Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, now a Senior Advisor at Dentons, speaking during a panel discussion titled “Drain the Swamp? Regulatory Reform Under President Trump,” held at the Washington, D.C. offices of Covington & Burling, on Wednesday, December 14, 2016. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won’t be serving in President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet, but he’s following the nominations closely.
He sees a pair of retired four-star generals filling out top posts at the U.S. Defense and Homeland Security departments, an Alabama senator becoming U.S. attorney general and a neurosurgeon heading up the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He sees Rick Perry as the pick for to lead the Energy Department, an agency the former Texas governor once said he would shutter if elected president. And he sees multimillionaires and billionaires filling out other posts.
What Gingrich doesn’t see is a lot of lawyers—and he doesn’t see the incoming administration getting along with career bureaucrats.
In remarks at Covington & Burling, where he appeared Wednesday for a panel discussion titled “Drain the Swamp? Regulatory Reform Under President Trump,” Gingrich said he believes Trump’s cabinet is shaping up to have the fewest lawyers in recent history.
“The great crisis of the Trump administration will be about 90 days in, when they will have a meeting of the cabinet and they will realize that, in fact, the bureaucracy is massively denser than they thought it was. And the capacity to resist them is extraordinarily denser than they thought it was. And you will then have two Marine four-star generals, a series of billionaires who are used to winning, the longest-serving governor in the history of Texas, a senator, a world-class neurosurgeon,” Gingrich, a Dentons senior adviser, said. He predicted the group will ask: “Are they going to beat us, or are we just going to take them apart?”
“And they will have no choice, because if they tolerate this city, they will fail,” Gingrich continued. “And so my guess is that, as a historian, they’re going to take it apart, which will be terrific for me because I love covering stuff like this.”
With its dearth of law degrees, a cabinet meeting in Trump’s administration “will have this bizarrely achievement-oriented, success-oriented, productivity-oriented model with almost no process discussion,” Gingrich said. Many of the cabinet members have experience consulting lawyers whose job, Gingrich said, “was to get to yes.”
“So they’ll be immediately befuddled by the legions of government lawyers whose job is to explain why it’s not possible,” Gingrich said.
Trump’s transition team has already been suspected of weighing a witch-hunt against federal employees whose positions may not align with the incoming administration’s.
The transition reportedly sent a questionnaire recently to the U.S. Energy Department asking for the names of employees working on climate-change issues. On Wednesday, the transition retreated from its demand, according to news reports.
“The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol,” Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said. “The person who sent it has been properly counseled.”
Gingrich said this year’s election will go down as a watershed moment that ushered in a revolutionary era in federal government. He pointed to Trump’s nomination of retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis as an example of how the incoming administration will not necessarily conform to the rules.
To be confirmed as defense secretary, Mattis would need a congressional waiver from the required seven-year waiting period between active duty and serving in that role.
“If you said to anybody in September, ‘I’m not really too worried about Donald Trump because he’s going to name Jim Mattis as secretary of defense,’ they would’ve laughed at you. And all the experts would say, ‘Look, he can’t do that. It’s against the law.’ Well it’s only against the law until you’ve waived the law, which Trump understands because his entire career was built on waiving the law,” Gingrich said. “Sometimes it was county law, sometimes it was city law, sometimes it was zoning board law, sometimes it was the New Jersey Gaming Commission law.”
SCOTUS announcement in January
As he is known to do for his own volumes, Gingrich plugged two of Trump’s books.
“If you have not read ‘The Art of the Deal’ and ‘The Art of the Comeback,’ then as professionals you owe it to yourselves to get some sense of the guy who’s going to dominate the next eight years and probably shape the next 40 years,” Gingrich said, noting the Supreme Court.
Trump is narrowing a list of 21 possible nominees to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Federal and state appellate judges make up most of the contenders.
Trump is expected to announce his Supreme Court pick around the time of the Jan. 20 inauguration, Reince Priebus, the incoming chief of staff, said Wednesday.
“I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to start after the new year, and certainly by the time we get to inauguration, either shortly before or shortly thereafter. We’ll reveal the name of who our nominee will be,” Priebus told radio host Hugh Hewitt.
Priebus said the age of the nominee will be a factor in Trump’s pick. “Certainly longevity’s a factor, but it’s just a factor,” he said. “Competence and having the best possible person nominated is what’s most important.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated one remark from Newt Gingrich about Donald Trump’s career. Trump, Gingrich said, has spent much of his career “waiving” various laws, as a businessman, not “breaking” them.