[latest edits 1/2/2017 – it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything, so this is not a comprehensive list of alarming nominations and certainly is NOT comprehensive with regard to the reasons to panic. See the Washington Post’s appointment tracker for latest updates on announced/rumored nominees. See also CAP Action Fund’s Trump Transition Tracker for more fleshed out reasons to #resist individual nominations]
I’m gonna use this space to keep track of announced/rumored nominees that that make me panic as I find out about them and the reasons to panic:
First up, those that require Senate confirmation:
Dept of Justice: Sen. Jeff Session – to name just a few: against bi-partisan supported criminal justice reform (which, besides helping to correct racial imbalance in sentencing, also would help cut government spending, and help get ex-convicts who have served their time get back on their feet as productive members of society); on record dismissing need for Voting Right Act when “smoking gun” evidence has been found in both NC and Texas that the two states were intentionally rigging the system against minority voters; extremely anti-marijuana- who knows how far he would go in enforcing federal drug law in opposition to state law in the various states where the citizens have voted for legalization of possession, sale, and use for medicinal or recreational purposes.
Sec. of State: Rex Tilleron current Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil. First off, he has no diplomatic experience- he was worked at ExxonMobil his whole career. Yes, his work has required him to deal with a lot of foreign countries, but does that experience prepare him to deal with, say, North Korea or serve as a third party to help negotiate a peace settlement? (ExxonMobil doesn’t have the greatest “foreign policy” track record.<–edit: This is putting it mildly. ExxonMobil has acted in direct defiance of U.S. interest. On top of the examples I previously gave, Rachel Maddow looks at their involvement in Chad. There’s propping up dictators and fueling kleptocracy just for a couple examples.) Also, his close ties to Russia are troubling- will he be lulled into a non-vigilant familiarity with Russia? Russia has a long post-cold war track record of espionage (Anna Chapman for one example), in addition to working to weaken American institutions (hacking state voter rolls, DNC, circulating anti-US government propaganda) and to sabotage American infrastructure (Vermont utility laptop, a 2014 cyber-campaign against the U.S. energy industry that resulted in at least 17 companies’ systems being penetrated, including four electric utilities) In addition, even though federal conflicts of interest law DOES apply to cabinet positions, it’s hard to imagine that Tillerson won’t retain some feelings of loyalty to ExxonMobil in the State Dept role – think about it, I feel loyalty to my college, and I was only there for 3 years (I transferred in) and I gave/give them money as opposed to it being the other way around. Tillerson has been making his living at ExxonMobil for OVER 40 YEARS- you don’t think that some of his closest friends work there? Edit: Let’s be clear: ExxonMobil may have corporate headquarters in the United States, but that does not mean its interests align with America’s. The United States makes up only a portion of its revenues. Even when the U.S. is a net exporter of oil, ExxonMobil still has strong financial incentives to maintain and develop foreign oilfields in order to supply global customers.
Sec. of Labor – Andrew Puzder. Much of this job is about protecting employEES. He clearly comes to this position from the perspective of employERS interests. Look at his record and statements on worker safety and wages. You can argue that employers should have a say too- they can get their say by influencing legislation. God knows they are are making use of that channel. His background concerns me about his motivation to enforce existing law.
Sec. of Treasury – Steve Mnuchin. Another Goldman alum who enriched himself from the banking crisis at the expense of ordinary Americans TWICE. First, he was directly involved in selling the mortgage-backed securities that led to housing crisis. Second, in the wake of the crisis in 2009, he was able to pick up a California bank IndyMac on the cheap with the federal government (via the FDIC) offering to absorb some of the risk. He changed the name to OneWest and turned it into a “foreclosure machine,” eventually selling it to CIT Group in 2015 for $3.4 billion, a profit of $1.85 billion over the purchase price of $1.55 billion. In other hints that the Trump administration is going to suck for minorities, that bank Mnuchin used to own (and served on the board of until stepping down on Dec 2, 2016) has a discriminatory lending practices complaint against it sitting at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (hmm… we’ll see how that turns out since the investigation is unlikely to be completed prior to Trump taking office). You can see the complaint here. And then there’s down right shenanigans involving accounting issues, improper foreclosure practices (some of which specifically targeted seniors), and accusations of falsifying foreclosure documentation in order illegally obtain federal funds. On top of all this, Mnuchin moves into this role after serving as Trump’s campaign Finance Chair – pay to play much?
Health and Human Services (HHS) – Tom Price. Regarding health care, supports 1) turning Medicare into a voucher program which would increase health care costs for the elderly, 2) cutting back on federal funding of expanded Medicare which would take coverage away from 14 million, 3) gutting the Affordable Care Act, including requirements that health insurance includes coverage for addiction treatment, birth control, maternity care, and prescription drugs . He also supports automatic across-the-board cuts to Social Security (HHS is 1 of the 3 agencies that administers Social Security).
