 2018

Withdrew: April 4, 2019

Vitiello served as acting director of the agency responsible for enforcing immigration laws within the nation when Trump nominated him to become the permanent director. Trump withdrew the nomination in April as the agency dealt with a surge in illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexican border. Trump said he wanted ICE to go “in a tougher direction.” Vitiello resigned from the agency six days later.

Heather Nauert

Position: U.N. ambassador

Nomination announced: Dec. 7, 2018

Withdrew: Feb. 16, 2019

Nauert, a former Fox News host who served as the State Department’s spokesperson, withdrew her name from consideration amid concerns about her qualifications for the high-profile ambassadorship. Though Trump announced that she was his choice for the job, she was never formally nominated.

Stephen Moore

Position: Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Nomination announced: March 22, 2019

Withdrew: May 2, 2019

Moore, an economics writer and critic of the Fed, was chosen for a seat on the seven-member board as part of Trump’s plan to change the central bank’s direction. Critics questioned his qualifications for the position, and his controversial writings on women and other topics touched off an uproar. (Moore wrote that he wasn’t a big believer in democracy and called the use of female referees at sporting events “an obscenity.”) Citing “unrelenting attacks on my character,” Moore pulled his name from consideration before he was formally nominated.

More: Why Donald Trump’s Fed picks Stephen Moore and Herman Cain have caused such a ruckus

Herman Cain

Position: Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Nomination announced: April 4, 2019

Withdrew: April 22, 2019

Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, pushed the “9-9-9” tax plan to replace the tax code with an overall 9% tax during his 2012 bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Like Moore, Trump chose him for a seat on the seven-member Federal Reserve board as part of his plan to change the central bank’s direction. Cain’s possible nomination was met with a backlash among Democrats and some Republicans in Congress who cited sexual misconduct allegations against him that surfaced during his failed presidential campaign. As his chances of confirmation were virtually doomed, Cain pulled his name from consideration before he was formally nominated.

Pat Shanahan

Position: secretary of defense

Nomination announced: May 9, 2019

Withdrew: June 18, 2019

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, helped lead the company’s commercial aircraft program before joining the Defense Department as deputy defense secretary in 2017. He took over as acting defense secretary Jan. 1, 2019, after Jim Mattis resigned over differences with Trump. His ascendance to the chief position at the Defense Department ended when Trump announced June 18 that Shanahan decided to withdraw from the confirmation process. The president said he would replace Shanahan with Mark Esper, the secretary of the Army. Trump’s announcement came about an hour after USA TODAY published a story that detailed an FBI examination of a violent domestic dispute in 2010 between Shanahan and his then-wife. 

John Ratcliffe

Position: Director of National Intelligence:

Nomination announced: July 29, 2019

Withdrew: Aug. 2, 2019

Ratcliffe, a Republican congressman from Texas, was picked by Trump for the position after Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator who has held the job since early 2017, announced plans to step down. But Ratcliffe took his name out of consideration after Democrats and some Republicans raised questions about whether he  exaggerated his work as federal prosecutor of terrorism cases. Others questioned Ratcliffe’s experience and whether he could give the president unvarnished advice on Russia given his strong partisan views. 

Contributing: John Fritze and David Jackson

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