Thursday, November 15, 2018

No. No Office.

Anne Fearan, Josh Dawsey, and Emily Heil of The Washington Post provide the boring, albeit necessary, background:

A transoceanic personnel crisis that engulfed the National Security Council this week is partly rooted in a bureaucratic dispute over the seating arrangements aboard first lady Melania Trump’s plane to Africa last month during her maiden solo trip abroad.

As the East Wing prepared the flight manifest for the marquee trip, deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel became angry that seats on the first lady’s government jet were assigned to a larger-than-usual security entourage and a small press corps with none for Ricardel or another NSC staffer, according to current U.S. officials and others familiar with the trip and its aftermath.

 Policy experts from the NSC and State Department were advised to fly separately and to meet the first lady’s party on the ground, a practice the State Department had often used, but Ricardel objected strenuously, those people said. She threatened to revoke NSC resources associated with the trip, meaning no policy staff would advise the first lady during her visits to Ghana, Kenya, Malawi and Egypt.

Bad blood between Ricardel and Melania Trump and her staff continued for weeks after the trip, with the first lady privately arguing that the NSC’s No. 2 official was a corrosive influence in the White House and should be dismissed. But national security adviser John Bolton rebuffed the first lady and protected his deputy, prompting the first lady’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, to issue an extraordinary statement to reporters Tuesday effectively calling for Ricardel’s firing.

This may be a personality dispute or someone overstepping her bounds, fairly routine vices.  Somehow, however, "the first lady's spokeswoman" became

“It is the position of the Office of the First Lady that she no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House,” Grisham said of Ricardel in the statement.

After an uncomfortable day of limbo, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Wednesday evening that Ricardel was leaving the White House.

The "Office of the First Lady?"  The reporters continue

Soon after the first lady’s office issued its statement Tuesday, surprised senior White House aides walked to Ricardel’s office to see whether she was still there. She was, albeit confused....

A senior White House official said the first lady believed Ricardel was spreading false rumors about her office, including a misleading story that aides had arranged a $10,000 hotel stay in Egypt. Other White House aides said Ricardel belittled underlings, shouted at professional staff and was the most disliked aide in the West Wing.

Last weekend, according to administration officials, the first lady’s office again asked Bolton to oust Ricardel. Others, including Kelly, have wanted her gone for months, administration officials said, with little success in overcoming Bolton’s objections.

There is no Office of the First Lady. This website explains

From 1975 until the present day -- that is, from Betty Ford to Laura Bush -- women in the White House rekindled their interest in policy with a zeal unseen since Eleanor Roosevelt. In particular, Hillary Clinton advanced the policy-making aspect of first ladyship with her appointment to the task force committee for health care reform.

The "Office of the First Lady" is not mentioned in the US Constitution, nor does it seem to have been foreseen by the Founders. It has not been enacted legislatively, nor has it been the subject of any Executive Order. 

There is no mention of anything authorizing an "Office of the First Lady," probably because there is nothing authorizing such an office.

Some constitutional scholars- but especially politicians- once boasted of being "strict constructionists" and many conservatives similarly exhibited horror at "waste, fraud, and abuse."  There once also were (alleged) opponents of "big government."

Yet, no one on the right, nor any one on the anti-President Trump left, has uttered a word about this office  It is, then, relatively courageous that the Post reporters- probably going as far as their editor would approve- point out

Martha Washington, historian Carl Sferrazza Anthony noted, once wrote that she felt like a “state prisoner” because of protocol rules and a schedule set in part by her husband’s chief adviser, Tobias Lear. And there was no love lost between Mary Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln’s chief counselors, John Hay and John Nicolay, who referred to her as “the hellcat” behind her back.

Pat Nixon, Anthony says, chafed at top White House aides H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and John Erlichman for perceived offenses that included not giving her enough notice before travel and for not taking her ambitious agenda seriously, Anthony said.

“It goes back so far that what we’re really talking about is human nature and the problem of the boss’s wife,” he said.

Melania Trump has taken on a more public role recently, launching her anti-bullying campaign earlier this year and traveling to Africa in October.

Notably, there is no mention of anything creating an "Office" with a capital "O." In this instance, assertive behavior of the First Lady is a wise strategic maneuver, given that the GOP was recently shellacked by female voters and is generally seen as fairly hostile to women's issues.

The spouse of the President of the United States of America always will have a role. She (or he) can influence the President through "pillow talk" or in any manner they wish.. However, the First Lady is neither elected nor appointed and the designation of staff as comprising an "office" comes out of thin air, wasteful and extra-constitutional.

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