Things haven’t been going well for Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross – perhaps you noticed.
Last week, for instance, he and William Barr were held in criminal contempt by the House for their role in obstructing lawmakers’ efforts to extract information about the Trump administration’s ill-fated attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
Believe it or not, that’s not Ross’s biggest problem. The House vote was largely symbolic given that the Justice Department isn’t going to sue Barr, so the contempt resolution is meaningless, but the census boondoggle is nevertheless an issue for Wilbur.
For the better part of a year, the rumor mill has been alive with speculation that Ross’s ouster from the administration is imminent. His personal relationship with the president is, by some accounts anyway, the only reason he’s still Commerce secretary. The census debacle may have been the last straw.
Although we still contend that Trump’s “executive action” (i.e. “ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens in our country”) has the potential to turn wholly nefarious, the Supreme Court rebuke which forced the administration to go that route was embarrassing. Trump isn’t someone who enjoys being embarrassed, and Wilbur is the natural fall guy.
With that in mind, Politico is out with an extremely unflattering portrait of Ross’s Commerce department which, if Trump reads it, could increase the chances of Wilbur being summarily dismissed.
“Sudden departures of senior staffers without explanation. A leader who is disengaged and prone to falling asleep in meetings”, Politico begins, setting the stage.
According to the accounts of four sources with intimate knowledge of the department’s inner workings, Commerce “has reached its apex of dysfunction under Ross who… spends much of his time at the White House to try to retain President Trump’s favor leaving his department adrift”.
If that sounds uniquely Trumpian, that’s because it is – senior officials forced to play the reality TV survivor game first and manage their departments second.
Politico goes on to say that “Ross’s penchant for managing upward at the expense of his staff is leading to what one plugged-in observer described as ‘a disaster over there'”. Apparently, Ross isn’t ever around, which makes him “sort of irrelevant” and “not respected in the building”, according to a former outside adviser.
There are reportedly no regular meetings with senior staffers because Wilbur can’t stay awake – literally. Consider this quote from the same former outside adviser to the department:
Because he tends to fall asleep in meetings, they try not to put him in a position where that could happen so they’re very careful and conscious about how they schedule certain meetings. There’s a small window where he’s able to focus and pay attention and not fall asleep.
A department spokesperson says that’s not true. Wilbur has many “long” meetings, press secretary Kevin Manning insists, adding that “He routinely works 12-hour days and travels often”.
Ok, Kevin. Whatever you say.
Politico also cites a pair of people close to the department as saying senior Commerce officials are angling to prevent Ross “from testifying [in congressional oversight hearings] ever again”, apparently due to extreme consternation about his ability to do so without embarrassing himself (the sources said officials worry he “isn’t up to the task”).
Commerce disputed that too. In fact, Commerce disputed pretty much everything in Politico’s piece, which is a solid indication that most of it is true.
The bottom line is that Ross will almost surely be thanked for his services in an abrupt tweet sometime in the not-so-distant future. Everyone knows the situation isn’t tenable.
If Wilbur is unceremoniously ousted, he can always man the counter at his lunar Gas-N’-Go…