Trump Aides Have Loud, Gladiator-like Fights in the Oval Office and the President Doesn't Mind, Mulvaney Says

Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney offered students at the Oxford Union a peek behind the White House curtain on Wednesday, speaking about President Donald Trump's administration at the historic debating society.

According to The Washington Post, which obtained an audio recording of the session—Mulvaney told attendees that Trump allows a combative environment among senior aides who fight to defend their ideas, but ultimately line up behind the president.

Mulvaney described Oval Office confrontations as loud and gladiator-like, the Post reported, adding that Trump does not mind the aggressive environment. Previous reports have suggested that the president likes to play top advisers against one another, forcing them to compete for his favor.

But Mulvaney told the Oxford Union that aides leave their individual thoughts at the door once Trump makes a decision on a subject. As proof, he pointed to White House economic adviser and free-trade advocate Larry Kudlow, who now publicly backs Trump's use of tariffs.

The acting chief of staff touched on a variety of other issues during his appearance in Oxford, ranging from the ballooning U.S. deficit to the so-called "deep state."

Mulvaney—who previously oversaw the Office of Management and Budget and was known as a "deficit hawk"—complained that the Republican Party had dropped its opposition to a large budget deficit since Trump came into office, despite regularly attacking Barack Obama for perceived inaction.

"My party is very interested in deficits when there is a Democrat in the White House," Mulvaney said, according to the Post. "The worst thing in the whole world is deficits when Barack Obama was the president. Then Donald Trump became president, and we're a lot less interested as a party."

He called the deficit, now beyond $1 trillion, "extraordinarily disturbing," lamenting that neither lawmakers nor voters appear to be too concerned.

Mulvaney suggested that the "deep state" was still attempting to hamstring Trump and set the U.S. policy agenda. He assured audience members that this was a "real" problem and said he was frustrated with the administration, which could not sack more officials who failed to follow Trump's orders.

Recalling his time at the helm of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mulvaney said he thought the vast majority were Hillary Clinton supporters seeking to block Trump. One time, Mulvaney said he lashed out at an obstructive lawyer, explaining, "That's not their damn business what I should or should not do."

If officials wanted to set policy, he argued, they "should put their name on the effing ballot and run" for office. "You cannot have this passive resistance within an administration," Mulvaney added.

As for his own position, the Post reported that Mulvaney said he was not concerned about remaining acting chief of staff 14 months into the job. "It'd be a $20,000 pay cut to take the job," he said. "A life expectancy of a chief of staff is roughly 18 months... Generally speaking, this job does not last that long... Who knows how much longer I'm going to last?"

Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump, Oval Office, deficit
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney looks on during a briefing in Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida, on December 29, 2019. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images/Getty