As the intensity of the 2016 presidential election has fizzled out, the ramifications of the incoming Trump administration come into closer focus. Through a variety of Cabinet appointments and staffing picks, President-elect Trump has begun to reveal what his administration will look like and how it will function.
One of the earliest and most important picks Trump made after his election to the presidency Reince Priebus for the position of White House Chief of Staff. Priebus has spent the past four years as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee and is a Washington veteran who should be able to help Trump, a newcomer to our nation’s capital, navigate the responsibilities of the presidency.
Since many political pundits describe White House Chief of Staff as the second most powerful office in the nation, the choice of Priebus for the position was particularly consequential.
Trump succeeded in generating controversy, with his choice of Steve Bannon for Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President. Bannon, who served as the Chief Executive of the Trump campaign from August 2016 until its conclusion in November, is a close personal ally of Trump. His appointment should strike a balance in the West Wing between his own “out-sider” agenda the Washington establishment’s agenda represented by Priebus.
Before joining the Trump campaign, Bannon was a founding member and eventual executive chair of Breitbart News, a far-right-wing news website promoted by Bannon as the “platform of the alt-right (alternative-right).”
Due to his ties to white nationalism and his publishing of controversial articles on Breitbart, Bannon has been accused of promoting racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and Islamophobic sentiments.
Despite this controversy, the roles of Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President are staffing positions that do not require Senate confirmation, so there is little the Washington establishment can do to curb Bannon’s influence in the Trump administration.
Retired Army Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn is another close Trump ally from the campaign who is getting a job in the incoming administration. Trump gave Lt. General Flynn the nod to serve as National Security Advisor, the president’s chief national security aide in the West Wing. This pick has also generated controversy due to Lt. General Flynn’s hardline positions and accusations of being Islamophobic. The position of National Security Advisor also does not require Senate confirmation.
Trump made another important national security pick shortly after the election by appointing Congressman Mike Pompeo of Kansas to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. This position requires a Senate confirmation, and Pompeo will be tasked with potentially implementing Trump’s proposed policy of reinstating torture as an interrogation technique.
The Trump administration will not solely consist of white men. In another foreign policy appointment, Trump chose South Carolina Governor
Nikki Haley to serve as Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley’s appointment is notable for her lack of previous foreign policy experience and as the first woman (along with Betsy DeVos) and the first person of color on Trump’s Cabinet.
Elaine Chao, another woman of color, was appointed Secretary of Transportation and will be tasked with helping to push through and implement Trump’s ambitious infrastructure plan. Chao previously served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush and is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Betsy DeVos, mentioned earlier, is Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education. DeVos is a member of the billionaire DeVos family and has worked as a philanthropist in the area of education. DeVos has been criticized for her lack of experience in administering public schools.
Dr. Ben Carson, the former 2016 Republican candidate and choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is also being criticized for lack of government experience in his field. Dr. Carson was a potential candidate for Secretary of Health and Human Services, but he took himself out of the running for the job because of his own admitted lack of governmental experience (despite his candidacy for the presidency earlier this year).
Instead, the job went to Congressman Tom Price of Georgia, an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act, which Trump vowed to dismantle during his campaign.
Continuing with the theme of a lack of government experience are two important Cabinet picks in the area of economic and monetary policy. Billionaire banker Wilbur Ross is Trump’s choice for Commerce Secretary.
Another banker, Steve Mnuchin, is the nominee for the important position of Secretary of the Treasury. Mnuchin served as the Finance Chairman of Trump’s campaign and previously worked at the investment firm Goldman Sachs but has no experience in the government.
Another major appointment was announced shortly after Trump’s win, as early-Trump-supporter Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama was tapped for the heavyweight position of Attorney General. The former Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship in the 1980s by Ronald Reagan, but his nomination was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee due to his previous bashing of civil rights groups and allegations of racist remarks.
Sessions’ history will likely give him a more lengthy confirmation battle in the Senate. Trump made another major appointment by choosing retired Marine Corps General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. General Mattis’ appointment attracted little controversy compared to some of his counterparts.
Three of the four major Cabinet posts have been filled (Treasury Secretary, Defense Secretary, and Attorney General) while perhaps the most prominent position, Secretary of State, remains vacant. The media has speculated that Trump has narrowed down his choice to Rex Tillerson, the Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobile.
Trump was quoted in an interview with Fox News saying, “He is much more than a business executive. He is a world class player. He is in charge of, I guess, the largest company in the world,” he continued, “And to me, a great advantage is that he knows many of the players. And he knows them well.” However, politicians such as Senator Marco Rubio have spoken of concerns about just how well Tillerson knows other world players and leaders, like Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
Other Cabinet positions still up for grabs include Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. Former Alaska Governor and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is reportedly being considered for both positions.
The intensity of the election that has carried over into the controversial Cabinet appointments is likely to continue once Trump takes office. Only time will tell what the unpredictable nature of Donald Trump and his administration will bring.