Trump’s Cabinet Selections Signal a Bold Shift After Obama

President-Elect Donald Trump Holds Meetings At Trump Tower
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: (L to R) Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for National Security Advisor, Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Donald Trump, and former Texas Governor Rick Perry talk with each other in the lobby at Trump Tower, December 12, 2016 in New York City. President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer Getty Images

Propelled by populist energy, President-elect Donald Trump’s candidacy broke long-standing conventions and his incoming Cabinet embodies a sharp turn from the outgoing Obama administration.

Trump, a Republican who pledged major changes after eight years of a Democratic White House, has assembled nominees for a Cabinet that includes many business executives who have never served in government, and military leaders are in line to oversee defense and homeland security. In one case, Trump has named someone who once called for dismantling the agency he’d lead.

A change of political parties at the White House almost always brings policy adjustments. But Trump’s Cabinet expects to carry the outsider flair of his campaign, a role reversal compared with more conventional teams under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama that were heavy on former lawmakers, governors and veterans of past administrations.

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A look at the expected shift in the federal government:



Trump’s decision to nominate Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state means the department could be run by a lifelong oil executive with deep ties to Russia and no government experience. Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry, a former senator who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spent much of his tenure seeking agreements to fight climate change, restrain Iran’s nuclear program and pressure foreign adversaries through financial penalties. But if Tillerson wins Senate confirmation, he would have a big say over whether the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris climate treaty and the Iran nuclear pact, along with the future of U.S. relations with Russia.



James Mattis retired from the Marine Corps as a four-star general in 2013 and had been a battlefield commander most of that time. Compare that with current Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who worked for years at the Pentagon and in academia but never served in uniform. To take the defense secretary job, Mattis needs Congress to pass a law allowing him to serve. Current law requires a Pentagon chief to be out of the military for at least seven years to uphold the commitment to civilian control of the military. The law was last waived for George Marshall in 1950. Trump has praised Mattis’ effectiveness at “thank you” rallies around the country and has promised a massive buildup of the country’s defense capabilities.

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Obama’s Treasury Department was in crisis mode from the moment he took office, dealing with massive job losses and the meltdown of the housing market. Eight years later, Trump has nominated Steven Mnuchin to lead the department, turning to a former Goldman Sachs executive who invested in a bank that foreclosed on thousands of homeowners after the housing crisis. Democrats are expected to press Mnuchin on his role in IndyMac, which was rebranded OneWest, and the deal that left the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation responsible for taking as much as 80% of the losses on former IndyMac assets. Mnuchin has promised “the most significant middle-income tax cut” since President Ronald Reagan.



Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry once famously struggled to name three federal departments he would eliminate if elected president, muttering “oops” during a 2011 presidential debate. In one of ironies of the Trump transition, Perry is now preparing to run one of those agencies, the Energy Department, after more than 14 years as governor. Perry presided over his state’s vast oil and gas industries and leading wind energy sector. He is currently on the boards of two petroleum companies seeking approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline project. He would be a break from predecessors such as Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, and Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For more on Rick Perry, watch:



Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, has supported tough immigration enforcement policies and said the Justice Department’s civil rights division should not be used as “a sword to assert inappropriate claims that have the effect of promoting political agendas.” Before he entered the Senate, his nomination to become a federal judge was scuttled in 1986 amid accusations that he made racially charged remarks as a U.S. attorney. He would succeed Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who has dealt with a spate of police-involved shootings and pushed a lawsuit against North Carolina over a bathroom bill that officials said discriminated against transgender individuals.



Outgoing Labor Secretary Tom Perez was an outspoken advocate for raising the federal minimum wage and helped push a federal rule to make more workers eligible for overtime pay. Trump’s choice to run the department is fast-food executive Andy Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings, the parent company of Carl’s Jr., Hardee’s and other chains. Puzder has said that large increases in the minimum wage would lead to job losses, and he wrote in a May 2016 op-ed that the overtime rule would be “another barrier to the middle class rather than a springboard” for workers. Fast-food workers led the “Fight for $15” campaign during Obama’s second term.


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Trump’s choice for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is an education activist and billionaire from Michigan who has championed vouchers and charter schools, which detractors say hurt public education. The pick at the Department of Health and Human Services is Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., an orthopedic surgeon who has been a leading critic of Obama’s health care overhaul. Set to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development is one of Trump’s presidential rivals, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, even though he lacks a background in housing issues. Trump pointed to Carson’s “brilliant mind” and passion for “strengthening communities and families.” At the Environmental Protection Agency, Trump settled on Oklahoma’s attorney general, Scott Pruitt. He has questioned the science of global warming and sued the EPA over plans to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants and regulations involving the Clean Water Act.

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