Donald Trump attacks departing Cabinet member Jim Mattis at bizarre Cabinet meeting

Trump met with his Cabinet on Wednesday even though a number of those positions remain unfilled by the Senate

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 2, 2019 3:12PM (EST)

Donald Trump; James Mattis (AP/Salon)
Donald Trump; James Mattis (AP/Salon)

President Donald Trump met with his Cabinet on Wednesday even though many of the officials present have not been confirmed by the Senate.

As Elizabeth McLaughlin of ABC News tweeted on Wednesday, the term "acting" needs to appear before the names of the Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, Secretary of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, budget director and United Nations ambassador because the people originally appointed to those roles have either stepped down or been fired, and their replacements have not yet been confirmed.

The status of each of those positions remains up in the air. Although the Justice Department is currently being run by Matthew Whitaker, Trump has nominated former Attorney General William Barr to replace fired former attorney general Jeff Sessions, according to The Hill. Trump has also nominated State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert to replace outgoing United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and wants Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to become full-time leader of that group after Scott Pruitt was fired due to a number of ethics scandals.

By contrast, Trump has yet to nominate official replacements for former Chief of Staff John Kelly, who has been temporarily replaced by Office of Management and Budget chief Mick Mulvaney; former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who was temporarily replaced by Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan; former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, whose job is currently being filled by Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt; and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who is currently still in the job as budget director although day-to-day operations have been assumed by Deputy Director Russ Vought.

During the Cabinet meeting, Trump took a swipe at Mattis, asking, "What’s he done for me? How had he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan and I shouldn't be happy."

The president continued the assault against one of his former generals. "I wish him well. I hope he does well. But, as you know, President (Barack) Obama fired him and essentially so did I," Trump argued.

"I want results," he said. "I think I would have been a good general but who knows?"

Trump was flanked by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan as he attacked Mattis, for whom Shanahan served as deputy and who quit his post in a scathing op-ed late last month.

More broadly, the president rambled about the supposed connection between the Soviet Union's defeat in Afghanistan and its subsequent fall as an empire. The president also mused that his job would be "a lot easier if I just relaxed & enjoyed the presidency like a lot of other people have done," according to a reporter from The New York Times. A reporter from CBS News also noticed the appearance of a "sanctions are coming" poster of Trump on the table during the meeting.

Prior to the meeting itself, people expected it to cover touchy issues like the government shutdown and funding for Trump's promised border wall. It did indeed do so, although Trump also availed himself of the opportunity to denounce incoming Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, for not being "more of a team player," saying he wants to get out of Syria because "it's sand and it's death" and proclaiming that "we are in a shutdown because Democrats refuse to fund border security."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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