Trump Fills Cabinet With Wealthy Business Executives

Photo courtesy of Rex Tillerson being questioned at a hearing

President Donald J. Trump has chosen nearly all his Cabinet nominees for Senate confirmation.

His Cabinet is shaping up to be a mixture of insiders and outsiders, right-wing conservatives and mainstream Republicans, with no uniform political ideology. A number of them may be intended to disrupt–or even to undermine–the departments they are slated to manage.

The incoming Cabinet members seem to represent Mr. Trump himself; they are mostly white men, and many are also wealthy business executives. As the first United States president with no previous experience in public service or the military, the number of outsiders Trump has selected also reflects his mindset of change.

One of the primary concerns Washington experts have with Trump’s nominees is that they lack experience holding public office. This reflects his campaign goal to “drain the swamp” of long-standing officials. For example, Ben Carson–a retired neurosurgeon who faced Trump in the primaries–was selected for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Many of these outsiders have also made fortunes in the private sector. In fact, the net worth of the members in his cabinet thus far is at least $13.1 billion, based on estimates, which is five times higher than Obama’s Cabinet. Linda McMahon, billionaire chief executive of World Wrestling entertainment and a large donor to Trump’s campaign, was selected for Small Business Administrator. Steven Mnuchin, a Wall Street banker and former Goldman Sachs trader, has been nominated as Treasury Secretary.

Andrew Puzder and Wilbur L. Ross Jr.–whose estimated worth is 2.9 billion–were also chosen for their understanding of how companies grow. Business experience seems to have replaced political backgrounds in the presidential Cabinet: while Obama’s cabinet was made up of 0% CEOs and 23% Ph.D.s, Trump’s consists of 28% CEO’s and 0% Ph.D.’s.

For Secretary of State, Trump tapped Rex W. Tillerson, the president and chief executive of Exxon Mobile. Mr. Tillerson is knowledgeable about foreign business negotiations, but many are critical of his close ties to Vladimir Putin. Trump explained, “To me, a great advantage is he knows many of the players, and he knows them well.”

Financial vetting is going slowly for Trump’s nominees because of their extensive assets and complex financial entanglements. Democrats, concerned about a lack of personal information disclosure by the nominees, have proposed limiting Senate confirmations to two per week so that nothing is overlooked. Republicans argue that this is unfair because seven of Obama’s nominees were voted in on Inauguration Day, and five more were confirmed that week.

Many of the nominees are likely to unnerve government insiders, and a few even appear to undermine their departments’ objectives. Betsey DeVos, the incoming Education Secretary, intends to steer away from traditional public schooling and instead fund private or charter schools. Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and Trump’s pick for Energy Secretary, proposed abolishing the Energy Department in 2011 when he was running for president.

Perhaps most strikingly, Scott Pruitt has been chosen for E.P.A. Administrator even though he rejects the concept of human-produced climate change and has been a close ally of the fossil fuel industry in fighting environmental regulations imposed by the Obama administration. Mr. Trump defended this choice, explaining, “For too long, the Environmental Protection Agency has spent taxpayer dollars on an out-of-control antie-nergy agenda that has destroyed millions of jobs,” saying that Mr. Pruitt “will reverse this trend.”

Several more nominees plan to reverse the Obama administration’s policies. Tom Price, who was tapped to direct the Health and Human Services Department, has fiercely resisted Obamacare in the House of Representatives and aims to repeal the law. Andrew Puzder, a dissenter to Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage, will be the labor secretary.

Jeff Sessions, who was picked for attorney general, was previously denied the position of federal judge because of testimony from colleagues saying that he was a racist. He is likely to replace Obama’s reforms for inequality and gun violence with more conservative policies. Representative Mick Mulvaney, chosen for White House budget director, refused to support the 2011 debt ceiling raise, and was partly responsible for bringing the federal government to the brink of default.

Trump also selected some of his trusted campaign aides, including Reince Priebus for White House chief of staff. However, some key figures in Trump’s campaign have not been nominated, namely: Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.

Despite Trump’s goal to uproot the establishment and rid the government of the “stupid” people who have held power, he has–to some extent- -kept to the Cabinet selection norm by choosing several deeply grounded members of his party.

For example, he chose Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, as his U.N. envoy; and Elaine Chao, two-time Bush Cabinet member and wife of majority leader Mitch McConnell, for Secretary of Transportation.

The final group that Mr. Trump tended towards is the generals. He chose James N. Mattis, who has directed military operations in the Middle East, for Defense Secretary. “Mad Dog Mattis,” Trump proclaimed to a roar of applause at a rally in Fayetteville, N.C. where he announced the general’s nomination, playing on his nickname.

For Homeland Security Secretary, he chose General John F. Kelly. The Interior Secretary nominee is Representative Ryan Zinc, former Navy SEAL commander.

Trump has assembled a Cabinet with such diverse views that there likely will be conflict among them in policy-making.

For example, Rex Tillerson acknowledges the science of climate change, while Trump has called it a “hoax.” Wilbur Ross and Gen. James Mattis have supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Trump hopes to end the deal. Mr. Mattis has also criticized Russia’s intentions in Ukraine, while Trump wants to improve American relations with the Kremlin.

These differences of opinion in the incoming Cabinet may be intended to create an environment where aides debate policies and Trump makes a final decision based on the merits of each argument. However, many of the federal government’s decisions are made by the department secretaries and their deputies rather than the president.

Disagreement within Trump’s Cabinet will certainly pose a challenge as he narrows down his shape-shifting list of views from the campaign trail to definite policies.

By James Anderson


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