Bush administration alums rising in Trump’s orbit

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the lingering tensions between President Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush, Trump’s White House shares one thing in common with his Republican predecessor’s: People.

Trump has installed more than three dozen veterans of the Bush administration, putting them in charge of running agencies, implementing foreign policy and overseeing his schedule. While hiring from the last administration controlled by the same party is common, Trump’s staffing moves are notable given his pledges to change politics-as-usual and the frosty relations between the current and former Republican standard-bearers.

The Bush influence has only grown stronger recently, as Trump nominated Alex Azar to lead the Health and Human Services Department, where he served under the Bush administration, and tapped Jerome “Jay” Powell to be chairman of the Federal Reserve. Powell served in the Treasury Department under President George H.W. Bush.

While the White House says this is standard practice, some Trump allies say the hires don’t fit with the president’s non-traditional style.

“If Donald Trump’s presidency fails it will be because he has perhaps inadvertently surrounded himself with” Bush associates, said longtime Trump associate Roger Stone.

The Bush alums in the administration include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who served as Bush’s labor secretary, and Dina Powell, the deputy national security adviser who oversaw presidential personnel and later served in Bush’s State Department as an assistant secretary under Condoleezza Rice. Even the president’s schedule and day-to-day operations are overseen by a former member of Bush’s inner circle: Joe Hagin, who served as deputy White House chief of staff.

Of course, hiring staffers from a past administration brings needed experience.

“These are complex jobs and the time is limited,” said Mike Leavitt, a former Utah governor and Health and Human Services secretary under Bush. He pointed to the importance of understanding the complexities of federal regulations, the budget and congressional relations.

Still, the commingling follows a campaign in which Trump repeatedly dismissed Bush’s handling of the Iraq war and his administration’s focus on nation-building overseas and branded his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as “low-energy Jeb” during the Republican primaries.

In a pointed speech last month, George W. Bush — without mentioning Trump by name — denounced bigotry coursing through present-day American politics, warning that “we’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism,” and the “return of isolation sentiments, forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places.”

Trump vented his frustration about Bush’s speech to a former adviser, arguing it represented another attack aimed at undermining his presidency, according to a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private conversation.

Traveling aboard Air Force One at the start of his recent trip to Asia, Trump was asked by reporters to respond to Mark K. Updegrove’s new book, “The Last Republicans,” in which the elder Bush calls Trump a “blowhard” and George W. Bush wonders if he would be the last Republican president.

“I’ll comment after we come back. I don’t need headlines. I don’t want to make their move successful,” Trump said. The president has yet to comment on the recent Bush criticism.