The Cabinet that would Make America Great Again

President-elect Donald Trump is starting to shape his White House staff. Here's a look at the individuals he's offered positions to so far. Alexa Ard and Natalie FertigMcClatchy

America’s most compelling reality TV competition has, since Election Day, run through a glittery Manhattan office building lobby, where comings and goings hint at who might work in Donald Trump’s presidential Cabinet.

Generally speaking, pun intended, Trump’s shown an affinity for military brass, for fortune makers and those who sided with his campaign in the days when its odds of winning were long.

Choices still remain, and Senate confirmation looms for many, but here’s a look at the prospects Trump has named to help him run the most powerful nation on the planet when he migrates from the role of businessman to the ultimate government man. (Not all of the posts are considered parts of the Cabinet, although they carry significant influence in the White House.)

 

These formal Cabinet posts can go forward only with OKs from the Senate:

Secretary of state

Rex Tillerson would leave Big Oil and his post as the president and chief executive of Exxon Mobil — where he conducts business on every continent except Antarctica — to direct U.S. foreign policy for the president. Perhaps not since John F. Kennedy tapped Ford Motor Co.’s Robert McNamara to head the Defense Department has such a powerful corporate figure moved into a White House Cabinet.

And no other Cabinet nominee may draw as much scrutiny in Senate confirmation hearings. He arrives with endorsements from big names in the Republican foreign affairs establishment: Condoleezza Rice, James Baker, Robert Gates and Stephen Hadley — all big players in past GOP White Houses. All also have business dealings with Exxon. Tillerson’s nomination has raised questions over whether U.S. diplomacy might be perceived in the context of what it means for the petro giant. Tillerson holds more than $150 million in Exxon stock.

Additionally, Tillerson was given the Order of Friendship, among the highest honors awarded by the Russian government to foreigners, by President Vladimir Putin in the wake of Exxon Russian deals. That underscores Trump’s own attitude toward Moscow, where he signaled a warmer tone toward the longstanding American rival in the aftermath of compliments from Putin. Those relationships only drew more scrutiny amid U.S. intelligence agencies saying Russian hackers tried to sway the presidential election.

Secretary of defense

Retired Marine Corps general James Mattis led a division to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and later served as head of the U.S. Central Command. Mattis, nicknamed “Mad Dog” partly for his blunt way with words and tendency to favor blunt military force over persuasion, was relieved of his command by the Obama White House for being seen as too hawkish toward Iran while the U.S. was cutting a deal with Tehran to stall its development of nuclear weapons.

Because U.S. law requires a seven-year waiting period for military brass to serve in such a role after leaving the service — Mattis’ tenure ended in 2013 — Trump will have to persuade Congress to grant a special waiver. Some Democrats and a few Republicans on Capitol Hill have already signaled anxiety about a need for civilian, rather than military, leadership. Mattis would be the first retired military officer to head Defense since the Truman era.

Yet his nomination has also been greeted warmly from such key figures as Sen. John McCain and even some people who served in military and diplomatic roles for Democratic presidents. While his language can sometimes be off-puttingly colorful, he’s also seen as an astute student of history with a willingness to challenge military orthodoxy.

Attorney general

Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, was among the first Republican elected officials to jump on the Trump train during the election. He quickly became a political confidant and liaison to Washington types.

Like Trump, he’s staked much of his political profile as an immigration hard-liner. He’s also a figure Trump critics point to in suggesting there could be a racially insensitive vibe to the Trump administration. In 1986, his nomination to a federal judgeship crumbled under the weight of racially charged comments and actions in Sessions’ past. Democrats differ with him over civil liberties and voting rights — significant issues in the Justice Department he’d lead. They’re sure to dissect his decades as a senator and federal prosecutor. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

CIA director

Mike Pompeo of Kansas has been tapped by Trump to lead the world’s largest spy outfit. He’s a three-term U.S. House member from a Wichita district, a member of the Intelligence Committee and a former Army officer. He also carved out a high profile with criticisms of Hillary Clinton during the sundry congressional investigations into the 2012 attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Pompeo became uncharacteristically quiet after being chosen as Trump’s boss at CIA. Before, the conservative was outspoken in pushing for a more aggressive stance toward Putin and the Russians, suggesting sanctions for the annexation of Crimea and other belligerence as a way to keep the Moscow strongman “in his box.”

