With Donald Trump’s inauguration only a month away, the president-elect has a lot to do. On top of tweeting hourly and taking a victory tour, Trump is faced with the challenge of choosing a cabinet. This is no easy task: he must choose an effective and diverse group of people and balance the interests of both moderate and extreme Republicans while also representing his own beliefs. The common ground for his choices is extreme wealth; they have a combined net worth of over $14 billion. “I want people that made a fortune because now they’re negotiating with you,” Trump announced. Another uniting factor? Many don’t believe the departments they now direct should be powerful, or even exist, in some cases.
One of Trump’s most controversial picks is Ben Carson, his adversary in the primaries and a retired neurosurgeon. Carson is set to oversee a department with a $47 billion budget as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). While Carson’s appointment brings much-needed diversity to Trump’s cabinet, he lacks the necessary qualifications. He has no experience in government or housing policy.
Trump may have nominated him because of his impoverished background in Detroit, where his family received assistance through the HUD Department in the form of subsidized housing. However, it’s unclear if Carson really believes in the department’s objectives: in 2015 he said that he wanted to get rid of “dependency” on the government by the impoverished and stressed in his biography that hard work, rather than government assistance, is the key to climbing out of poverty. In a 2015 opinion piece in The Washington Times, he called the Obama administration effort to racially integrate majority-white neighborhoods a “failed socialist experiment.” Considering that Carson has expressed disapproval of the HUD Department’s core beliefs, his fitness as its secretary is questionable.
Another former competitor of Trump is Rick Perry, who will be Trump’s Secretary of Energy. Perry was the governor of Texas, the leading producer of crude oil, natural gas, coal, wind power, and refined petroleum products. Therefore, Perry initially seems like a good choice for the Secretary of Energy: he’s familiar with the energy market and has announced his beliefs in exploring new, efficient energy sources.
In recent years, the importance of the Energy department has increased dramatically, since it is now responsible for nuclear energy, weapons, and cleanup. Ironically, Perry sees no such importance: in November 2011, at a Republican primary debate, Perry pledged to eliminate three government agencies, including the Energy Department. Like Carson, Perry will thus be in charge of an agency that he believes shouldn’t exist in the first place, which cannot bode well for the vital work conducted by the Energy Department.
Betsy DeVos, known for her efforts to reform the Detroit school system, will be Trump’s Secretary of Education. DeVos is a strong proponent of charter schools and educational vouchers; she has proposed a $20 billion plan to finance “school choice” initiatives.
While DeVos definitely has experience with sweeping school reforms, her record is dismal. Her reform plan in Detroit, which promoted charter schools and gave families vouchers that let them choose which school to attend, was called the “biggest school reform disaster in the country” by the New York Times, lacking oversight and leading to a massive decline in test scores and overall student achievement.
School choice has the potential to work in urban areas—in New York City, the multitude of public, charter, and private schools creates competition and leads each school to strive to perform better. However, in rural and suburban areas with few or only one school accessible by each family, vouchers fail to make an impact. DeVos needs a more holistic plan that promotes education for all areas, not just select urban ones.
One area where Barack Obama has been most successful in using executive action to advance his agenda has been climate change. However, Republican attorney generals have sued the federal government many times to stop energy regulations from President Obama’s Clean Power Plan from being implemented.
The most prolific of these has been Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of Oklahoma, who has been nominated by President-elect Trump to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has received more than $300,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries and is known for having close ties with these industries’ leaders. There is a clear conflict of interest between someone who has done close work with the oil and gas industries and is now being asked to regulate them to preserve the environment.
Pruitt does have significant experience with the fossil fuels industry and is certainly knowledgeable about the topic; he just is on the wrong side of the road when it comes to the goals of the EPA. It’s not even clear if Pruitt accepts the scientific consensus that climate change is happening, calling the issue “far from settled.” It flies in the face of logic and is grossly irresponsible to nominate someone to lead the EPA who doesn’t believe in its stated mission: combatting climate change in one of the world’s most polluting countries.
Thus, the EPA being led by one of the main opponents of its agenda is not conducive toward helping the environment. When considering Donald Trump’s statements on global warming, it makes sense that he nominated Pruitt, as Trump has also labeled climate change a “hoax” invented by the Chinese to get an economic leg up.
Another one of Trump’s unorthodox picks has been Rex Tillerson, the Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State. Tillerson certainly has experience in diplomacy, having conducted negotiations in countries as varied as Yemen, Iraq, and Venezuela. In addition, he has managed the world’s largest oil and gas corporation fairly successfully for the past 10 years.
However, a deeper look at Tillerson’s record shows that he is unfit to be Secretary of State. A major concern that has been raised about Tillerson is his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Tillerson’s leadership, ExxonMobil has invested and jointly developed natural gas fields in the North Sea with the Russian-run energy giant Rosneft. Tillerson was even awarded an Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin in 2013. Russian hacks on the Democratic National Committee and Russia’s possible intent to disrupt the electoral process should make the Senate extremely wary of confirming Tillerson.
Tillerson’s allegiance should also be called into question because of his 40-year tenure at ExxonMobil: his worldview may be shaped by his connections to the oil industry. Though Tillerson will be forced to sell away all of ExxonMobil stock, he will still be working with countries where he previously had a financial stake in, which could easily cloud his judgment. The Secretary of State is often regarded as the most important cabinet position in a president’s administration, as they represent America around the world and have a large say in foreign policy. Therefore, extra attention should be paid to a nominee who is not well versed in many areas of diplomacy and has conflicts of interests in many countries he will be working in.
Many policies of a president are executed and shaped by his cabinet members. This will hold especially true for President-elect Trump because of his lack of governing experience. Current Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz helped negotiate the Iran deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for dismantling their nuclear program. It’s unclear if President-elect Trump’s picks would have been as successful, given their collective lack of public sector experience or knowledge about the jobs they will be assigned. And for those nominees who are well-versed in the position, it seems most have tried to subvert or oppose the very job they will soon be assuming.
Some of President-elect Trump’s picks could do very well in their roles, such as Elaine Chao, who is the nominee for the Secretary of Transportation position, or Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana, for the Secretary of the Interior Department. However, nominees such as Scott Pruitt or Rick Perry deserve close scrutiny from the Senate before they vote on whether to grant them power over decisions that affect all people in the United States.