November 30, 2016 [LINK / comment]
Trump begins to choose top officials
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen a mixture of fawning loyalists and others [with more government experience to serve in his cabinet and as close advisers]. He faces a difficult task in delivering on the pledge to "drain the swamp" in Washington which he made to his populist-minded voters. The summary of those choices listed below is based mainly on politico.com and the Washington Post.
Today Trump revealed his choice to be Secretary of Treasury: Steven Mnuchin (pronounced "mah-NEW-chin"), a long-time Wall Street insider. Having spent 17 years with Goldman Sachs, including the 2008 financial crisis, he seems ill-suited for the task of reforming "crony capitalism." He seems to favor big tax cuts for the middle class (see Washington Post), which is inappropriate at a time that the Federal budget deficit is still so high.
Trump chose Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn to be his national security adviser. This worries some people because Kelly reputedly holds hardline anti-Muslim views, which might lead to biased advice [, or to give advice that merely confirms what Trump already believes. Trump's fondness for military people to fill civilian positions seems odd, especially given his absurd boast that he knows more about ISIS than the generals.]
Trump's first cabinet-level choice was Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Sessions was one of Trump's early supporters (see February 29), so it's no surprise. Many have criticized Sessions on the grounds that he is hostile to the cause of civil rights. I have a guarded opinion of him.
Elaine Chao was tapped to serve as Secretary of Transportation. She was Secretary of Labor for the entire eight years of the George W. Bush administration, and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is well qualified, but not exactly an "outsider."
Trump chose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos is a wealthy campaign donor who is known as a critic of public education and an advocate of school choice. I share those sentiments to an extent, but I am skeptical of the alternative of school vouncers. Public schools are in desperate need of reform from top to bottom, but the real problem lies in society itself, and that is not amenable to government action.
I was frankly puzzled by the choice of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She is a rising star in the GOP, but has no international experience, other than coming from a family with origins in India. Her main strength seems to be communication skill, and that could help maintain friendly relations with other countries. Perhaps this is a gesture of inclusiveness by Trump, since Haley was a vocal critic of him during the primary campaign.
In another sign of Machiavellian maneuvering in Our Nation's Capital, two weeks ago Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper urged President Obama to remove Mike Rogers as the head of the National Security Agency. Rogers was apparently being considered by Donald Trump as a replacement for Clapper as DNI, but was asked to leave the Trump transition team. He is a former Army officer and FBI agent who later was elected to Congressm (from Michigan), but decided to leave and then started his own radio talk show in 2015. See cbsnews.com.
The big question is whether Trump will offer the position of Secretary of State to Mitt Romney, the leader of "Establishment" Republicans who vowed "Never Trump." The two former adversaries had a well-publicized fancy dinner, after which Romney did his best to sound gracious and dignified. What an awful predicament for a good guy. Some think that Trump is merely playing with Romney, which is possible. I do not pretend to understand what makes Trump tick.
Other Secretary of State possibilities are Rudy Giuliani (just awful, IMHO), U.N Ambassador John Bolton (an ultra-hawk), former CIA Director David Petraeus (guilty of mishandling classified info, just like Hillary Clinton), Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), and retired Gen. John Kelly. Corker is well prepared, being the current chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his name is associated with the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump has denounced. The Corker Amendment allowed for a dubious bypass of the usual constitutional requirement of ratification by 2/3 of the Senate.
One intriguing development: Vice President-elect Mike Pence met with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (and others) in Washington today. Could Condi return to her old job? Would she? I sure hope so, but it seems like a distant prospect. Even though she has a top-notch reputation as a scholar of international relations, as well as a record of loyalty in government service, she has to overcome the image of being a "Washington insider," which she is clearly not. It's ironic because Trump puts such a high value on loyalty, but it was that very quality that harmed her reputation.
Finally, Trump is reportedly considering Sarah Palin to serve as secretary of Veterans Affairs. Seriously? Good grief.