Trump’s Cabinet and Staff

Caitlin McLaren - 4B Chemical
Posted on: January 15, 2017

With Trump’s inauguration only days away, all eyes are focusing on the President-elect and his incoming staff. During his campaign, Trump argued that his lack of political experience was outweighed by his business and managerial skills; he might not be an expert, but he would hire the right people.
At this point, most of his choices have been announced, and several of them are highly controversial. Here’s a brief guide to the most high-profile cabinet picks, and why many of them are regarded with suspicion by many people. Note that the different sides of these controversies are held by different people and groups.
Rex Tillerson
Soon to be: Secretary of State
Who is he? CEO of ExxonMobil, a multinational oil and gas company.
The controversy: Tillerson has no experience in diplomacy, and much like Trump, his vast business dealings pose a strong risk of conflict of interest while he occupies such a high-level government position. Tillerson is also friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, having done a great deal of business in Russia over the years, and has in fact been awarded the Order of Friendship by the Russian government. This makes many suspicious that he will use his new position to remove sanctions against Russia that were put in place over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. In fact, there are reports of ExxonMobil using subsidiary companies to circumvent various sanctions against Russia, Iran, Syria, and the Sudan during Tillerson’s time as CEO. Given this behaviour, it is feared that Tillerson will put business interests before national ones during his time in office.
Steve Bannon
Soon to be: Chief Strategist and Senior Adviser
Who is he? Former chairman of Breitbart News, and also former Goldman Sachs employee, Bannon was CEO of the Trump campaign towards the end of the election.
The controversy: Bannon is arguably the most controversial figure in Trump’s cabinet. Breitbart News is a famously far-right media outlet that Bannon himself has called “a platform for the alt-right;” alt-right is infamously a euphemism for white supremacy. Breitbart News is also notorious for sexism, running headlines that claim that birth control makes women “unattractive and crazy” or that women “suck at interviews”. Bannon is also famous for making flamboyant and controversial statements, such as claiming that he wants to destroy the “establishment”, or saying that Silicon Valley has too many Asian CEOs. Bannon was also accused by his ex-wife of domestic abuse and anti-Semitism. All of these colourful controversies almost overshadow the fact that he formerly worked for Goldman Sachs, an institution that Trump demonized during his presidential campaign.
Steve Mnuchin
Soon to be: Secretary of the Treasury
Who is he? Financier, and former Goldman Sachs partner.
The controversy: Not only does his choice of a former Goldman Sachs partner contrast with Trump’s anti-bank and particularly anti-Goldman Sachs campaign rhetoric, but Mnuchin’s company has been accused of aggressively and inappropriately foreclosing on numerous homeowners. Also, Mnuchin has no experience in government, a recurring theme in Trump’s cabinet.
Jeff Sessions
Soon to be: Attorney General
Who is he? Alabama Republican Senator
The controversy: Sessions has been accused of holding racist views and making bigoted comments against African-Americans. In fact, he was rejected from a federal district court judge appointment in 1980 when colleagues testified that he had made several racist comments, and alleged that he had called the NAACP “Communist-inspired” and “un-American”. Sessions denies these charges, claiming that they are the result of stereotypes about white Southerners. Sessions also takes a hard stance against immigration, and supports Trump’s controversial proposal for a southern border wall.
Rick Perry
Soon to be: Secretary of Energy
Who is he? Former governor of Texas, previously agricultural commissioner. Perry was an early presidential candidate, but dropped out in the primaries.
The controversy: Not only does he have little experience or expertise in the energy sector, but he has stated on the record – during a presidential debate no less – that he would like to eliminate the Department of Energy, which he is now slated to head. (In fact, during that debate, he infamously forgot the name of the department; whether he is qualified to have any role in it whatsoever is seriously questionable.) Interestingly, he was formerly an outspoken critic of President-elect Trump.
James Mattis
Soon to be: Secretary of Defense
Who is he? Retired United States Marine Corps general.
