There was always going to be an interest in who Trump was to pick. After all, the mogul had never held elected office before and had no military experience. He may have connections, but the 45th President is not a Washington insider. What came of it is one of the most interesting, and certainly most controversial Cabinets. For months, the nominees battled the Democrats (and some Republicans) in the Senate as they presented themselves for scrutiny, ready to prove that they were the right person for the job. Aside from Pence, the following people have not served a full year (we’ll count Pence as though he wasn’t inaugurated until January, he became Vice-President Elect in November), but still hold an important position regardless of their tenure. Let’s see what’s been going on…
Mike Pence (VP) – The left hate Mike Pence, the deeply Christian and conservative former Governor of Indiana who is known for causing a HIV outbreak. Picked in order to pacify the party elite and those who questioned the conservativeness of Trump, Pence introduced his boss when it was known that he had won. Since then, he seems to be doing a fair enough job. The VP has not been too controversial, sticking to his job as advisor and President of the Senate, including his tie-breaking vote regarding Betsy DeVos. There seem not to have been any public rifts between the two men. Earlier this year, Pence took a tour around the Asia Pacific region, forging relationships with many countries and promoting American interests abroad. So far, it’s been plain sailing.
Rex Tillerson (State) – A former oil CEO, Tillerson was a hugely controversial pick for Trump. His business interests were seen as a huge problem, especially in such a controversial field, and he didn’t seem too experienced compared to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Still, he managed to get nominated fine. In office, he’s one of the most well-known of Trump’s Cabinet but doesn’t to be all that visible. Mostly, he’s been jetting off around the world to secure relations in key areas, specifically the Middle East and Turkey. Rumours are swirling that there has been a dip in the relationship between the Secretary and the President, but time will tell if that’s true.
Steve Mnuchin (Treasury) – A former CEO of a banking company, Mnuchin is well qualified in that respect, knowing his industry. A friend of Trump for many years, Mnuchin was an early supporter and joined the campaign early at Trump’s invitation, eventually forming part of the transitional team. Announced earlier than most candidates, Mnuchin didn’t seem to have much of an issue getting confirmed. A quiet member, Mnuchin has focused much of his time on tax reform, a hallmark policy of the Trump Presidency. He has not stepped out of line, a complete Trump loyalist- which will help him in the long run, as Trump is a big fan of loyalty.
James Mattis (Defence) – Known as ‘Mad Dog’ and the ‘Military Monk,’ Mattis is probably the most respected member of Trump’s Cabinet. An Independent, Mattis has had a long and industrious career in the military, enjoying a high rank and the respect of his peers. Only one person voted against his confirmation (and one abstained), meaning he had a strong level of support. Mattis is one of the most visible members of the team, weighing in on everything from Syria to Iran. He is brave in that he is not afraid to criticise the administration from time to time, not being much of a Trump loyalist, but has escaped the wrath of Trump for reasons unknown. If anyone is bulletproof, it’s the man who says that he does not fear his enemies, his enemies fear him.
Jeff Sessions (Attorney-General) – Easily the most controversial pick of Trump, Sessions has not had an easy ride at all. His nomination received immediate controversy, as Sessions has a chequered past concerning several counts of racism. A traditionally conservative Southern man, he’s a very well-known member of the GOP. During his confirmation, he battled anger from many groups, including the Democrats. Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read out a letter from Coretta Scott King, the widow of the late Martin Luther King Kr, from many years ago, where she encouraged him not to be nominated for a position due to his alleged race issues. This led to the famous ‘nevertheless, she persisted’ slogan. Since then, Sessions has had a turbulent ride. Firstly, there have been problems regarding apparent Russian involvement in the election, something that has dogged the GOP. There have been many issues with this, and a large number of people have called for his resignation, even inside the party. At the moment, he’s having some issues with Trump, and many of the President’s most ardent supporters are calling for Sessions to go. If he makes it to 2020, or even 2024, it’ll be a miracle.
Ryan Zinke (Interior) – A former State Senator and Congressman from Montana, Zinke was unusual in that he rode a police horse to his swearing-in. A geology major in college- an unusual major for a future politician- Zinke is in charge of conservation of domestic federal land. Zinke had already managed to find himself under investigation under the Hatch Act of 1939 due to misappropriation of tax payers’ funds. The Secretary had used expensive private jets and charted flights to visit notable funders and private groups. This makes him a colourful character in the cabinet, and it seems like it’s not going well for him at the moment.
Sonny Perdue (Agriculture) – Perdue had an easy confirmation, only voted against by one person. The former Governor of Georgia (a position once held by former President Jimmy Carter), he became the first Republican to hold that post since Reconstruction when he was elected in 2003. Like others, Perdue isn’t much of a focus in the media with his policies relatively uncontroversial. He has mainly focused on typical Republican ideas such as cutting regulation and helping those in rural areas, the base of the GOP.
Wilbur Ross (Commerce) – In the 1980s, Ross helped Donald Trump keep control of the casinos the mogul was in danger of losing (Ross was high up in Rothschild at this point). Interestingly, before his election, Ross was a Democrat who served under Clinton, though he did start fundraising for Republicans a few years ago. His business experience (and probably his experience helping Trump) led him to be nominated for Secretary of Commerce. Ross managed to get confirmed with a good margin. So far we haven’t heard much, though he did upset many Brexiters when he said a trade deal with Britain was low down in their priorities. Most recently, Ross has been involved in the Paradise Papers, though it is far too early to tell if any damage will be done.
