Trump Pays Top West Wing Advisers $180,000

Trump Pays Top West Wing Advisers $180,000
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President Trump expanded the number of top advisers in the White House and raised their wages compared with his predecessor, President Obama, according to White House officials and government records.

The top salary Trump pays his White House aides is $179,700 a year, compared with $176,461 during Obama’s final year in office, according to information from a Trump spokeswoman and a report submitted to Congress last year by the Obama White House.

White House aides who earn nearly $180,000 – more than the basic salary paid most House and Senate lawmakers – include Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Counselor Kellyanne Conway, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Stephen Bannon, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

“The bottom line is that we should be paying people a fair wage for their service to this country, but we should be doing it in the most effective and efficient manner,” Spicer said Thursday when asked about government compensation paid to employees at an independent agency located near the White House.

The president “is going to have a very, very tough look at how we're operating government, how many positions [and] what people are getting paid,” Spicer continued. “The president understands that most Americans are out there working night and day trying to get by, and that Washington truly needs to respect the money that they spend.” 

By law, presidents earn $400,000 a year, although Trump said a week after the election he would not take a salary because of his personal wealth, and would accept $1 a year. The median household income in the country is $53,889, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The president, whose staff structure is notable for competing power centers and opaque lines of authority, named at least 27 “assistants to the president,” according to a White House spokeswoman. After verifying a staff list with a Trump deputy, RealClearPolitics counted 28 senior advisers. Despite repeated questions over several weeks, White House aides did not iron out the discrepancy as of Thursday.

By law, the nation’s chief executive can appoint 25 senior advisers at the top federal pay scale set annually in the White House Office. Wages for “assistants to the president” are tied to the Office of Personnel Management’s Executive Level compensation ladder. Obama appointed 25 aides with the coveted “assistant to the president” title, which designates the senior-most level of authority under the president and vice president. 

In the modern era, the number of White House “assistants to the president” steadily expanded as presidents enlarged their grip over the operations of the executive branch. 

When asked how Trump could name 27 or 28 top assistants while the law permits 25, a spokeswoman for the Office of Personnel Management directed questions back to the White House. What is known is that at least two top aides serving Trump are working without pay: senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs. Also, two “assistants to the president” are paid $30,000 a year. Aides in the White House Press Office did not immediately clarify why two senior advisers are paid a fraction of the top West Wing salary, and declined to identify them.

White House aides serve at the pleasure of the president without Senate confirmation, and presidents are given wide latitude to set salaries within an overall budget they control. The White House salaries are reported to Congress annually, and Obama voluntarily posted on the whitehouse.gov website the White House staff salaries, organized by name and title.

A similar link appearing on the Trump White House website was blank Thursday and said the page would be “updated.”

“The president is authorized to appoint and fix the pay of employees in the White House Office without regard to any other provision of law regulating the employment and compensation of persons in the government service,” the law states.

Salaries for vice presidential staff at the White House are handled differently, covered in part by the Senate because of the vice president’s role as president of the upper chamber. The vice president earns $237,700 annually.

The following is a list of Trump’s top advisers, as of Thursday:

  1. Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
  2. Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor Stephen K. Bannon
  3. Senior Adviser to the President Jared Kushner
  4. Assistant to the President and Counselor Kellyanne Conway
  5. Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser for Policy Stephen Miller
  6. Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff Katie Walsh
  7. Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative, Intergovernmental Affairs and Implementation Rick Dearborn
  8. Assistant to the President and Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer
  9. Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks
  10. Assistant to the President and Director of Social Media Dan Scavino
  11. Assistant to the President and White House Counsel Don McGahn
  12. Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short
  13. Assistant to the President and Director of Presidential Personnel John DeStefano
  14. Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations Joseph Hagin
  15. Assistant to the President and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn
  16. Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser Kathleen Troia “KT” McFarland
  17. Assistant to the President and National Security Council Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary Keith Kellogg
  18. Assistant to the President and Senior Counselor for Economic Initiatives Dina Habib Powell.
  19. Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary Rob Porter
  20. Assistant to the President and Director of Strategic Initiatives Christopher P. Liddell
  21. Assistant to the President for Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives Reed S. Cordish
  22. Assistant to the President and Director of the National Trade Policy Council Peter Navarro
  23. Assistant to the President and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn
  24. Assistant to the President and Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Adviser Thomas Bossert
  25. Assistant to President and Chief of Staff to the Vice President Josh Pitcock
  26. Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser for Intergovernmental Affairs [vacant]
  27. Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison Omarosa Manigault
  28. Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady Lindsay Reynolds

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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