On Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump told Fox News that one of his executive superpowers is being so wise that he doesn’t need regular intelligence briefings. “You know, I’m, like, a smart person,” he told Chris Wallace. “I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”
This is not the first time Trump has waxed ineloquently on his own brilliance. He told the Washington Post earlier this year that he doesn’t need to read much because he makes good decisions “with very little knowledge other than the knowledge I [already] had, plus the words ‘common sense,’ because I have a lot of common sense and I have a lot of business ability.” However, as the Post noted a month later, Trump’s unique studying habits also make him reliant on those around him to act as his muses, and he “tends to echo the words of the last person with whom he spoke, making direct access to him even more valuable.”
So … who Trump chooses for his Cabinet is unusually important, and paying attention to that process is infinitely more useful than fantasizing about an electoral college revolt or a fairy godmother appearing to give us an Election Day do-over. Since all of the news about Russia and recounts and whatnot has also been monumentally distracting, here’s a list of everyone who’s been picked so far, so we can see what kind of advice Trump will be getting in the near future.
Secretary of State
Last year, Trump said that he wanted to “bomb the shit out of [ISIS].” He went on to describe this well-considered policy plan in much more detail, adding an important coda about taking all of the oil from the Middle East. “I would just bomb those suckers. That’s right. I’d blow up the pipes. ... I’d blow up every single inch. There would be nothing left. And you know what, you’ll get Exxon to come in there and in two months, you ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies? They’ll rebuild that sucker, brand-new — it’ll be beautiful.”
This week, Trump followed up on that plan by nominating Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state. Tillerson has spent his entire career at what’s now called ExxonMobil. Steve Coll, who authored a book about the oil company explaining how it functioned as a global entity with its own foreign policy, wrote in The New Yorker that Tillerson, if confirmed, “would be in a position to benefit the corporation where he spent his career, by, for example, advocating for the easing of Russian sanctions.” Tillerson is also quite friendly with Russia, that country that the CIA is pretty sure tried to help Trump become president. “Few U.S. citizens,” according to The Wall Street Journal, “are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson, who has known Mr. Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.” The Russian president gave Tillerson the Order of Friendship — a fancy medal for foreigners who help Russian interests — in 2013, shortly before Tillerson started complaining about the new sanctions that were making it harder to do business there.
And so much for climate change being the most pressing foreign policy issue of our time — Tillerson’s company is in the middle of a lawsuit for allegedly hiding what it knew about climate change decades ago. It also isn’t quite clear how good Tillerson would be at standing up for America, as he got used to doing whatever his shareholders want, even if it’s not in his country’s best interest. He could also face a tough (or impossible) confirmation fight; Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who probably growl unconsciously every time they hear Putin’s name, are concerned about the Russia connection.
John Bolton’s name has been whispered as a potential deputy secretary pick, and he might get more attention if Tillerson’s confirmation becomes a hassle. Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador who hated the U.N., is currently showing off his foreign policy bona fides by hollering that the Russia hacking story is probably a false flag.
Trump just picked his energy secretary. It’s a guy who used to be governor of Texas, once performed on Dancing With the Stars, and … we forgot his name.
But, OK, it looks like Rick Perry will be running an agency that he wants to eliminate and that will make him relive his worst moment over and over again every time he remembers where he works. I guess that’s one way to get back at a guy who called your candidacy a “cancer on conservatism, and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised, and discarded.”
Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump. He would later become one of the president-elect’s first Cabinet picks.
This won’t be the first time that Sessions has had to face the Senate for a confirmation hearing involving the Justice Department. Back in 1986, he was up for a federal judgeship — and was turned down for being too racist. He allegedly once said that he thought the KKK was “OK, until [he] learned that they smoked marijuana,” and referred to a black attorney working with him in Alabama as “boy.” One person testified at the confirmation hearing that Sessions called the ACLU and NAACP “un-American” for forcing civil rights “down the throats of people.”
If confirmed, he would be in charge of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which Sessions has complained about in recent years, saying that it “goes beyond fair and balanced treatment” and “has an agenda.”
Sessions is perhaps best known for his stances on immigration — he’s against most of it, legal and illegal. He also is a staunch supporter of Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric, and voted against legislation that would have helped reduce mandatory minimums for nonviolent offenders. He opposed the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, and tried to stop an LGBTQ rights group from holding a conference at the University of Alabama. When part of the Voting Rights Act was struck down in 2013, he said, “There is racial discrimination in the country, but I don’t think in Shelby County, Alabama, anyone is being denied the right to vote because of the color of their skin.” (By 2014, voters in Alabama had to bring a photo ID to the polls; the law — which disproportionately affects minority voters — was originally blocked by the Voting Rights Act, before it was dismantled.)
Secretary of Homeland Security
Trump has tapped three retired generals to serve in his cabinet so far, the latest being John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general. Kelly is the highest-ranking official in the military to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. After years running the U.S. Southern Command, he has lots of thoughts about border security (which will probably be high on his radar, given the priorities of his boss). When asked about the often-made argument that Gitmo was being used as a recruitment tool for ISIS in January, he replied, “Bombing the living shit out of ISIS in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria, that would maybe irritate them more than the fact we have Guantanamo open.”