Alexander Acosta (Labor)- A law graduate who worked as a clerk for current Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, Acosta went on to be chairman of one of the largest Hispanic community banks in the country. Acosta worked in the Bush administration before going back into the legal profession as an Attorney-General and Dean of a law school in Florida. He was nominated later than many of his peers, due to his presumed successor withdrawing his name, and was confirmed, though not by a huge margin. He’s not really done much apart from going on tours of factories and speaking to leaders in industry, even Google doesn’t come up with anything major. In a Trump administration, that is most definitely a good thing.
Dr. Ben Carson (Housing and Urban Development) – A hugely respected and world famous neurosurgeon (Cuba Gooding Jr played him in a film), Carson was a major player in the 2016 Republican primaries, doing well amongst deep conservatives. Carson immediately endorsed Trump after withdrawing, and was Vice Chairman of his transitional team. The vote in the Senate was tight, but Carson managed it. It’s not a notable department, and many may know it was the job Tom Kirkman had in Designated Survivor before he came President. His department had its budget cut by 13%, but Carson supported it. He was criticised for perceived lack of experience and has not seemed to have done much, only really visible because of his previous fame.
Elaine Chao (Transport) – The Secretary of Labor for all of Bush 43’s terms, Chao is a well-known Republican female. She is also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Her term as Secretary of Labor was very successful, as shown by several statistics such as the lowering of workplace fatality rates. Chao enjoyed time as a private citizen before being nominated by Trump. She enjoyed a large vote in favour of her confirmation (93 to 6 in favour), probably due to her past successes in administrations. Chao has announced a few policies, such as investment in driverless cars, but has not been too high profile.
Rick Perry (Energy) – The longest serving Governor in Texan history, Perry has been a high profile member of the GOP for many years now, especially as he was Bush 43’s successor in the role. He ran in 2012 and 2016, being the first to drop out in the latter due to poor polling and low funds. His confirmation was again not by a wide margin, but enough to get him to become Secretary. As a climate change sceptic, and one who is unconvinced by man-made issues, he is a controversial pick, but one that is in line with the policies of the Trump administration. He is more interested in the future of fossil fuels, and has not been too open to alternative energies. Interestingly, he stated his belief that the US should stay in the Paris Climate Change Accords.
Betsy DeVos (Education) – After Sessions, DeVos was easily the most controversial Cabinet pick. A businesswoman by trade, DeVos is known for being a huge supporter of Christian schools, school choice and voucher programmes, something that made her controversial as Education pick. Not a Trump supporter in the beginning, she endorsed Rubio and stated her belief that Trump didn’t represent her party. Thousands of Americans contacted their representatives to beg them to stop her from being nominated, and the lack of support from rebellious Republican Senators Collins and Murkowski meant she did not have a smooth ride. All Democrats and Independents, along with the two aforementioned Senators voted against her, meaning Pence had to vote in a rather historical tie-break. Since then, DeVos has continued to be polarising. Her most unpopular policy was that of her announcing that she was looking into the Title IX law, one that concerns sexual assault on college campuses. DeVos’ concern was that the accused were not being treated fairly, but many liberals got angry and believed that she was protecting rapists and other sexual assaulters. She won’t have an easy time.
Dr. David Shulkin (Veterans’ Affairs) – A former doctor with an MD, Shulkin joined his current department as an Undersecretary under Obama in 2015. He famously got a summit on veteran suicides arranged in one month, after telling staff that the predicted wait of ten months would cost thousands of lives. Shulkin managed to be the only Cabinet member to get a unanimous vote in the Senate, showing his respect across bipartisan lines. The Secretary still sees patients, and is doing a respectable job in his hard work protecting veterans. He hopes to extend free mental health care to all veterans. Unfortunately, he has courted controversy with a recent expenses scandal, in which he and his wife spent a lot of time in a paid holiday to Europe, running up a taxpayer funded bill.
Dr. Tom Price (Health, resigned September 2017) – An MD, Price worked in orthopaedics, but was still an active member of the GOP. He served in the Georgia Senate and in Congress also, where he was a vocal opponent of the Obamacare act and supporter of privatising Medicare. His confirmation was tight, only winning by 5 votes and two votes over halfway. Unfortunately, Price was discovered to have used more than $1 million dollars for private planes between May and September 2017, all of which were funded by, you guessed it, the taxpayer. Later on, it transpired that the expenditure had run over the expected million dollar mark. On September 2017, Price realised he wasn’t coming back from this and resigned. His Deputy, Eric Hargan, is holding the position until a suitable candidate is found.
General John F. Kelly (Homeland Security, resigned to become Chief of Staff, July 2017) – Kelly enlisted in the Marine Corps aged 20, and was commissioned five years later in 1975. He enjoyed a long career from 1970 to 2016, if one does not include a small period of inactive service. Kelly rose to the rank of General and saw action everywhere from Iraq to Libya, serving in high profile positions. Trump nominated the General in December 2016, and was confirmed with 88 votes to 1 in the Senate. Kelly is a strong supporter of strong immigration controls at the Southern border, and is a supporter of the Wall. His tenure was short, but he oversaw the infamous Muslim-majority country ban, and managed to stay a trusted ally of Trump. In July 2017, he replaced Reince Priebus as White House Chief of Staff. Elaine Duke is the acting Secretary.
This is the second of three articles from Sarah Stook on the first year of Donald Trump’s Presidency. The final one will be on his campaign pledges and his ratings.