The controversy: While an accomplished and respected military leader, Mattis is famous for his aggressive stance on Islam. He has stated that “political Islam” is a threat to the United States, and has called Iran “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East.” He has also made flippant statements about it being “a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot militants, leading many to see him as a warhawk. As Trump stated in his campaign that he opposed America’s involvement in wars in the Middle East, it is unclear what will come of his appointing a hardliner like Mattis. On the other hand, Mattis does not oppose the recent Iran nuclear deal, although Trump has strongly criticized it, calling it a “terrible deal” and vowing to get rid of it as soon as possible. Thus, Mattis has his critics both among Trump supporters and opponents.
Mattis’ appointment will also require special legislation to be passed by Congress, as he has been on active duty in the last several years, which currently violates federal laws for Secretary of Defense appointees.
Elaine Chao
Soon to be: Secretary of Transportation
Who is she? Former Secretary of Labor, director of the Peace Corps, and deputy transportation secretary, Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The controversy: There isn’t much of one; Chao definitely has the requisite experience for Secretary of Transportation. Chao is also a woman, and an immigrant, both groups that Trump has been accused of bigotry against.
Betsy DeVos
Soon to be: Secretary of Education
Who is she? Businesswoman and chair of the Windquest Group, a clean-energy corporation.
The controversy: DeVos is a longtime advocate of charter schools and supports funding them over public schools. Many public-school officials and teachers’ unionists fear that her appointment will cause harm to the public education system. Furthermore, deVos and her husband are billionaires and Republican fundraisers and donors, which causes some to suspect that her appointment is more a reward for her financial support than a deserved one.
David Shulkin
Soon to be: Secretary of Veterans Affairs
Who is he? The current Under Secretary for Health in the Veterans Affairs office
The controversy: While the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is normally a veteran, Shulkin is not. However, Shulkin is one of the least controversial and most traditionally qualified appointees in Trump’s cabinet.
Tom Price
Soon to be: Secretary of Health and Human Services
Who is he? Republican congressman from Georgia, and also a former orthopedic surgeon.
The controversy: Price supports repealing the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare), which is in line with Trump’s and the Republican Party’s stance, though a large national controversy. Price is also a member of the conservative Tea Party caucus, supports defunding Planned Parenthood, and is very publicly opposed to same-sex marriage.
Andrew Puzder
Soon to be: Secretary of Labour
Who is he? CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings, a large parent company that owns several fast-food chains.
The controversy: Puzder is against raising the federal minimum wage, which is a highly polarized issue. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. This is not a controversy exclusive to Puzder, but a larger national debate mainly split on partisan lines.
John Kelly
Soon to be: Secretary of Homeland Security
Who is he? A retired United States Marine Corps general, and former commander of the United States Southern Command.
The controversy: Gen. Kelly is one of the less controversial figures in Trump’s cabinet. His comments regarding Mexico have been more moderate than Trump’s, and he certainly has the relevant experience for the job.
Ben Carson
Soon to be: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Who is he? Famed neurosurgeon, writer, and politician
The controversy: Carson has no background in the public sector and even expressed reluctance to accept a cabinet position based on his lack of experience (notwithstanding the fact that he ran for President last year).
Ryan Zinke
Soon to be: Secretary of the Interior
Who is he? Republican House of Representatives member, and former Navy SEAL.
The controversy: Zinke supports mining and oil drilling on public land, making him unpopular with environmental groups. Even more worryingly, he has expressed doubts about climate change.
Wilbur Ross
Soon to be: Commerce Secretary
Who is he? Businessman and investor.
The controversy: Ross has no government experience, and the fact that he is a billionaire concerns many on the left who worry that the many wealthy cabinet appointees will make decisions that benefit the rich at the expense of the underprivileged. However, Ross is not particularly controversial personally.
Reince Priebus
Soon to be: White House Chief of Staff
Who is he? Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The controversy: Priebus, as a senior Republican, is the most “normal” appointment and not particularly controversial compared to other cabinet members. However, given Trump’s calls to “drain the swamp” and rhetoric against Washington insiders, Priebus is not what Trump’s strongest supporters called for.
