Trump transition taps military generals, bankers

Emily Goodin
Article Summary
The Trump administration is becoming top-heavy with military commanders and Wall Street businessmen.

US President-elect Donald Trump reportedly has settled on Gen. John F. Kelly as secretary of homeland security, which would make the retired Marine Corps officer the third member of the nation’s military brass tapped to serve at the highest levels of his administration. Even before the story leaked this week, concerns had been expressed on Capitol Hill that the Trump administration will be top-heavy with officials who cut their teeth in American politics as military commanders.

“I’m concerned,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told The Washington Post. “Each of these individuals may have great merit in their own right, but what we’ve learned over the past 15 years is that when we view problems in the world through a military lens, we make big mistakes.”

If the Pentagon is racking up top spots in Trump’s inner circle, it still lags behind Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs. This development is more of a surprise than the reliance on retired military officers. During the 2016 election contest, Trump made a campaign issue of Goldman Sachs’ outsized clout in Washington. He argued during the primary that the Wall Street firm exercised “total control” over Republican rival Ted Cruz — and made the same accusation about Goldman Sachs’ influence over Hillary Clinton. The Trump campaign aired a television ad that included a photograph of Goldman Sachs’ CEO while warning of a “global power structure” — presumably including Goldman — that was disenfranchising American workers.

But that was then, and this is now. On Friday, NBC News reported that Goldman executive Gary Cohn had been tasked with heading the National Economic Council, a White House-based group of advisers with deep sway over administration policy. He’s not the first. The Trump transition previously announced that Goldman Sachs veteran Steven Mnuchin is the pick to be secretary of the US Treasury. In addition, two other former Goldman Sachs hands, hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci and “kitchen Cabinet” adviser Steve Bannon, have Trump’s ear on policy and personnel decisions.

Trump made two other controversial picks for his Cabinet this week: fast-food executive Andy Puzder for labor secretary and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Both were subject to immediate criticism: Puzder for being against raising the minimum wage and Pruitt for denying a human role in climate change. And each man signifies the deep changes Trump intends to bring to President Barack Obama’s legacy.

On climate change, in particular, Trump can make a deep dent in regulations Obama put into effect through executive order. The incoming president has talked about dismantling the EPA, and Pruitt may be the man to do it. In his role as state attorney general, he formed an alliance with other state attorney generals and top energy producers to push back against Obama’s moves.

Trump’s meeting with former Vice President Al Gore on Dec. 5 gave hope to environmentalists that the 45th president may soften some of his campaign rhetoric, when he vowed to cancel the Paris Agreement and boost the coal industry. But The Donald giveth and The Donald taketh away. Pruitt’s appointment, in other words, dampened those hopes.

“Quite clearly, this is a 180-degree shift from where the administration has been on most things environment-related,” David Konisky, an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, told CBS News about Pruitt’s nomination.

Similarly, Puzder came under fire for not only his stance on the minimum wage but for his defense of fast-food commercials that showed scantily dressed women eating hamburgers.

Puzder donated to Trump and was a campaign adviser. He has argued against raising the federal minimum wage higher than $9 an hour. Additionally, the Obama administration has proposed expanding overtime eligibility and workplace safety regulations that Puzder, as head of the Labor Department, could limit or not enforce, NPR noted.

The New York Times came out against Trump’s pick, noting in an editorial: “For Mr. Puzder, being pro-business seems to mean being anti-worker. That makes him the wrong choice for labor secretary.”

RealClearPolitics’ Alexis Simendinger reported on how Trump can use an “executive eraser” to undo much of what Obama has done. She said, “Trump promises to unwind President Obama’s governance with the stroke of his presidential pen and the support of a GOP-controlled Congress. He can make good on those promises, but he will need to weather pushback from foes among the legislative branch, the courts, and voters and beneficiaries of Obama-era policies, plus world leaders who are wary of Trump’s worldview.”

And The Wall Street Journal noted that business leaders “are predicting a dramatic unraveling of regulations on everything from overtime pay to power-plant emission rules as Donald Trump seeks to fill his Cabinet with determined adversaries of the agencies they will lead.”

Along with Puzder and Pruitt, Rep. Tom Price at the Department of Health and Human Services, businessman Wilbur Ross Jr. at the Commerce Department and Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development are all expected to undo massive amounts of regulations at their respective agencies.

These positions require Senate confirmation, but with the Republican Party in the majority, all are expected to be approved. NBC News looked at what can be learned from all of Trump’s Cabinet choices thus far. The network’s take: While the picks may be outsiders, they have insider connections to Washington and/or special interests; they are business types or generals; and there is a lack of diversity among the top spots.

RCP is tracking Trump’s Cabinet selections, including who is being considered for those positions along with senior spots on the White House staff.

Found in: military, wall street, us government, media, donald trump, cabinet, barack obama

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief of RealClearPolitics and Executive Editor of RealClear Media Group. Carl is a past recipient of the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize for Distinguished Reporting and the Aldo Beckman Award, the two most prestigious awards for White House coverage. Previous positions include Executive Editor of, DC Bureau Chief for Reader's Digest and White House correspondent for both the Baltimore Sun and National Journal. He was a 2007 fellow-in-residence at Harvard University's Institute of Politics, a past president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and is a published author.

Emily Goodin is the Managing Editor of RealClearPolitics. Her journalism experience includes a stint at The Hill newspaper, where she managed the paper's campaign team, launched its Ballot Box blog, and contributed to notable growth in site traffic. She began her political journalism career at National Journal’s The Hotline, working her way up from intern to Senior Editor. Emily has attended seven political conventions and covered four presidential races and 13 cycles of Senate and House races.


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