While discussing proposed policy with David Shulkin, Trump phoned in Pete Hegseth, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and has been a prominent critic of proposed veterans health care legislation. Hegseth has used his television platform to endorse a more aggressive policy than that currently proposed by Shulkin. The Fox host wants greater private sector involvement in veteran care.
Hegseth was weighed as a potential option for Shulkin’s position, and the Fox News host now has the president’s ear for policy. The Daily Beast recently reported that Trump frequently calls Hegseth after "Fox & Friends" to discuss that day’s coverage.
Trump’s close ties with Fox television hosts have been documented and commented upon throughout his presidency. In this case, he may be leveraging a former cabinet candidate to place pressure on Shulkin. Because of the high rate of cabinet turnover and Shulkin’s tenuous position (he has been under public scrutiny after violating ethics rules when he used taxpayer money to help fund his wife’s trip to Europe last year), the decision to call in Hegseth could be a move to make Shulkin more pliable.
Regardless of whether Trump’s call to Hegseth had any political motivations, it certainly illustrates his close relationships with prominent personalities at Fox News. The president's close ties with the program appear to be mutually beneficial; Trump receives glowing reviews from the hosts, while the show receives a significant viewership boost from the president. This close relationship can serve as a publicity mechanism for Trump, with the hosts frequently praising and championing his policy, which can help keep his base happy.
The president's close relationship with a particular news outlet is particularly troubling because of some of the opinions endorsed on "Fox & Friends." The sentiments expressed on the show are frequently amplified by Trump with distinctly problematic flairs. When the show discussed burning the American flag, Trump later tweeted that people who burn flags should spend time in jail or lose their citizenship. When the show ran a banner calling Chelsea Manning an "ungrateful traitor," Trump echoed the sentiment on Twitter.
The show promotes an extreme version of patriotism, and it seems the president agrees with the hosts' sometimes dangerous political messages.
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: MEDIAEXPRESS.REUTERS, Joshua Roberts