Treasury secretary

Steven Mnuchin is another of the corporate bosses nominated for the Cabinet. Trump at times during the campaign spoke critically of Wall Street, but Mnuchin’s ties are deep there and they’ve helped him acquire a massive fortune. He, like others on the Cabinet, was an early Trump loyalist and served as his campaign finance chairman.

Mnuchin began his career at Goldman Sachs, where he became a partner. He later created a hedge fund and moved to the West Coast to finance blockbuster movies such as “Avatar” and the “X-Men” franchise.

Education secretary

Betsy DeVos is a champion of charter schools, school-choice voucher programs and tax-credit initiatives for families who send their children to private schools. She’s a former chairwoman of the Republican Party in Michigan, where she’s played a prominent role in moving thousands of students to charter schools.

In her, Republicans and other school-choice advocates would have their most enthusiastic promoter to remake elementary and secondary education in America. She’d certainly work to reroute funding from traditional public schools to places more directly influenced by parents. Teachers unions see her as an existential threat, partly because they see her moving students and dollars to places where organized labor has the least pull.

She attended a private school and never sent her children to public schools.

Energy secretary

Former governor of oil-dependent Texas, Rick Perry’s been chosen to head a department he has said should disappear (and one that he famously blanked on in a debate that doomed his run for president in 2012).

He’s a fossil fuels guy, joining corporate boards of two energy firms shortly after he ended his 14-year reign as the Lone Star governor. He speaks skeptically about the scientific consensus that links climate change to industrialized society and sees an increased, rather than diminished role, for coal in the country’s energy future. Yet he also played a role in steering public funds to underwrite wind and other sustainable sources of energy in Texas.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator

Scott Pruitt hails from Oklahoma, where he’s attorney general and the economy can rise and fall on the market prices for oil and gas. He’s also a longtime critic of the EPA, a sprawling agency that he says has let the balance between fostering business and guarding pollution tilt too far toward the tree huggers.

He’s written that the question of man-made climate change is “far from settled.” Pruitt teamed with other conservative attorneys general to sue the EPA over the Clean Power Plan that the Obama administration created to curb greenhouse gas emissions from electrical energy plants.

Health and human services secretary

Tom Price would play a prominent role in whether Trump delivers on his sometimes-shifting pledge to dump the Affordable Care Act, known both more lovingly and derisively as Obamacare.

He’d come to the Cabinet after a career as an orthopedic surgeon in Georgia and six terms in the U.S. House, where he led opposition to Obamacare. In Congress, Price has pushed various measures that would insulate doctors against malpractice suits, increase their payments through government insurance programs and protect them from some background checks.

Housing and urban development secretary

Ben Carson rose from poverty to become one of the most acclaimed neurosurgeons in the country. For a time, his nice-guy persona elevated him to the front of the Republican presidential race. That, in turn, prompted Trump to mock him mercilessly. When his campaign collapsed, he swiftly backed fellow political outsider Trump.

When he was first mentioned for the HUD job, Carson said he lacked the administrative background to head a large federal department (an odd stance for someone who’d been applying to voters to run all the departments as president). He’s more recently said that growing up “in the inner city” makes him particularly suited to deal with the poor who rely on government for housing help.

Homeland security secretary

John Kelly represents yet another retired general at Trump’s Cabinet table. He rose to the rank of four-star in the Marine Corps. His son was killed in combat in Afghanistan.

Kelly commanded Marines at various levels, including tours in Iraq. He also knows Washington’s political battlefields after working as Marine liaison to Congress and senior military assistant to two defense secretaries. Beginning in late 2012, he led the U.S. Southern Command, the Pentagon’s regional headquarters for operations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.

Commerce secretary

Wilbur Ross is a billionaire investor who specialized in flipping failing steel and coal firms for profit. Because so many of the outfits he bought were bankrupt, he’s been nicknamed the “king of bankruptcy.”

Like Trump, Ross talks often about “bad trade deals” that hurt U.S. business and has pressed for a revival of the country’s manufacturing sectors.

Transportation secretary

Elaine Chao knows the White House. She was labor secretary for eight years under President George W. Bush, led the Peace Corps for President George H.W. Bush and was a White House fellow during the Reagan administration.

