In the waning months of the 2016 election, then-candidate Donald Trump saved himself and his campaign with a promise that struck deep into the heart of the Washington establishment: draining the swamp. Almost 13 months into his presidency, however, Trump is showing that, in a classic 80's sitcom storyline, draining the swamp isn't as easy as it looks.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, along with his staff, had misled ethics officials about a European trip that he and his wife, Merle Bari, along with Shulkin's chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson took in the summer of 2017. Inspector General Michael Missal found that Wright Simpson altered the language in an email from an aide with regard to planning the trip that made it appear that Shulkin was receiving an award from the Danish government, and then used the award to justify using Veterans Affairs resources to pay for his wife's travel expenses.
Shulkin did not receive an award from the Danish government, but the VA paid over $4,300 for his wife's travel.
That's not all. On Tuesday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader that he's been flying first class on commercial airlines or using military planes for transport on the taxpayer's dime for security reasons.
"We’ve reached the point where there’s not much civility in the marketplace and it’s created, you know, it’s created some issues and the (security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat," Pruitt said.
The Washington Post reported that Pruitt's taxpayer-funded travel cost over $90,000 in early June 2017. The justification for spending this much money on travel, in Pruitt's mind, is that he rather not be confronted by angry fliers over his views on climate change than save the taxpayer's money. While it's certainly not his fault that other fliers in his proximity can be unruly, it's not setting a great precedent for public officials. If passengers are threatening Pruitt's safety as eco-terrorists do, then maybe you can justify his agency's travel expenses. If you work in government and you are supposed to be held accountable to the voters, you should be able to withstand mere criticism and mockery.
In addition to the resignation of former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price for flying in private jets and the introduction of his "wasteful" budget deal, President Trump is failing on a major campaign promise of draining the swamp. While these stories, in isolation, may seem insignificant to the average American voter living outside the Beltway, this is the type of government waste and abuse that's emblematic of Washington culture that Trump and many conservatives have been trying to combat.
If Trump doesn't either reprimand Shulkin and Pruitt or demand their resignations, he will only subject himself to more questions from reporters on whether or not he finds their conduct acceptable. Trump may face a difficult decision about getting tough with his Cabinet if he wants to stick to his "drain the swamp" mission. But given the level of polarization on Capitol Hill with respect to confirming presidential nominees, that's unlikely to happen.
Siraj Hashmi is a commentary video editor and writer for the Washington Examiner.