Once a President has been sworn in, he nominates people to serve in his Cabinet. Cabinet members, called Secretaries, are tasked with leading departments, developing policies, providing advice and carrying out the President’s mandate. In short, they are very powerful and important appointments, and provide an early indication of the way the President intends to govern.
The nominations must be confirmed by the Senate. This process can be political, with members of the opposing party sometimes using the nomination hearings to embarrass the President and his nominees. This year is no exception. Almost every one of President Trump’s appointees has faced intense and often embarrassing scrutiny from the media, the public and the Democratic party.
So, who’s in the Cabinet? Here are just three examples.
Rex Tillerson is the Secretary of State, generally considered the highest profile Cabinet appointment. As the former CEO of Exxon, Tillerson once tweeted that climate change is a hoax. He has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, a relationship that is a concern for many, since the Secretary role is that of chief diplomat for the government. During the election campaign, Trump often talked about Russia in glowing terms, despite the previously fractious relationship between the two countries over many decades. On January 6, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement confirming that Putin had ordered a campaign to influence the outcome of the U.S. election, with a specific goal to hurt Hillary Clinton and support Donald Trump. That investigation alone should have been enough to discourage Trump from nominating someone with such close ties to Russia’s leader. But it didn’t.
Rex Tillerson Photo Credit – The New Yorker
The Attorney General is Jeff Sessions, leading the Department of Justice. This appointment is particular galling – and hypocritical – considering Sessions has been accused of referring to a black attorney as ‘boy,’ describing the Voting Rights Act as ‘intrusive,’ attacking the NAACP and ACLU as ‘un-American’ for ‘forcing civil rights down the throats of people,’ joking that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was okay until he found out they smoked marijuana and calling a white attorney who took on voting-rights cases a ‘traitor to his race.’ He also faced allegations that he referred to a Democratic official in Alabama as a “nigger.” (I find this word incredibly offensive and would never otherwise use it, but believe it is important to accurately express the allegation.) In his role as Attorney General, he will enforce the country’s civil rights laws, which he hardly seems capable of doing given his past words, actions and views.
Jeff Sessions Photo Credit – The Nation
Betty DeVos is the Secretary of Education, the closest Trump came to losing one of his nominees. After a tie vote of 50-50 in the Senate, she was only confirmed after Vice-President Mike Pence cast the deciding vote, the first time in U.S. history that a Vice- President had to break a tie vote over a Cabinet nomination. Educators strongly opposed DeVos, pointing out her long history of supporting school voucher and charter schools made her unqualified to head a department that runs public schools. She has been criticized for having no experience as an educator or school administrator. During the confirmation hearings, she said she would not necessarily support banning guns from all schools because of the potential threat from grizzly bears in some wilderness areas.
Betty DeVos Photo Credit Washington Post
While it is the President’s prerogative to nominate Secretaries, there is also a responsibility to ensure (or at least make an attempt to) citizens that their government is being run and managed by people who are highly qualified, professional, respectful, moral, appropriate, experienced and are strong advocates for the work of their departments. It’s understandable why many Americans may not be feeling that way about the present administration’s new Cabinet.