Published On: Mon, Jan 9th, 2017

Trump’s picks for Cabinet: Business-smart, Conservative, with little political baggage

Trump’s picks for Cabinet: Business-smart,

Conservative, with little political baggage

 

carlos-barbieri-retrato-122x150-1By Carlo Barbieri

First of two parts

Much like his behavior during last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s choices of nominees to fill positions in his Cabinet have been unpredictable and, on occasion, surprising. Still, he has exercised caution and care in the selection process, leaving nothing to whim.

While skirting some people who seemed destined to join Trump’s upper echelon, the president-elect has still managed to cobble together an impressive assembly of official department leaders for the coming four years. And with one possible exception, they all seem capable of hitting the ground running on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

Deep inside, we still wonder if Trump’s choice of Dr. Ben Carson as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is the appropriate use of a highly intelligent man who earned his reputation as a skilled surgeon and not someone with expertise in urban affairs. We’ll discuss this more later.

While Trump’s picks are fairly dissimilar, they do share some common bonds with the soon-to-be chief executive and with each other. Like Trump, many of them come from occupations where they developed sharp business skills. Several choices are also from the moneyed class. All seem politically conservative and have worked to support Republican causes.

The president-elect has also tapped several people from the military, persons who, like him, are blunt talkers and tend to make their points loudly and clearly.

Those who have watched the Trump Cabinet develop likely focused on his choice for secretary of state, since the president-elect faced a former secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, during the very contentious election of 2016. During the year-long slugfest, he often chided her for accomplishing little during her term. He linked her to the disastrous Benghazi attack and the subsequent series of lies that blamed the attack on a ludicrous video while covering up the fact that the aggressors were actually terrorists.

Trump foes hoped he’d select a nominee who might be worse than Clinton. Fans of Trump felt he should go for a big name like Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich. But he chose Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as leader of the State Department. And he has stayed strong on that selection.

If Tillerson wins Senate confirmation, he could play a major role in whether the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris climate treaty – something near and dear to the heart of current Secretary of State John Kerry — and the Iran nuclear pact. With his deep ties to Russia, he could also influence the future of US-Soviet relations. Tillerson is a lifelong oil executive with no government experience.

For secretary of Defense, Trump has tapped a retired Marine Corps four-star general, James Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog Mattis.” The former battlefield commander who stepped down in 2013 has seen more in-the-field action than current Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who worked for years at the Pentagon and in academia, but never served in uniform.

Trump has praised Mattis’ effectiveness at “thank you” rallies around the country, and has promised a major buildup of the country’s defense capabilities to undo the armed services deterioration allowed by President Barack Obama.

To approve Mattis, Congress must pass a law allowing him to serve. Current law requires a Pentagon chief to have been out of the military for at least seven years to uphold the commitment to civilian control of the defense agency.

The incoming president has appointed former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as his nominee for energy secretary. The selection of Perry, who is from a leading oil-producing state, is further indication that the Trump administration may be friendlier than Obama toward the fossil fuel industry.

Coincidentally, Perry proposed eliminating the Energy Department, which is responsible for the country’s energy policies and oversees the nuclear weapons program, during a previous, unsuccessful bid for president. He was also among Trump’s Republican rivals in the 2016 presidential race, and they fired a few unkind words back and forth at each other during debates.

While Trump and Perry agree that the southern border must be strengthened, the former Texas governor has pointed out he has much more hands-on experience stemming the flow of illegal immigrants from the Mexico side.

Once a Trump opponent, Perry crossed over to the billionaire’s side during last year’s campaign since Trump’s values and goals seem to align more closely with his own.

Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants (another business-savvy nominee and CEO), is Trump’s choice for secretary of Labor. The nominee is a vocal critic of government intervention in labor markets and he has argued that a higher minimum wage would hurt workers by forcing restaurants to close. His company owns the Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s, Green Burrito and Red Burrito fast-food chains.

Finally, to revisit the situation with Dr. Carson as head of HUD. It should have been a no-brainer that if Carson were presented with any Cabinet choice, it should have been surgeon general. He even seems cut from the same cloth as Dr. C. Everett Koop, one of the nation’s most admired surgeons general. Carson has a soft, gentle way about him, one akin to the “bedside manner” seen in the best of doctors. He seems more capable of handling medical matters than structural ones.

One would think that Trump, as a longtime builder, would have come into contact with many people more adept at municipal planning than Carson, and, therefore, more capable of handling the job.

A retired neurosurgeon who has never held political office before, Carson himself showed reluctance to take a position in the incoming presidential administration because of his lack of experience in federal government.

Next installment: A look at other Cabinet choices, including attorney general and secretary of Education.

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