Washington (CNN)National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has been on the job for less than a month, but the changes at the National Security Council already signal it will play a markedly different role under President Donald Trump than his predecessors.
No decision makes that clearer than Dina Powell moving from the East Wing, where she advised first daughter Ivanka Trump, to the NSC, where she will become deputy national security adviser for strategy.
While the NSC developed and informed national security policy under previous presidencies, it will now play more of a coordinating role by working between the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department.
In that hierarchy, Powell will be one of the primary interlocutors.
In contrast, Ben Rhodes, who served as Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, was one of the President’s closest aides and a strong hand in developing US foreign and national security policy, as were Stephen Hadley and Condoleezza Rice under Bush.
Powell is expected to play a more traditional role of coordinating policy positions among the various cabinet agencies, according to several officials familiar with her appointment.
She is moving up in the Trump administration’s national security apparatus at a time when the White House is gutting funding for the very issues she built her career around, inside and outside of government.
In an administration that almost exclusively prioritizes hard power, Powell’s expertise and experience lies in “soft power” — aid programs that are designed to stabilize countries overseas and in doing so, win hearts and minds.
Trump has announced budget cuts of 28% to the State Department, where Powell made her name, and a 38% reduction in foreign aid spending. Many expect those cuts to hit the State Department bureau that Powell headed from 2005 to 2009 under Bush — Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Those who have worked closely with the Powell in the past said she’ll be key to ensuring that the various agencies that support the National Security Council coordinate smoothly.
“The value she brings is really understanding how agencies work and the interagency process, and that is a critical element for the national security adviser’s office because you’re building bridges,” said Anita McBride, a former assistant to President George W. Bush, who described Powell as “a hard worker.”
“It’s crucial to homeland and American security abroad that there be a seamless inter-agency process at the National Security Council,” she said.
But one former State Department official questioned how Powell’s priorexperience qualified her to develop strategy about the complexissues of national securitythat the NSC typically concentrates on.
The official pointed toPowell role as head ofGoldman Sachs “10,000 Women Initiative” that supportedfemale entrepreneurs worldwide in partnership withtheObama State Department.
“What does she know about national security?” the source, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel issues, asked.”This is an administration defined by hard power and she, as a former assistant secretary of ECA, epitomized soft power.”
Within the new vision of the National Security Council, though, former NSC officials defended Powell’s move and touted her ability to work within Washington.
“She has the trust of the President and knowledge of how the system works and the ability to get things done,” said Mark Pfeifle, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under George W. Bush.
And another former deputy national security adviser, who asked for anonymity to speak bluntly about the White House, said Powell has more experience in Washington than most in the White House.
“She knows more about how Washington works and how the inter-agency works than Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway,” said the former adviser, referring to the White House chief of staff and two top political aides. “She worked on the Hill years ago. She was an assistant secretary at the State Department, which is more qualifications than most people who work at the NSC today.”
A senior administration official said Powell would work with other agencies to implement the long-term strategy of the national security organization. While she will work closely with the other deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, Powell will focus more on running day-to-day operations at the NSC.
McFarland’s role within the national security organization is still an outstanding question. It is unclear whether McFarland, who was hand-picked by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn before he was ousted from heading the NSC, will play a sizable role under McMaster.
“Whenever you see an addition of another job, where you already have someone with the same title, it’s fair to say things aren’t working the way they were expected to work, and eventually you’ll find a way to change it,” said a former administration official. “For an administration that wants to streamline a lot of positions and eliminate positions, it tells you something that they’re adding a position when they already have someone with a similar title.”
A current National Security Council official said Powell had worked closely with McMaster in the last few weeks and gained his trust. The official said McMaster signed off on Powell’s move to his staff.
Powell most recently was an executive at Goldman Sachs. At 29, Powell was the youngest-ever assistant to the president for presidential personnel, heading up all of the Bush White House’s decisions on appointments. Afterwards she was elevated to her assistant secretary role at State.
The Cairo-born, Dallas-raised Powell first came on board Trump’s team after advising his daughter on women’s empowerment issues, helping her foster relationships with business executives over multiple dinner parties focused on women in the workplace during the presidential transition and after the inauguration.
Powell’s closeness to Trump’s daughter and son-in-law will help, McBride said. “They have trusted her institutional knowledge and her ability to present information they didn’t know because they’re coming from completely outside the political nuances of working in the White House and in Washington.”
The National Security Council official said that Powell will continue to advise Ivanka Trump.
Powell has already been taking on some of her new responsibilities. When Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited the White House earlier this week, Powell was sitting next to McMaster in the Oval Office meeting.
Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/17/politics/dina-powell-nsc-ivanka-trump/index.html