She’s also half (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell completes the set) of a formidable Washington power couple. That connection may prove helpful as the Trump administration tries to work with the D.C. establishment.

Labor secretary

Andrew Puzder of St. Louis is chief executive of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl Jr.’s and other chains.

He blamed Obamacare rules forcing certain employers to provide health insurance for creating a “restaurant recession” and opposes a higher minimum wage. In Missouri, he was a top anti-abortion lawyer.

Small Business Administration chief

Linda McMahon represents the most reality-TV choice for the Cabinet. She is the former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment. She also twice ran for the Senate from Connecticut, losing both times. McMahon gave nearly $6 million this past campaign cycle to a super PAC backing Trump.

United Nations ambassador

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is the rare Trump pick who took him on aggressively during the campaign, once calling him “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.”

She’s also long been seen as a rising star in the Republican Party who might help expand its base beyond white voters. She is the daughter of immigrants from India.

Her foreign policy experience appears largely limited to participating in trade delegations as governor.

Interior secretary

Ryan Zinke, a House freshman from Montana and former Navy SEAL commander, campaigned for his House seat calling for North American energy independence and sits on the House Natural Resources and Armed Services committees.

He defends public access to federal lands but regularly angers environmentalists over his positions on coal mining and oil and gas drilling.

Other departments

No nominations have yet been announced for the Agriculture and Veterans Affairs departments.

These positions traditionally carry great influence, but do not require Senate confirmation:

National security adviser

Another retired military man. Former Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn was director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (think, the Pentagon’s version of the CIA). He may best channel Trump’s willingness to link security threats to Muslims.

Flynn’s ascendancy will mark a stark departure from the Obama years. The 44th president and Hillary Clinton were deliberate in not using the term “radical Islamic terrorists” — arguing that played into the hands of groups such as the Islamic State by promoting a holy war between Christendom and Islam. The incoming 45th commander in chief, and Flynn, take the opposite approach — contending Islamist militancy should be attacked head-on.

At the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn acquired a reputation for irritating those above and below him in the chain of command. In his behavior since leaving the agency, many saw him as oddly friendly to international conspiracies with Muslims as the source of wide-ranging threats to the West.

Chief strategist

Stephen Bannon poses possibly the most controversial position in Trump’s inner circle. Bannon is a right-wing media executive, leading the Breitbart News organization that has published radical takes on Democratic politicians and frequently been at odds with mainline Republicans.

Although Bannon rejects the characterization, his declaration of Breitbart as an outlet for the so-called alt-right movement has branded him a white nationalist among many.

In the 1990s, the Navy veteran and former Goldman Sachs investment banker toyed with movie making. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, he became passionate about conservative politics. He was brought into the Trump campaign late in the presidential race and was broadly seen as pushing the then-candidate to the right.

White House chief of staff

Reince Priebus likely won the job through his work as chairman of the Republican National Committee, where he quickly turned the GOP apparatus to work for a candidate most of its monied backers and officeholders had resisted so adamantly during the bruising primary season.

At the same time, he’s seen in some circles as the counterweight to Bannon, making Priebus an establishment man in an anti-establishment circle.

White House counsel

Donald McGahn II, a Washington lawyer who spent five years working for the Federal Election Commission, was general counsel for the Trump campaign. At the FCC, he led the way on easing regulations on campaign spending.

White House counselor

Kellyanne Conway made her career as a pollster who often worked with Republican men running for office to improve their standing with women.

She, like Bannon, came to a high position in the Trump operation late in the campaign and served as his most visible surrogate both in the late stages of the race and after his election. She notably, and publicly, discouraged Trump from making Mitt Romney secretary of state when the president-elect was mulling his choice.

Homeland security adviser

Tom Bossert is a decidedly conventional choice to lead the fight against domestic threats. He was deputy homeland security adviser in the final year of the George W. Bush administration and comes with cybersecurity expertise — a field of growing importance in the digital age.

Trump’s team has said the position will report directly to the new president, rather than have the Homeland Security Council answer to the National Security Council the way it has during the Obama years. That would put Bossert on par with Flynn, rather than as his subordinate.

Compiled from news services by Scott Canon, The Kansas City Star