The role of the federal bureaucracy is often a source of great discomfort for students (and indeed civilians!). it’s seemingly labyrinthine operations can be confusing and examples of their power can be unclear. In the actions of Sally Yates today, students of US Politics have been given a good example of their role.
The federal bureaucracy is their to implement laws under the direction of the President – as one man, he simply cannot do all of this himself. It consists of departments, agencies, commissions and corporations. And yet, presidential control over them can sometimes seem tenuous – Obama only met with his Cabinet (the Heads of each Department) 19 times in his first term which suggests he did not have a huge amount to do with each department.
In this example, Sally Yates, the acting Attorney-General, directed the employees of the Justice Department not to defend Trump’s executive order concerning the travel ban from seven Muslim-majority countries. She was subsequently, and not surprisingly fired. This is great for Unit 4 – Presidency.
One the one hand she demonstrated the independence that some Cabinet members and their departments are able to exert over the President in acting as they please. Indeed Politico commented last week that some of the executive orders Trump was signing had not been run past the relevant federal departments who would be enforcing them (http://www.politico.com/story/2017/01/trumps-flashy-executive-actions-could-run-aground-234200). This is something referred to in some textbooks as ‘going native’ – the idea that members spending more time with their department than President end up owing more loyalty to their department than the President. Equally, whilst Yates has been fired, all of those to whom she issued this order have not and firing her may not gain their loyalty for Trump.
However, as Yates was an Obama appointee, her firing is not a surprising action. In firing her, Trump has demonstrated the power that a President retains in order to control the federal bureaucracy. Indeed her replacement was made incredibly swiftly and places further pressure on Congress to confirm Trump’s own nominee for this post, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama). In this sense then, the President has demonstrated his own power in issuing the executive order and following up to ensure it is enforced how he pleases.
On a side note, the potential court cases coming up over this executive order will make for excellent Unit 3 fodder (Pressure Groups) as well as Unit 4 (Judiciary). In the mean time however, this is brilliant evidence for a usually difficult topic. As with any story about Trump currently, the key is to divorce the rhetoric from it and look more academicall yat how it can be applied to your studies.