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Shortly before being nominated to be the next HUD secretary, renowned neurosurgeon Ben Carson said he was not qualified to run a federal agency. His business manager added, “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
The first time Trump ever appeared in the New York Times was for a front-page story on Fair Housing Act violations. As HUD secretary, Carson would be entrusted with upholding said legislation. Although Carson has no experience in government, he has said a lot about housing and poverty during his brief political career — remarks that make it seem like he might be interested in dismantling some of the Obama administration’s anti-bias housing policies. Carson has called these regulations “mandated social-engineering schemes.” The New Yorker spoke to a city council member from the Bronx worried about the fate of the New York City Housing Authority, which relies heavily on federal funding (and would need $17 billion to finish necessary repairs around the city).
Speaking of housing, here are pictures of the inside of Ben Carson’s house:
Acquaintances of Trump’s national finance chair, Steven Mnuchin, told Bloomberg that they were confused as to why he took the role in the first place. One theory, the writers concluded, was that he “spotted the trade of a lifetime. In exchange for a few months of unpaid work, Mnuchin gets a shot at joining President Trump’s cabinet. Goldman partners have wealth, and movie producers befriend stars, but the secretary of the treasury gets his signature stamped on cash.” A couple of months later, it was clear the bet had paid off. Mnuchin worked for Goldman Sachs …
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… and has produced many movies that you’ve heard of. Most involve destruction, the apocalypse, or people eating other people, which may explain his continued interest in the Trump presidency. Like most potential Trump cabinet members, Mnuchin has never worked in government, so no one knows exactly what he thinks about public policy. However, corporations can expect a big tax cut, as he wants to put into place “the largest tax change since Reagan.” Elizabeth Warren called Mnuchin “the Forrest Gump of the financial crisis,” partly because he made millions from a company that sold gross subprime mortgages. Known as the “foreclosure king,” he even managed to make money after investing with Bernie Madoff.
Small Business Administration
Linda McMahon, the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, will run the SBA. She gave a pro-Trump super PAC $6 million this year, and she and her husband donated a bunch of cash — more than anyone other donors — to the Trump Foundation, which everyone now knows was less of a charity and more of a Trump art fund.
McMahon also ran two failed and exceedingly expensive campaigns for a Connecticut senate seat, which gives her more political experience than many of Trump’s nominees. In March, McMahon said of Trump’s many remarks about women, “He’s not helping, certainly, to put women in the best light. Maybe he regrets them, maybe he doesn’t.”
Secretary of Education
Beginning to see a theme here? Betsy DeVos, the person Trump would like to be in charge of public schools in America, does not like public schools. She is also a billionaire who has spent massive amounts of money on conservative causes. The spread of charter schools in Michigan is mostly due to her family’s efforts. So how’s that been going? The Detroit Free Press notes, “Largely as a result of the DeVos’s lobbying, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charter schools than just about any other state. … The results of this free-for-all have been tragic for Michigan children, and especially for those in Detroit, where 79 percent of the state’s charters are located.” Segregation has only gotten worse, there is little oversight, and there are more for-profit schools there than anywhere else in the country.
Given the Republican Party’s romance with school choice, it was probably inevitable that someone like DeVos would get nominated if a GOP candidate won the presidency, but that doesn’t make the fact that public education in America could change radically under Trump any less notable. DeVos has no professional background in education, but she does have a history with party politics; she used to be the chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Her brother founded Blackwater, and her husband is an Amway heir. She gave money to Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Marco Rubio, but had nice things to say about Trump after he offered her a job. Even lackluster charter schools must trot out that tired maxim, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, try again.”
National Economic Council
Gary Cohn, another Goldman Sachs guy, has been tapped to be one of Trump’s main economic policy advisers.
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Reports from last week signal Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House, is likely to be our next interior secretary — the official in charge of national parks and other federally owned lands, as well as agencies like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ranchers who have been upset with the Bureau of Land Management under Obama (remember Cliven Bundy?) are more excited about McMorris Rodgers. Like most recent interior secretary nominees, she hails from the west — the part of the country with the highest density of public lands. She is pro–offshore drilling and opening up federal lands to energy companies, meh on climate change, and got an F from the National Parks Conservation Association and a zero from the League of Conservation Voters.
Elaine Chao, if confirmed, would be the second woman in history to become secretary of transportation after serving as labor secretary in a different administration. Elizabeth Dole also followed this career path, and, weirdly enough, also did so while married to someone with “Senate majority leader” on his résumé; Chao is married to Mitch McConnell.
Chao was the only cabinet official to serve all eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, and also worked in the Department of Transportation while George H.W. Bush was in office. She basically has more government experience than most of the rest of the cabinet combined, and probably would have been appointed to a position even if another Republican candidate had won the presidency. However, her colleagues at these agencies did not always approve of her leadership. When she left the Labor Department, a government employees union held a “good-riddance” party and accused her of favoring business over workers. After leaving the government, Chao served on boards for News Corp and Wells Fargo (yeah, the one that’s in trouble right now).