Sec. of Education – Betsy DeVos. Has been active in lobbying to drain public schools of funding by diverting money for education to private schools (which are usually religious) via voucher programs and to charter schools. What’s wrong with charter schools? A good number of which are operated by for-profit entities, and we’ve seen at the post-secondary level for-profit education doesn’t have the greatest outcomes. One of the defining characteristics of charter schools is the lack of extensive oversight, which has allowed number problems with embezzlement and fraud. In addition, charter schools typically do not admit students requiring special education resources- which is a pretty good justification for not offering them but makes it harder for parents to secure the services their children need. (For a primer on charter schools that goes beyond the propaganda put out as conventional wisdom, watch John Oliver on Last Week Tonight and read this post on charter schools vs. traditional public schools.) You can argue that the Dept of Education has largely been gutted of authority, but it still distributes billions of dollars in Title I funding to schools nationwide. DeVos could possibly make distribution of that money contingent on adoption of a voucher program or loosening of state regulations on charter schools.
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – Ben Carson. It’s telling that Carson accepted this nomination while declining to head up HHS because, as Carson’s business manager stated, “His background didn’t prepare him to run a federal agency.” Yet another nomination which would put someone in charge of programs/enforcing laws they are either opposed to or see no need for; Carson has criticized the fair housing rule which is designed to prevent housing discriminating by income or race. Don’t forget that in 1973 Donald Trump and his father were sued for housing discrimination in “one of the most significant race bias cases” that “was, and still is, one of the biggest lawsuits ever brought by the Justice Department for housing discrimination against black people.” But New York Magazine puts forth some other reasons why Ben Carson is a perfect fit– “without careful oversight, the agency can easily become a slush fund to distribute sweetheart [real estate development] contracts to the administration’s buddies.” Carson is a Trump loyalist and is comfortable with shady real estate dealings. Carson’s prior statements about inexperience and his Christian image will provide perfect cover to keep him out of jail, unlike Deborah Gore Dean who was a Reagan-era official.
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) – Rep. Mick Mulvaney. Trump is proposing to have our budget director be the founder of the hard-line right wing House Freedom Caucus, which is probably responsible for much of the fracas and dysfunction in the House of recent years (no lie, they were originally going to call themselves the “Reasonable Nut Job Caucus”). Unsurprisingly, Mulvaney wants to reduce spending across the board including defense, supports a Medicare voucher program, and is against any “government takeover” of health care like, say, in his mind the ACA. Having Mulvaney in charge of the budget is disturbing when the Freedom Caucus has advocated weaponizing budgets and holding the federal government hostage to achieve policy aims, whether it be defunding Planned Parenthood, blocking Syrian refugees, or dismantling Medicare (many of the regulations the Freedom Caucus proposes to repeal under the Dept of HHS as part of its First 100 Days agenda “simply set provider payments,” according to one health care policy staffer who adds, “this list makes it look like the Freedom Caucus objects to these facilities even being paid for services provided”). If you want to be truly horrified, see the Freedom Caucus’ full First 100 Days proposal- some of their targets: the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, food safety and inspection, Title IX protections… Oh and in Sept 2016, as congress debated funding research on the Zika virus, Mulvaney mused on Facebook, “do we really need government-funded research at all.”
Sec. of Transportation – Elaine Chao. Not the worst. She has executive branch experience as a previous Secretary of Labor, but she’s married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell which is kinda troubling when Congress is supposed to have an oversight role over the executive branch. Not sure which congressional committee has direct oversight over Transportation, but as the Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell certainly welds power over whomever that is. If Trump is serious about a big infrastructure plan, presumably transportation infrastructure would be part of it. Not quite sure whether her father’s shipping company and his deep ties to Taiwan and China are any cause for concern.
Sec of Energy – Rick Perry. Perry is on record for forgetting that one of key parts of his presidential campaign platform was wanting to abolish this agency. The Dept of Energy plays a role in nurturing renewable energy, manages the U.S. power grid (important considering Russia likes to hack utilities, both in the Ukraine and in the U.S.), regulates nuclear power plants (I’d prefer not to have another Three Mile Island scare), and is responsible for disposing of nuclear waste. Would be replacing a nuclear physicist.
Sec of Commerce – Wilbur Ross. Looks like he made his money in a very similar fashion as Mitt Romney, so all the reason you didn’t want to vote for Mitt should apply here too plus he’s a homophobic douche. But you can read a bio here or here.
