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A College Student's Guide to Trump's Cabinet Picks

With just a few short weeks until the inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump continues to release his choices for cabinet. His picks are laden with billionaire CEOs, military leaders, and conservative politicians. Now, each of them must be put through the wringer that is the U.S. Senate's confirmation vote to see if they will receive the jobs that President-elect Trump has chosen them for. Although the Senate doesn’t often flatly reject Cabinet picks, no new president has gotten all of his nominees confirmed in the last 30 years. These rejections are mainly due to controversy surrounding a nomination, of which there is no shortage in Trump’s picks.

Attorney General

Job description: The nation’s top law enforcement official and head of the Department of Justice. Acting as chief legal counsel to the president, the attorney general prosecutes cases that involve the government. The attorney general will be particularly important, acting as an enforcer of Trump’s policies on crime. The attorney general has the power to change how certain laws are enforced.

Trump’s pick: Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, a staunch conservative who vehemently opposes all illegal immigration and has earned a tough-on-crime reputation. He has represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, after serving as a federal prosecutor and as Alabama's attorney general. He was nominated for a federal judgeship in the 1980s, but was rejected by the Senate after allegations surfaced that he made racist comments, supported the KKK, and criticized the NAACP and the ACLU. Anticipating efforts by Democrats to focus in on these controversies, Republicans have worked to highlight his history of civil rights work, like his suing of the KKK in Alabama and his efforts to award Rosa Parks the Congressional Gold Medal.

Secretary of State

Job Description: The president’s chief foreign affairs adviser. The Secretary of State carries out the president’s foreign policies through the State Department. Trump’s pick will be in charge of important diplomatic activities and negotiations with foreign leaders.

Trump’s Pick: Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil. As an oil executive, he has no government experience but significant business experience with the same countries he’ll be dealing with as Secretary of State. Trump hopes that Tillerson's business-deal-making skills and relationships with foreign leaders will make him an effective Secretary of State capable of significant diplomatic negotiations. A main issue for Republicans and Democrats alike is Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. Putin awarded Tillerson with the “Order of Friendship” in 2012, a high honor in Russia. Senate confirmation probing will delve into whether Tillerson’s relationship with Putin is merely commercial or more significant.

Secretary of Defense

Job Description: The chief defense policy adviser to the president. The Secretary exercises authority over all facets of the Department of Defense in an effort to deter war and protect national security. The Secretary will play a large role in the Trump presidency as a result of the emphasis placed on the fight against the Islamic State. The Secretary will also be at the forefront of either expanding or rolling back initiatives of integrating women into combat roles and allowing members of the LGBTQ+ community to serve openly.

Trump’s Pick: General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a four-star Marine Corps general who led U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. Lacking any government experience, Mattis supplements it with 44 years in the military. Although an outspoken critic of the Obama administration, his policies are largely unknown, but there is no denying that he is beyond qualified for the position. If confirmed, Mattis would be the first retired general to lead the Defense Department in 65 years.

Secretary of the Treasury

Job Description: Responsible for government borrowing in financial markets, assisting in any rewriting of the tax code, and overseeing the IRS. The Secretary of the Treasury is also the one who enacts or lifts financial sanctions against foreign countries, which could prove to be a major aspect of Trump’s foreign policy.

Trump’s Pick: Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, film producer, and the Trump campaign’s finance chairman. Like Tillerson, Trump is drawn to Mnuchin because he is a successful businessman as well as one of his earliest supporters. As a candidate who ran against businesspeople like Mnuchin and berated Hillary Clinton for her relationship with Wall Street, Trump is proving more of the same. His pick of Mnuchin for Secretary of the Treasury has left many of his working class supporters skeptically scratching their heads.

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Administrator

Job Description: Issues and oversees environmental regulations. The Administrator will be in charge of issuing new regulations and will be at the forefront of efforts to combat a plethora of environmental issues, including global warming.

Trump’s Pick: Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general and outspoken critic of the EPA. Pruitt is a fossil fuel advocate and climate change skeptic, and thus his confirmation would mark a significant break with current EPA efforts to combat global warming. Pruitt is no stranger to the EPA; in fact, he has been entangled in a web of lawsuits with them for as long as he’s been attorney general. Picking a man who hates the EPA as its administrator makes sense for the president-elect as he has vowed to “dismantle the agency in almost every form.”

Secretary of Homeland Security

Job Description: In charge of responsibilities ranging from counterterrorism to guarding the nation’s borders. This secretary will play a key role in the Trump administration in carrying out the building of the infamous "wall" and widespread deportations, should Trump go through with his most controversial campaign promises.

Trump’s Pick: John F. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general. Kelly served in the military for more than four decades, serving as commander of the U.S. Southern Command, overseeing South and Central America as well as Guantanamo Bay. An accomplished military background and a deep knowledge of border security, especially in the scope of South and Central America, are likely what drew Trump to Kelly.

Secretary of Health and Human Services

Job Description: Heads the department that approves new drugs, regulates the food supply, conducts medical research, and runs Medicare and Medicaid, insuring more than 100 million citizens. The secretary will play a key role in one of Trump’s most important campaign promises: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

Trump’s Pick: Tom Price, a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia and former orthopedic surgeon. Price is an outspoken critic of the Affordable Care Act and will play an integral role in efforts to repeal and replace it.

Secretary of Energy

Job Description: Manages the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. This secretary may serve a larger role in Trump’s administration as the president-elect has voiced a desire to bolster nuclear arms production.

Trump’s Pick: Rick Perry, former governor of Texas. Perry served two terms as governor and has ran for president twice, failing to secure the Republican nomination in both 2012 and 2016. Like Trump’s EPA pick, Perry was quoted in 2011 saying that the Department of Energy is useless and should be eliminated. Senate confirmation questions will seek to understand how Pruitt and Perry expect to lead their respective departments when they don’t even believe that they should exist.

Department of the Interior

Job Description: In charge of managing the nation’s public lands and waters. The next secretary will decide to either build on Obama’s policies that curb public land development and prohibit oil exploration, or begin rolling these policies back.

Trump’s Pick: Ryan Zinke, a Republican member of the House and a former Navy Seal. Trump was undoubtedly drawn to Zinke’s military background and his emphasis on national security. Zinke is strongly opposed to the sale of public lands but supports mining and drilling on them. Many environmentalists have denounced his nomination, citing his support for mining and drilling on public land.

Weaving through the labyrinth of these potential Cabinet members can be confusing—understanding the implications of each pick even more so. Trump’s Cabinet picks embody his platform and campaign promises, with a few exceptions. His nominations include businessmen, generals, and seasoned politicians, but only Elaine Chao, his pick for Secretary of Transportation, has experience leading a government agency. The direction and fate of many of these departments is largely unknown, but Trump’s nominations continue his epic shakeup of the American political system.

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