Why you should care
Because these folks may soon run the country.
You are the company you keep — or, in Donald Trump’s case, the company you plan to keep. But which of the president-elect’s publicly announced Cabinet picks– which now includes former Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading the Energy Department he once vowed to destroy– are likely to pass confirmation, and which may face some hiccups? We look at the odds of each.
THE OSTENTATIOUS OLIGARCHS
- Secretary of Commerce: Wilbur Ross (Odds: Lock)
- Secretary of Labor: Andrew Puzder (Odds: Lock)
- Secretary of the Treasury: Steven Mnuchin (Odds: Likely)
- Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson (Odds: Not gonna happen)
These gazillionaires are the most likely targets for anti–Wall Street senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who will try to make a case that Trump’s picks for these Cabinet positions represent a betrayal of his voters. “That is hypocrisy at its worst,” the pair said of Mnuchin’s selection in a rare joint statement. But they may be preaching to the wrong crowd. “You have to convince the Republican senators,” not Trump supporters, notes Gregory Huber, a professor of political science at Yale.
Trump’s pick for secretary of state, which he announced on Tuesday, is a different story. The critical position is in the line of presidential succession, and Tillerson’s business ties to Russia are already making Republicans, including John McCain and Marco Rubio, queasy. Trump is under pressure to prove he’s not a puppet of Putin after a reported CIA analysis determined Russia worked to elect him. And despite his brashness, the mogul has changed his mind after testing the winds before.
Being a "friend of Vladimir" is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState – MR
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 11, 2016
THE DOGS OF WAR
- Secretary of Defense: Gen. James Mattis (Odds: Lock)
- Secretary of Homeland Security: Gen. John F. Kelly (Odds: Lock)
- National Security Advisor: Gen. Michael Flynn (Odds: Likely)
- CIA Director: Rep. Mike Pompeo (Odds: Likely)
Trump has turned a large portion of his Cabinet over to generals, eschewing a more civilian-led military. Pompeo supports torture, NSA spying and prosecution of Edward Snowden, which could alienate libertarian-leaning senators like Rand Paul and Ben Sasse.
The three generals will be cautious about using force after witnessing failed Bush-era exit strategies, yet they also view world foes as a greater existential threat than previous administrations did. “Our country today is in a life-and-death struggle against an evil enemy,” Kelly said in 2009, days after his son was killed while leading Marines in Afghanistan. With turmoil in Syria and Russian subterfuge, such seriousness may be appreciated, and Trump’s unapologetic picks aim to fulfill his campaign promises to surround himself with “the best” advisers — regardless of their titles — and to take danger abroad seriously.
THE INEXPERIENCED INSPIRATIONS
- Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ben Carson (Odds: Lock)
- Ambassador to the United Nations: Gov. Nikki Haley (Odds: Lock)
Neurosurgeon Carson has no housing background, but that doesn’t mean he can’t succeed in this position. Carson’s HUD predecessor, Julián Castro, had only been mayor of San Antonio, and the position often goes to a political appointee over a proven wonk. Affordable housing change will require some sort of legislative subsidy, which could include various tax credits for builders, says Bob Edelstein, a real estate expert at University of California, Berkeley. Carson could be a useful leader for such bills.
For her part, Haley helps lead a small Southern state and does not have foreign relations experience. But as South Carolina’s first female governor, she organized trade missions to places as far-flung as India, as OZY reported last year. And her much-praised decision to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state capitol after the 2015 Charleston church shooting showed her ability to skillfully juggle competing interest groups.
- Attorney General: Sen. Jeff Sessions (Odds: 50-50)
Once denied a federal judgeship in the ’80s for alleged racist remarks, the Alabamian’s prosecutorial track record — including pushing for the execution of a Ku Klux Klan leader who killed a Black man — is more nuanced than has been portrayed at times. When submitting a U.S. Senate survey recently, Sessions played up cases that flouted accusations of racism, such as one against a school that hadn’t fully integrated after desegregation. He should get over the nomination hump, especially with folks like Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia saying he’ll give Sessions a proper chance.
THE ‘LET’S AGREE TO DISAGREE’ CROWD
- Secretary of Health and Human Services: Rep. Tom Price (Odds: Lock)
- Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos (Odds: Lock)
- Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (Odds: Lock)
Progressives loathe charter school champion DeVos and the EPA-suing, climate-change-skeptical Pruitt. Yet Pruitt can overturn Waters of the United States rules, which many farmers have said crippled them financially over the years.
Critics also oppose Price, a physician and House Budget Committee chairman, for wanting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Yet Price, unlike other ACA critics, has long had a plan to replace it — and he says he’d maintain protections for those with pre-existing conditions, so long as they have “continuous coverage” (health insurance for at least 18 months, similar to the Bill Clinton–backed HIPPA law passed in 1996).
In the end, Democrats may disagree with some of the policies of Trump’s picks, but likely not enough to contest the nominations. “It’s a tough argument to make that the president shouldn’t be able to appoint people he agrees with,” says Huber.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly quoted a tweet by Gen. Michael Flynn and included him as a cabinet pick requiring Senate confirmation — the position of National Security Advisor does not require Senate confirmation.