Here are all the reasons CBS News should never have hired Trump adviser Mick Mulvaney

CBS News staffers are in an uproar over the venerable news department’s hiring of former Trump White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney as a news commentator.

Your outrage is understandable and appropriate. Mulvaney, a longtime Republican official, distinguished himself as a loyal Trump lackey during his tenure in administration.

He demonstrated a micron-deep understanding of political and economic issues, even while serving as Trump’s budget director and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

But he demonstrated a boundless ability to advance Trump’s political goals, which spelled out the gutting of federal programs aimed at helping the average American.

We’ll get into the details in a moment. But first, let’s examine the explanation CBS executives offered to the station’s news staff when they questioned Mulvaney’s hiring.

“Being able to make sure we get access down both sides of the aisle is a priority because we know the Republicans will most likely take over mid-term,” Neeraj Khemlani, co-president of CBS News, told staffers . According to The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi, who was working with a fake recording of the meeting. “A lot of the people we bring in help us access that side of the equation.”

This is of course absurd. CBS has the right to hire as many lobbyists as it wants to make its case on Capitol Hill; getting it on the air, essentially to influence the public, is another matter entirely. One question that arises is what value Mulvaney brings to the table. He’s hardly a neutral voice, but if he’s just on the air to flaunt his partisan leanings, who needs him anymore? Don’t we get enough of elected politicians?

To be fair, CBS isn’t the only news organization trying to flatter itself this way. In the old days, political types who offered nothing but spin were kicked out of the press room; Now they are given a well-paid sinecure to provide ‘balance’.

What Khemlani doesn’t appreciate—or maybe he does and doesn’t care—is that the quest for “access” has become the scourge of American journalism.

That’s what turns Sunday TV news shows into pompous articles about political insiders (they’re known in the industry as “Beat Sweeteners”) and softball issues for politicians.

TV news has become experts at hitting people on their own self-esteem. What that doesn’t produce, however, is succinct reporting of the kind that’s critical to the functioning of our democracy.

So here comes Mick Mulvaney, introduced for his first appearance as a CBS commentator by host Anne-Marie Green, to offer his take on President Biden’s proposed billionaire income tax.

“So happy to have you here,” Green coaxed. “You’re the guy to ask about that.” The weight of her introduction was that Mulvaney was a man who knows, but with his opening words he admitted he knew no more about the billionaire tax than Biden’s own proposal was included; Furthermore, his analysis was largely dismissive and, more importantly, indistinguishable from what one might hear from a GOP politician. (Mulvaney served as a Republican congressman from South Carolina from 2011 to 2017.)

Now let’s take a closer look at Mulvaney’s qualifications for speaking out on public issues. He was always someone who never let facts get in the way of partisan goals.

Start with his March 2017 appearance on CBS’s Sunday show Face the Nation when he was director of the Office of Management and Budget at Trump’s White House. As I reported at the time, Mulvaney took the opportunity to deliver a drive-by shoot on some of the nation’s most vulnerable and vulnerable: the disabled.

“Let me ask you a question,” he said to host John Dickerson at the end of a seven-minute interview. “Do you really think that Social Security disability insurance is part of what people think of when they think of Social Security? I do not think so. It is the fastest growing program. It grew tremendously under President Obama. It’s a very wasteful program and we want to try to fix that.”

Dickerson’s response to this barrage of lies and disinformation was, in its entirety, “Okay, we’ve got to end it here.”

Far be it from Dickerson to challenge anyone who might be useful in granting “access”.

However, if he had been willing to interview Mulvaney on substantive issues, he might have pointed out that, first, the disability insurance program has been part of Social Security since 1956, when it was signed into law by Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican president. He could have pointed out that Social Security is structured as both a pension and insurance program and has been since its inception in 1935.

Dickerson might even have pointed out that Mulvaney was wrong when he said disability was the “fastest-growing program.” At that time, not only were the disability lists not growing, they were shrinking, and had been for more than two years. (The trend continues to this day.)

Not only was the program not “wasteful,” it had one of the lowest failure rates of any federal program — well below 1% of all benefits, then-Inacting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin testified before Congress in 2012.

Mulvaney showed his commitment to sound government administration after Trump appointed him acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2018.

As one of his first acts of office, he went to a meeting of credit union executives and boasted, “I’m the acting director of the CFPB, something that seems to keep Elizabeth Warren up late, which doesn’t bother me at all.”

He went on to kill an ordinance that had been in the works for five years to prevent payday lenders and other beneficiaries of low-income borrowers from lending to customers who can’t repay the loans, charging fees for customers and themselves engage in other abuses.

He abruptly and without explanation withdrew a federal lawsuit against four alleged abusive counselors. And he closed an investigation into World Acceptance Corp. ab, a payday lender in his home state of South Carolina that had been accused of abusive practices but contributed at least $4,500 to his congressional campaigns.

Mulvaney saw his role as head of a consumer protection agency as protecting not only consumers but also the lenders from whom consumers needed protection.

“We’re here to protect people who use credit cards,” he told credit union executives. “We’re also here to help and protect the people making that loan.”

As Trump’s chief of staff, he spent his time polishing Trump policies. One might expect a politician’s chief of staff to try to make his boss look good, but the policies he defended do not speak well for Mulvaney’s character.

In February 2020, he appeared at the American Conservative Union’s CPAC conference to claim that coverage of the emerging COVID pandemic was nothing more than an attempt to “take down the President.” That’s what this is about.” It’s almost certain that the White House knew at the time that the pandemic posed a serious public health threat.

On November 7, 2020, Mulvaney’s name appeared above a Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which he assured readers, as the headline said, “If he loses, Trump will concede gracefully.” That was four days after the election, when it was already clear that Trump had lost. “I’m familiar with his manner and style and I know a little bit about how he thinks,” Mulvaney claimed, based on his 15 months in the Trump White House.

That’s a claim that hasn’t aged gracefully, to say the least.

To put Mulvaney’s ruling in today’s context, he also defended Trump’s attempt to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, by implying that he would otherwise withhold US aid to the country.

Asked at a press conference if Trump was proposing a “quid pro quo,” Mulvaney replied, “We do that all the time in foreign policy.” Trump would be indicted for that plan.

Putting it all together, it suggests there’s good reason to put Mulvaney in front of the CBS News audience.

CBS should bring him on air to explain why he lied about the coronavirus threat in 2020 and what led him to believe Trump would “gracefully” retire after losing the 2020 election.

And why he thought it acceptable to blackmail a friendly country for purely personal, partisan purposes. And why he saw the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as a shield for lenders, not consumers.

That’s a performance I’d like to see. But for CBS, unfortunately for us, that would be a barrier to “access.”

Michael Hiltzik is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com

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