Congress could have saved Donald Trump a tweet. Last week, the president took to Twitter to announce the departure of his irascible national security adviser, John Bolton, who had either quit, been fired, or both. Yet if Congress had had a vote, Bolton, whose sharp elbows and hawkish views on Iran and North Korea have never made him very popular on Capitol Hill or anywhere else in Washington, may never have become national security adviser in the first place.
Unfortunately for Trump, who learned the hard way just how hard it is to work with Bolton, Congress has never required confirmation of the national security adviser, instead deferring to presidents to choose their staff. Given the importance of the position and Trump’s selection today of the relatively unknown lawyer Robert O’Brien as Bolton’s replacement, as well as the questions about Trump’s own management of national security, it is time for that to change. Congressional approval of Trump’s pick for national security adviser would be good for him, and for all of us.
The job of national security adviser has always been a bureaucratic oddity. When Congress created the National Security Council, the forum designed to get the president, vice president, and secretaries of state and defense into one room to come up with integrated foreign-policy decisions, it established a small staff but did not envision creating such a prominent leader. Only in 1953 did President Dwight Eisenhower introduce an “assistant to the president for national-security affairs,” but the role was to be more akin to an executive officer in the military, helping to manage NSC meetings, memoranda, and staff.