But I’m going to be honest, I’m not sure exactly what the Commerce Dept does. Update 1/5: I’m in the process of doing a little research at commerce.gov-departing Secretary Penny Pritzker’s exit memo is a good summary of what Commerce is involved with. Perusing the org chart, a couple agencies caught my eye: 1) Bureau of Economic Analysis which produces frequently cited measures on GDP and trade. Since Trump likes to cite economic data to toot his own horn, I’m a little concerned that a Trump loyalist in this position may fudge numbers to make the administration look better. 2) The National Ocean Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is officially unauthorized. (Read this Politico article for background on unauthorized programs.) The National Ocean Service, among other responsibilities, aids in hurricane response and deals with clean ocean issues like support in case of oil and chemical spills, addressing harmful algal blooms and marine debris. A group of House Republicans, led by Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA), have introduced the Unauthorized Spending Accountability Act that would automatically cut budgets annually and eventually eliminate programs if they are not reauthorized. Such unilateral action is an unfair, dirty trick to quietly defund and eliminate programs that don’t have backing from deep-pocketed, connected interests that can lobby to save them while congress takes up time that could be used to debate authorization by harassing Hillary Clinton over Benghazi, introducing bills to “recognize the significance of magic,” and naming post offices.
Sec of Interior – Rep. Ryan Zinke. An outdoors enthusiast, he nonetheless scores a 3% voting score from the League of Conservation Voters. Greenpeace climate campaign specialist Diana Best said, “Zinke embodies the worst kind of magical thinking in Congress: that government welfare handouts can save dying coal companies and crumbling oil and gas giants.” Zinke has also shown some “lapses in judgment” involving some sketchy travel claims.
**Note: while Sec. of Defense nominee Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is well-regarded on both sides of the aisle and managed to convince Trump that torture doesn’t work (never mind it being against the Geneva Convention and whatnot), the fact that Trump has nominated former military personnel for positions that would serve as key advisors (Sec. of Defense, Dept of Homeland Security, National Security Advisor) in any decision to go to war is troubling. Not only will there likely be a pro-military intervention bias in the Trump administration, the fact that all three nominees have clashed with the Obama administration presents strong potential for group-think. With an inexperienced president who has a professed preference to defer to generals and three key members of the administration who still have strong ties and allies in active service, absolute worst case scenario would be a military coup. (Kelly only left the military in Jan 2016, Flynn in Aug 2014. Mattis retired in May 2013 & requires a congressional waiver in order to serve as Sec. of Defense because congress was cognizant of the risks of the Dept of Defense being run by someone that hasn’t had much separation from the military in passing the National Security Act of 1947 .) Look, I get the desire to have generals to consult, but that’s what the JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF is for.
Advisers who don’t need Senate confirmation:
These range from absolutely horrifying to those who just confirm my worst fears about a Trump administration.
Steve Bannon – Sr. Counselor, Chief Strategist. Just google him. He’s terrible.
National Security Adviser – Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. You’re telling me that someone who falls for #Pizzagate should be trusted with advising the president on intelligence matters. Yeah, ok- so something like “failing to investigate” doubts about the veracity of claims about WMD’s from an intelligence source codenamed “Curveball” won’t happen on his watch!
Stephen Miller – Senior policy adviser. Basically a mini-me of Sessions and a potential Bannon-lite (Politico has put out a good profile.)
White House counsel – Donald McGahn. Although we know now that #DrainTheSwamp was just a fun rally cry (see involvement of lobbyists in the transition team; prominent fundraisers getting influential jobs in the administration as opposed to the usual, fluffy ambassadorship to a country like Demark; and Trump’s own comments that he never bought into it), if you still care about money in politics/outside influence of a few elites that basically just rotate between government, lobbying, and the corporations they lobby for/regulate, then you should be disturbed that Trump’s legal adviser about ethics issues is used his position as head of the Federal Elections Commission to undermine campaign finance reform. In fact he stated in 2011, “I’m not enforcing the law as Congress passed it. I plead guilty as charged.” A poster boy for the revolving door, prior to being nominated FEC Commissioner (after waiting for his associations with Tom DeLay’s campaign contribution scandals and FBI investigations into the National Republican Congressional Committee fade from memory), McGahn testified on behalf of the Koch brother’s PAC (the Koch brothers being synonymous with big money in politics).
Peter Navarro – Trade Advisor. Economics professor at UC Irvine, author of the book, Death by China, has co-authored with Trump’s Commerce pick Wilbur Ross (I haven’t read up on Ross, so I don’t know whether to be panicked or not). Navarro pushes taking a hard line on Chinese exports, intellectual property theft, etc… which a) could start a trade war and b) his stance is likely based on faulty economic theory- that paper that Navarro co-authored with Ross? Economist Marcus Noland characterized it as containing, “the type of magical thinking best reserved for fictional realities.” See also Noah Smith of Bloomberg take down Navarro’s “rookie mistake” of incorrectly characterizing the effect of imports.