If Trump follows through on his big infrastructure plans, Chao will have a lot of work to do right away — especially since the project could cost $1 trillion and face massive resistance from some Republicans (unless Trump figures out a way to also make it magically free, as promised).
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was critical of Trump during the Republican primary, saying that he was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” She ended up voting for him anyway, and now will probably be his voice at the United Nations. Haley is a 44-year-old woman — the youngest governor in the country — which makes her stand out in a cabinet that mostly consists of rich Trump clones. She is also Indian-American — the second ever to serve as governor in the United States — making her the only woman of color in Trump’s cabinet right now. However, like most members of the president-elect’s White House wish list, she has hardly any experience in the role she’s supposed to fill.
Kansas Representative Mike Pompeo has long argued that the government doesn’t get to do enough surveillance. He thinks Muslim leaders who don’t condemn terrorism repeatedly are “potentially complicit in these acts, and more importantly still, in those that may well follow.” After the Senate torture report came out, he said, “These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots. The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution, and conducted with the full knowledge.” Pompeo also thinks Edward Snowden should be executed.
Secretary of Defense
Unlike Trump, James Mattis, his choice for defense secretary, reads obsessively. Mattis isn’t terribly Trumpish, but he can be blunt or say things like, “It’s fun to shoot some people," which might explain the job offer. He only retired from being a Marine general three years ago, meaning he would need a waiver from Congress to run the Department of Defense, which is usually headed by a civilian (letting a general decide military policy and execute it is generally seen as a no-no, and hasn’t been done since George Marshall was given a waiver in 1950). Steve Coll remembers Mattis as being “intently focused on stability, wary of warfare that sought to promote democracy or idealism, sentimental about the independence of the Baltic states, firmly committed to NATO, and unsentimental about Russia” — apparently unlike most of the other people who might be in Trump’s cabinet.
National Security Adviser
Here are some tweets from Michael Flynn, a retired United States Army lieutenant general set to advise Trump on issues of national security:
People who worked with Flynn before he was fired from his position running the Defense Intelligence Agency during the Obama administration say he was like a “14-year-old disruptive kid.” Despite Trump’s mixed feelings about young children, he seems confident that Flynn will represent him well.
Environmental Protection Agency
Scott Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma. He also currently happens to be suing the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump thinks that the EPA’s nemesis is the obvious choice to run it, which would be like if Batman went over to the Joker’s house and was like, “Oh, hey, can you watch Gotham while I’m on vacation?”
Pruitt opposes the EPA’s carbon-emissions plan, and doesn’t think that there’s concrete evidence that climate change exists. Trump argues that Pruitt will be able to “restore the EPA’s essential mission of keeping our air and our water clean and safe.” It isn’t clear at this time how it will be able to achieve this mission if Pruitt sands down the regulations that helped get that air and water cleaner in the first place.
Secretary of Labor
The next secretary of labor, if confirmed, will be someone who has a record of passionately defending … hamburger ads featuring women in bikinis. “I like our ads,” said Andrew Puzder, CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Trump’s preferred labor secretary, last year. “I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” He hates the idea of raising the minimum wage, and is against the Obama administration’s overtime regulations (which are currently in legal limbo). Puzder also thinks that replacing workers with robots is a great way to spend less on labor, if, as he complains, the government keeps making workers more expensive. In other words, he is going to come to the job with the perspective of the employer frustrated with regulations protecting workers, not the worker making minimum-wage jobs with no sick leave or vacation.
His ex-wife once accused of him of abuse, but walked back the claims after his nomination.
Secretary of Commerce
Oh look, another billionaire. Wilbur Ross, who hates trade agreements almost as much as Trump does, is set to be one of the incoming administration’s leading voices on the subject. The “King of Bankruptcy” (one look at all the royalty on this list and you’d think that Trump wanted to bring back the monarchy) made his money from buying up broken companies and selling them after a makeover — he prefers “phoenix” investor instead of “vulture” — and was once married to Betsy McCaughey, who is perhaps best known for helping to kill Hillary Clinton’s health care reform in the ’90s. Like other billionaires with newfound political power, he has quite a few potential conflicts of interest, including some with — who else? — Russia. He is also on the board of the Bank of Cyprus.
Ross helped Trump with his bankruptcy problems in Atlantic City, and owns a house down the road from Mar-a-Lago.
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Georgia representative Tom Price, who has introduced legislation to try to get rid of Obamacare many times, may soon run the organization charged with administering said policy. One of his chief responsibilities will be trying to eradicate the Affordable Care Act from Earth once and for all. His replacement plan, which you can read here, would involve tax credits for people buying private insurance plans. Price, an orthopedic surgeon, has expressed interest in privatizing Medicare, and is against both federal funding for Planned Parenthood and legislation that would have prohibited sexual-orientation discrimination at work. He also opposes embryonic stem cell research. Price has a mixed history when it comes to additional funding for science and medical research, often voting against it on the basis of what he would call unnecessary regulations or worries about government spending.
And perhaps most relevant to Trump, judging from the qualifications of all of his other recent hires, Price has also supported his potential new boss all along.