For most presidents, choosing cabinet members is one of the more straightforward parts of the job. For President Donald Trump, however, many of his cabinet nominees are not being approved without a fight. Many of his nominations for cabinet secretary positions have been challenged by Democrats in the US Senate, which must approve all cabinet posts, and a few have faced a lack of support from within their party. In fact, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, nearly lost the nomination as two Republicans and 48 Democrats voted against her. The 50-50 tie was broken by Vice President Mike Pence; this was the first time in history that a tied vote regarding a cabinet secretary had to be broken by the Vice President. Before DeVos’ approval on February 7th, only six of Trump’s cabinet nominees had been approved, half the number of nominees Obama had approved by this point in 2009 and a little over one-third of George W. Bush’s nominees in 2001. Supporters for Trump’s cabinet decisions argue that the nominees are breaking up the string of high-ranking government officials that have long ruled past presidents’ cabinets, and that Trump’s conservative picks prove he is following his promises made on the campaign trail. Critics claim that Trump’s picks lack experience and the necessary knowledge for such important positions. Here is a sampling of some of Trump’s more controversial cabinet secretary nominees.
Betsy DeVos is a billionaire devoted to conservative reform, especially of the education system. She is a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman and has held leadership positions in multiple Republican campaigns. She has served on boards and as chairwoman of multiple philanthropic organizations, including American Federation for Children, Foundation for Excellence in Education, and Philanthropy Roundtable. On February 7, 2017, she was approved by the Senate to be Trump’s Secretary of Education.
Supporters include those in favor of school voucher programs and charter schools. Devos has donated an incredible amount of her fortune to fund voucher programs: public funds given to low-income households for them to fund their child’s private school education. As a promoter of school choice, she believes that the “one-size-fits-all” education system does not work and that children should have access to other schooling options. She was also a leader in creating charter schools: publicly funded schools that operate outside of the state school system. President of the Heritage Foundation Jim Demint stated his support for DeVos in saying “the school choice movement will have a champion in the Education Department”.
Critics say DeVos has no experience in government and that she poses a threat to America’s public education system as a whole. Having only attended and sent her own children to private school, DeVos has no personal experience with the publicly funded education system. Additionally, she has made news in the past for her commenting that guns belonged in school in order to defend children from Grizzly bears. Her critics include the American Federation of Teachers, who held protests against her nomination. President of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten said that DeVos’s nomination “makes it loud and clear that [Trump’s] education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.” DeVos’ hearing on January 17th, though resulting in her approval to be Trump’s Secretary of Education, was rather contentious, and she appeared to lack knowledge regarding her own education policy. During the hearing, DeVos’s comment about guns in school, cluelessness about highly-debated topics within the education community, and the way she seemed to forget about certain federal education laws left many Senate members unimpressed.
Andrew Puzder is the chief executive of CKE restaurants, better known as fast-food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.. He is a political donor and has a long history of using his money to promote conservative causes. Trump first named him as his Secretary of Labor, but Puzder withdrew himself from consideration on February 16th due to a number of Senators in his own party turning against him.
Supporters, before his withdrawal, said that due to his high ranking in a large company, he had first-hand experience dealing with labor laws. He was a job creator, providing millions of jobs for America’s unskilled labor force. He was also a wise businessman and deal maker. On the issue of minimum wage, he was not against raising it, but he was concerned with how raising the minimum wage would affect employment.
Critics said that as Secretary of Labor, he would be in charge of a department that investigates minimum wage and worker safety violations; his restaurants have been investigated many times over the past 15 years for these very same violations. American Federation of Labor president Richard Trumka said that Puzder was “a man whose business record [was] defined by fighting against working people.” On top of all this, his ex-wife accused him of beating her during their 1986 divorce while on television host Oprah Winfrey’s show. Facing intense criticism from Democrats and ultimately Senators from his own party, Puzder withdrew and is no longer in consideration for the position of Labor Secretary.
Rick Perry is a two-time Republican presidential candidate, and the former governor of Texas, known for having served the longest of any Texan governor. He is a veteran of the United States Air Force and used to work as a farmer. Nominated by Trump to serve as the Secretary of Energy, he has yet to have his hearing.
Supporters say as the longest-serving governor of major oil-and-gas state, Texas, he has first-hand experience with rich energy-sources and extraction of energy. The Energy department is very diverse in the types of people that work in it—science backgrounds, military backgrounds, political backgrounds—and Perry could bring a new outlook to the department. As a politician, he will bring the department the voice it needs to get its issues across.
Critics often cite Rick Perry’s statements from the 2012 campaign that he supported abolishment of Energy department when criticizing the candidate. While he’s since apologized for this statement, he still seems a bit confused about the purpose of the department. He poses a threat to environmental conservationists, as he supports rollback efforts to expand renewable energy, and he questions the science regarding climate change. The Department of Energy is, in part, responsible for the advancement of nuclear technology and guarding of nuclear weapons—Rick Perry is an odd choice for this, as he has no experience. The last two secretaries boasted doctorates in physics from M.I.T. and Stanford. Rick Perry brings a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M.
Jeff Sessions has served as an Alabama senator for nearly two decades. He had been connected with Trump’s campaign a while before Trump was elected president and was nominated by Trump to be the Attorney General of the United States. His hearing took place on February 8th where he was approved as Attorney General in a 52-47 vote.
Supporters often cite Session’s 20 years of experience as a Senator as a reason he is an obvious fit for Attorney General. Additionally, he is very popular back home; he’s won re-election to the Senate multiple times and even ran unopposed in 2014. One of his main areas of focus is fixing America’s national debt problem. Tired of the small group of CEO’s running our country, Sessions wants use his power to change this.
Critics look towards Sessions’ history, which is marked by racist comments and actions. In fact, Sessions was denied federal judgeship in 1986 due to racist comments others testified to him making. Sessions also strongly opposes immigration and advised Trump in his formation of his immigration policy. During his hearing, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) attempted to read a letter written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, regarding Sessions’ racist history—a letter originally used in his 1986 hearing to become a judge. She, however, was shut down by Republicans in the Senate. The contentious hearing continued with Senator Cory Booker (NJ) testifying against Sessions, becoming the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow senators nomination to cabinet.
Featured image: Gage Skidmore.