Jared Kushner
Soon to be: Senior Adviser to the President.
Who is he? CEO of Kushner Companies, a real-estate firm, and Trump’s son-in-law as the husband of Ivanka Trump.
The controversy: Kushner has no political experience and is hardly “senior” at 35. Furthermore, if he is appointed to an official position, some argue that it would be a violation of nepotism laws
Scott Pruitt
Soon to be: Head of the Environmental Protection Agency
Who is he? Attorney General of Oklahoma
The controversy: Not only is Pruitt a climate change denier, but he is currently involved in a lawsuit suing the EPA in a bid to force them to remove various regulations. It is not even the first time he has sued the agency he will now lead.
Gary Cohn
Soon to be: National Economic Council Director
Who is he? President and COO of finance giant Goldman Sachs.
The controversy: Trump has repeatedly criticized both Goldman Sachs for exerting undue influence over politicians through donations, and politicians, most notable Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton, for being influenced by Goldman Sachs. This was a significant piece of campaign rhetoric, and Trump’s choice of multiple former or current Goldman Sachs high-ups as members of his cabinet has disappointed and angered many of his voters.
Linda McMahon
Soon to be: Head of the Small Business Administration
Who is she? Co-founder and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.
The controversy: Like several of his other cabinet picks, McMahon has donated millions of dollars to Trump’s campaign and his foundation, bringing accusations that he is giving cabinet positions as a reward for donations and not on the basis of merit.
Kellyane Conway
Soon to be: Counselor to the President
Who is she: A longtime Republican political advisor.
The controversy: Conway has a long history of excusing or downplaying controversial statements by her clients, such as Trump’s “Grab them by the p***y” comment.
Mick Mulvaney
Soon to be: Budget Director
Who is he? House representative of South Carolina, and former lawyer and businessman.
The controversy: Famous for his hardline conservatism, Mulvaney was a founder of the House Freedom Caucus, associated with the Tea Party movement. He is also strongly against the US taking in Syrian refugees, and aims to defund Planned Parenthood. More generally, he favours deep budget cuts.
Dan Coats
Soon to be: National Intelligence Director
Who is he? A former Republican senator from Indiana, during which time he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also served the role of ambassador to Germany.
The controversy: Coats is not particularly controversial in the political sense, but his stance on Russia contrasts with Trump’s attitudes thus far. While Trump has advocated for friendlier relations with Russia and has expressed some admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Coats takes a more hardline stance, and has in fact been banned from entering Russia by the Russian government after advocating for American sanctions on Russia during the Obama administration.
Mike Pompeo:
Soon to be: Director of the CIA
Who is he? Kansas Republican congressman, associated with the Tea Party movement.
The controversy: Pompeo is on the record supporting the use of torture, as well as government mass surveillance. He has also called for the execution of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and is against the Iranian nuclear deal.
Mike Flynn
Soon to be: National Security Adviser
Who is he? Retired lieutenant general in the US Army, and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The controversy: Flynn is famous for his anti-Islam stance, and believes that Islamic terrorism is the greatest threat the United States currently faces. He also has a reputation as a maverick and a conspiracy theorist; for example, he has incorrectly claimed that Muslims want to exterminate or enslave 80% of humanity, and has given credit to far-fetched rumours about Hillary Clinton being involved in child sex trafficking. He was known for leading “Lock her up!” chants at Trump rallies. Most worryingly, when asked about Trump’s highly controversial proposal to kill the family members of suspected terrorists (a war crime), Flynn would not condemn the proposal, instead saying that it would depend on the circumstances.
Nikki Haley
Soon to be: UN Ambassador.
Who is she? Republican Governor of South Carolina.
The controversy: Haley has no experience in foreign policy, and has drawn criticism for opposing the settlement of Syrian refugees in her state. She is also a former Trump critic, and particularly condemned his proposal to ban Muslims from entering America. Haley is a woman of Indian descent, and considered to be one of the more moderate Trump picks.