Mulvaney Says He Often Disagrees With Trump (Just Never Publicly)

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Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said in a wide-ranging discussion on Wednesday night that he disagreed with President Trump “every single day,” mocked a fellow administration adviser and accused Republicans of hypocrisy over the budget deficit.

Mr. Mulvaney, addressing a crowd of several hundred during a question-and-answer session with the Oxford Union in England, spoke freely about the impeachment inquiry into President Trump and denounced the so-called deep state as well as his predecessor, John F. Kelly. And he described the White House as functional and improved, despite near-daily descriptions of a chaotic and often toxic atmosphere.

The comments were first reported by The Washington Post.

Early on in the conversation, audio of which was provided to The New York Times by someone in attendance, Mr. Mulvaney rejected the frequent assessment that Mr. Trump preferred to be surrounded by people who agree with him.

“I disagree with the president every single day,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “You just don’t hear about it — that’s not my job.”

“The president looks for people who disagree with him, and disagree with each other,” Mr. Mulvaney noted, adding that Mr. Trump “will sit back and watch” as aides “go at it.”

“He’s the judge and he’s the jury,” Mr. Mulvaney said. He cited as an example the president’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, who has clashed with Mr. Trump over tariffs.

Mr. Kudlow made his name in television “being one of the foremost free traders in the country,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “He’s now on TV regularly defending our tariff positions.”

That Mr. Kelly, who stepped down as chief of staff in 2018, considered his job as being a moderating influence on Mr. Trump was at odds with how Mr. Mulvaney himself viewed the role.

“It’s our job to agree with the president all the time publicly,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “Disagree with him privately.”

Addressing the budget deficit, which reached almost $1 trillion last year, Mr. Mulvaney, a deficit hawk when he was a Republican congressman from South Carolina, was surprisingly candid about his party.

“My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House. The worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president,” said Mr. Mulvaney, who still holds the title of director of the Office of Management and Budget. “Then Donald Trump became president, and we’re a lot less interested as a party.”

Mr. Mulvaney also broached the Ukraine matter at the heart of the impeachment proceedings and insisted that Democrats had no real interest in seeking testimony and were merely putting on a publicity stunt.

“There’s a story you don’t know about impeachment,” he said, adding that Democrats leading the inquiry like Representative Adam B. Schiff never had an interest in substantive interviews with witnesses.

That he and John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, were among the first people subpoenaed for testimony proved that, Mr. Mulvaney said, as Democrats should have known that those efforts would result in a court battle as was the case in previous impeachments.

“We were the least likely to ever go down and testify,” he said, citing executive privilege because of their proximity to the president. “We did not withhold information and fail to comply.” He falsely claimed that Democrats had not sought a subpoena from Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, whom Mr. Mulvaney claimed could have disclosed many things that do not fall under attorney-client privilege.

Mr. Mulvaney acknowledged erring in a now infamous news briefing in October, when he said that the president suspended $391 million in aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into his political rivals. He said he did not believe that he had made those remarks until aides showed him video afterward.

“I had answered that question a hundred times before,” he said, insisting he had simply tripped up amid repeated questions from the news media. The president may have touched on other issues, Mr. Mulvaney added, like his interest in the hacked Democratic National Committee server from 2016, but that “the restrictions on the money” were not about that.

Describing his time as chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mr. Mulvaney alternately praised and excoriated civil servants, saying the “deep state” was real and claiming that he was besieged by people who were resisting what he described as Mr. Trump’s agenda.

The majority of the 1,700 employees he said were in the bureau “challenged him at every turn,” he said. “My guess is 1,690 of them voted for Hillary Clinton for president, and 1,600 of them came to work every single day trying to make sure the president failed.”

He did not elaborate how he arrived at those figures, but said the laws of the bureaucracy made it nearly impossible for him to fire anyone.

Later, Mr. Mulvaney was harsher about civil servants, saying that if they do not want to enact administration policy, they should quit or run for office themselves.

“You cannot have this sort of cognitive dissonance; you cannot have this sort of passive resistance in an administration,” he said. “Our system breaks down if you have that.”

The news media was also a target, as Mr. Mulvaney recounted in detail how a journalist had incorrectly reported that he was golfing with Mr. Trump when it was actually Jack Nicklaus, the famed golfer. Without acknowledging the times the president or administration officials have relayed false information, Mr. Mulvaney suggested people should be leery of news accounts.

“Sometimes it could be the truth and sometimes it could be” false, he said.

Mr. Mulvaney also discussed the administration’s restrictive immigration policies, including the president’s signature campaign promise to build a wall along the southwestern border.

“Does it solve the problem? No it doesn’t,” he said. “Does it slow it down? Yes it does.”

He disputed the White House’s reputation as anti-immigrant, noting: “We are desperate, desperate for more people.”

“We created 215,000 jobs last month,” he added. “We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth.” He said the country needed “more immigrants” but wanted them in a “legal” fashion.

While the president often talks about his border wall, he has at times mentioned “a door” in that wall. People forget the door in considering the administration’s stance toward immigration, Mr. Mulvaney said.

As the speech ended, he addressed why he has remained the “acting” White House chief of staff since he was named to the post at the end of 2018, pointing to his continued role at the Office of Management and Budget.

“Because it’s a $20,000 pay cut,” he said, explaining why he has not made a change.

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