TRUMPIAN CONCERNS, PART 3:

OBJECTIONABLE NOMINEES

Any President faces some criticism when he chooses his Cabinet Officers and primary White House Staff. Politics being what it is, there will always be someone opposed to almost any nominee for any position due to differences of opinion on the various issues relevant to the position is question. That being said, what we are seeing now goes beyond the normal level of criticism. Several of President Trump’s cabinet and staff appointees have been the subject of absolute derision, and for good reason – the nominees are either grossly unqualified for the position for which they have been nominated, there are concerns about something in their background, and/or they have expressed views that are anathema to the mission of the Executive Department they are slated to lead, calling into question whether they are an appropriate choice.

President-Elect Trump has nominated his cabinet and most of his major White House staff, and in looking at the list, one thing jumps out – many of his nominees don’t support the basic mission of the Department they have been nominated to lead, or hold views that are anathema to what the departments have been promoting for years.

Here is a list of his Cabinet Nominees (in the order of Presidential succession), and how they match up against the stated goals of their respective departments:

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State – Mr. Tillerson has been the CEO of ExxonMobil for a decade, and in that capacity has negotiated with governments and world leaders across the globe. He already knows many of the key players personally, and has earned their respect – and that is all to the good. The Office of Government Ethics has lauded his arrangements for separating his business interests from his governmental duties as being an exemplary model for others to follow. The only reason he is included on this list is that he was presented with the “Friend of Russia” medal – roughly the equivalent to our Presidential Medal of Freedom – by Vladimir Putin himself. Not that this is necessarily a problem, but given how many on the political right wing strongly criticized Barack Obama as being a “socialist”, I shudder to think how they would have reacted if President Obama had nominated someone for Secretary of State who had received that medal…

Steve Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury – Mr. Mnuchin has been a senior executive at Goldman Sachs for years (as have several other Trump nominees), and in that capacity has been responsible for foreclosures on people’s homes during the recent housing market crash. In one instance a 90-year-old woman made a mistake of less than one dollar on her mortgage payment, and Mnuchin foreclosed – literally over pocket change. The woman lost her home.

General James Mattis, USMC (ret.), Secretary of Defense – General Mattis is extremely well-regarded on both sides of the aisle and has served our nation with honor and distinction, but he has only been retired from active duty for three years. Federal law requires that anyone who has served on active duty in the United States Armed Forces be retired for a minimum of seven years before they can serve as Secretary of Defense (this law was put in place to maintain the concept of civilian control of the military). Congress had to pass a waiver allowing an exception for General Mattis before he could be confirmed by the Senate.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Attorney General – Senator Sessions was nominated to a federal judgeship by President Ronald Reagan back in the 1980’s, but failed to be confirmed due to allegations of racist comments in his past. Those allegations were raised again during his confirmation hearings. This is especially important because, as the head of the Department of Justice, the Attorney General oversees the enforcement of civil rights laws. In addition, when President Trump fired the Acting Attorney General (Sally Yates, a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department – serving under both Democratic and Republican Presidents – who had developed a reputation for being independent and above politics, and who had been nominated for the Office of Deputy Attorney General by President Obama, receiving 84 votes for her confirmation in a Republican-controlled Senate in 2015. She had been asked to stay on as Acting Attorney General by the Trump Transition team), video surfaced of Senator Sessions, who served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking Yates during her confirmation hearing whether she could stand up to the President when she believed him to be legally wrong (she did not hesitate to say yes). Ironically, Senator Sessions’ confirmation vote was then delayed because many Senators did not believe that Sessions could live up to his own question, and would not stand up to President Trump, raising concerns about the potential politicization of the Justice Department.

Representative Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Secretary of the Interior – Representative Zinke was once a supporter of “clean energy” and the need to combat climate change, saying, “”the clean energy and climate challenge is America’s new space race” (when serving in the Montana State Legislature), but has since moved towards the skeptic side of the climate change debate. In a debate during the 2014 campaign for his House seat, he discussed climate change, saying, “it’s not a hoax, but it’s not proven science either.” He has consistently voted against environmental causes, and earned a rating of just 3 percent from the League of Conservation Voters.

Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce – Mr. Ross is a multi-billionaire who made his fortune buying bankrupt and distressed companies through leveraged buyouts, restructuring them, and then selling them at huge profits. Known as the “King of Bankruptcy” (because he buys bankrupt businesses, not because he ever declared bankruptcy himself), Mr. Ross is a former Democrat – he officially registered as a Republican just last year – who has had to pay out millions of dollars in fines and reimbursements related to overcharging of fees (at WL Ross & Co.) and breaching his fiduciary duty when he engineered a merger between Safety Components International Inc. and International Textile Group Inc., two companies in which he was the majority stockholder. He also led ICG (International Coal Group), which owned the Sago Mine in West Virginia when an explosion killed twelve miners. The Sago Mine has had a troubled safety history. The US Department of Labor had over 200 citations of safety violations at the mine, 96 of which were considered “significant/serious and substantial”, and it has been alleged that Mr. Ross knew all about these safety issues.

Andrew Puzder, Secretary of Labor – As the CEO of CKE Restaurants (which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees), Mr. Puzder opposes raising the minimum wage and is generally on management’s side (as opposed to the side of labor unions and workers). Given that the Department of Labor’s Mission Statement reads, “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights”, it seems to me that the Secretary of Labor should be on the worker’s side.

Representative Tom Price (R-GA), Secretary of Health and Human Services – Representative Price has turned out to be among President Trump’s most controversial picks for any position. Representative Price is in fact a doctor (he ran orthopedic clinics and has taught orthopedic surgery at Emory University). He favors repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as “Obamacare”) in its entirety, and has sponsored an alternative to the ACA called the Empowering Patients First Act in every Congress since 2011 (primarily it would reform medical malpractice law, create and expand tax credits for purchasing health insurance, and allow for some interstate insurance markets). Representative Price also favors privatizing Medicare and turning Medicaid into a program run by the states. He has faced controversy over some questionable stock transactions involving an Australian company called Innate Immunotherapeutics, and ethical questions regarding his purchase of stock in a company called Zimmer Biomet. Allegedly, Representative Price introduced legislation (the HIP Act) that would have benefitted Zimmer just a week after he purchased the stock, and shortly after he introduced the legislation, Zimmer’s Political Action Committee made a donation to his re-election campaign.

Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Dr. Carson, who ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2016 before dropping out of the race and endorsing President Trump, was widely believed to be slated for the Health and Human Services post (he is a neurosurgeon, after all). However, according to his close friend Armstrong Williams, Dr. Carson informed then-President-Elect Trump that he was not interested in the HHS position because, “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency” (which sort of begs the question of why Dr. Carson would even run for President in the first place if he didn’t believe he was up to running an individual Department of the Executive Branch that was within his area of expertise).  Then Dr. Carson accepted President Trump’s nomination to HUD, confusing just about everybody. As for his qualifications to oversee housing policy, Dr. Carson said, “I know that I grew up in the inner city, and have spent a lot of time there. And have dealt with a lot of patients from that area. And recognize that we cannot have a strong nation if we have weak inner cities. And we have to get beyond the promises and start really doing something.” In other words, he is simply not qualified for the HUD position.

Former Governor Rick Perry (R-TX), Secretary of Energy – Governor Perry ran for the GOP nomination for President in both 2012 and 2016, and did not meet expectations either time, dropping out early in both attempts. During both campaigns he proposed abolishing the Department of Energy – a proposal he now says he “regrets”.

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education – Ms. DeVos is a billionaire philanthropist and GOP donor who has absolutely no experience in the education field – none whatsoever. She has never been a public school student, teacher, school administrator, school counselor, or worked in any capacity for a school district. Ever. She is, however, a strong advocate for the privatization of public education through school vouchers and charter schools, including increasing the federal funds going to religious schools.

 

There are four Cabinet Positions with non-controversial nominees:

 

Former Governor Sonny Perdue (R-GA), Secretary of Agriculture – Governor Perdue was a relatively non-controversial appointment for the Agriculture post

Former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation – Secretary Chao was widely considered to be President Trump’s least controversial cabinet pick. She also happens to be married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Health David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs – Under Secretary Shulkin’s nomination was not considered to be controversial.

General John Kelly, USMC (ret.), Secretary of Homeland Security – General Kelly’s nomination was not considered to be controversial.