Monetary Policy

Five Questions for Mick Mulvaney

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney during a cabinet meeting at the White House, June 21, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

1) President Trump is on his fourth chief of staff. Should we expect turnover like that in a possible second term?

No. Obama had four chiefs in his first term, and one in his second. Being chief in a first term is much, much more pressing, as the president is not only running the country but is running for reelection. My guess is that things look a little different in the second term. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone already in the White House or someone close to the president took the job for the whole four years.

2) You were chief of staff when COVID struck. The president took some pretty drastic actions, such as closing down travel with China. Walk us through those decisions.

The biggest surprise is that somehow the left-wing media has spun it as though Dr. Fauci was a sage, and all of our problems today are the result of ignoring his advice. Nothing could be further from the truth. The president followed his advice assiduously, except for when Dr. Fauci objected to the travel bans, or defended the WHO.

Dr. Fauci told me, and everyone else on the early version of the coronavirus task force, to go on TV and tell people not to wear masks. He said it was actually one of the worst things you could do. Listen, I don’t blame him. We had really, really bad information about COVID in those early months, mostly because China simply refused to act like the responsible nation it pretends to be, and the WHO, which Dr. Fauci defended and insisted was above reproach, was in on the cover-up. But I think of those meetings every time I see the replay of Dr. Fauci saying that he has “never been wrong” on COVID. Yes, he actually said that. Unbelievable. Unbelievable, and simply not true. But it does serve a political purpose.

The bottom line is that we were flying blind, again because the Chinese wouldn’t share information. We had to assume that COVID was similar to the other coronaviruses with which we had some familiarity: SARS and MERS. And it turns out that, from a public-health perspective, COVID and SARS/MERS are very different. In hindsight could we have done things differently? Sure. But the president doesn’t have the benefit of working with hindsight. Only his critics do.

3) As budget director, I know you spent a lot of time on the Trump budgets. But did you ever take a look at the Obama budgets that preceded yours? And if you did, did anything stand out?

Presidential budgets are really fabulous things. They not only lay out proposed spending levels, but they reflect an administration’s vision, priorities, and, interestingly, predictions. Because they are not one-year documents. The current practice is that every budget projects out ten years.

The Obama/Biden administration rolled out its last budget in early 2016, so it provided some view into what that administration thought the country would look like in 2020 and beyond. And it was bleak: anemic, low-2 percent growth as America got older and less productive; a future of higher taxes and fewer people in the work force. It was the depressing “new normal.”

Shortly after unveiling that final budget, President Obama told us that some jobs “were never coming back,” in part because of automation.

Today on Joe Biden’s website you can read that he “does not accept the defeatist view that the forces of automation and globalization render us helpless to retain well-paid union jobs and create more of them here in America.”

Yet that is exactly what he did accept in 2016. It’s right there in his budget.

4) Biden talks a lot about manufacturing jobs. What do his old budgets tell us about that?

Biden is claiming he will “create” 5 million manufacturing jobs in his first term. Not total jobs. Manufacturing jobs.

In their entire eight years in office, the Obama/Biden administration couldn’t come close to that. In fact, the country lost roughly one million net manufacturing jobs in those 8 years. Lost. Makes me want to ask Joe what he and Obama did wrong for all those years.

5) Any predictions about the upcoming presidential debates?

Yes, there won’t be three. My guess is that there is only one. If Biden “wins,” “ties,” or basically just doesn’t fall asleep or forget his name, the Left will scream that Trump did nothing but lie, that he is spreading false information, and that there is no reason for additional debates (indeed, some may claim they could actually be harmful on topics such as, say, public health). Biden will announce either that night or the next day that he isn’t doing additional debates, and the media will defend this position. The media will start laying the predicate for this course of action in the weeks running up to the first debate, and indeed you have seen this already from the likes of both the New York Times and Nancy Pelosi.

— Mick Mulvaney is the U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. He has served as acting White House chief of staff, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Kevin A. Hassett served in the Trump administration as a senior adviser and is a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers. He is the senior adviser to National Review's Capital Matters, a new initiative focused on financial and economic coverage.

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