WASHINGTON – With the nomination of retired general James (Mad Dog) Mattis as his defence secretary Thursday, Donald Trump has now named about half his cabinet.
This allows some tea-leaf-reading about the team that will surround the next U.S. president when he takes office Jan. 20.
Here’s what we know so far. Trump’s team is:
The Washington Post began a story noting that George W. Bush’s cabinet was called the team of millionaires, then added: “Combined, that group had (a)… net worth of about $250 million – which is roughly one-10th the wealth of Donald Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary alone.”
That’s Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor. Trump’s team includes heirs to the Ameritrade and Amway fortunes, one of whom, Todd Ricketts, also owns the Chicago Cubs baseball team.
Then there’s the next transportation secretary – a member of the U.S.’s 39th-richest family, according to Forbes. Elaine Chao, a former cabinet member, is also the daughter of a shipping magnate.
The next Treasury secretary is a relative pauper, compared to these people. Hedge-fund manager Steve Mnuchin is reportedly worth a mere $40 million.
“Almost no one going into this administration… isn’t making an economic sacrifice, big-time, in order to do so,” Ross told CNN this week.
“We want to give back and help the country,” Ross said.
Trump is only occasionally a conservative. Some members of his team are true believers.
That includes the billionaire picked for education secretary. Betsy DeVos is a leading proponent of alternatives to public schools, in the use of vouchers and privately run institutions.
The pick for health secretary, Tom Price, has advocated a more laissez-faire approach than Obamacare.
The attorney general pick, Jeff Sessions, has fought against the national, bipartisan-supported trend of relaxing drug penalties. He’ll now run the Justice Department, if he’s confirmed by his Senate colleagues. Sessions has criticized sentencing reform, fought federal voting-rights policies, and recently said this about marijuana:
“This drug is dangerous, you cannot play with it, it is not funny, it’s not something to laugh about… good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
The vice-president-elect, Mike Pence, once supported federal funding for gay-conversion therapy – though he’s never called for it. Trump, himself, has suggested he’ll appoint pro-life judges, oppose gun control, and scale back climate regulations.
Not devoid of Democrats
Not everyone is a died-in-the-wool conservative. The commerce pick, Ross, used to be a Democrat and donated in the 1990s to Bill Clinton and senators Ted Kennedy and Sam Nunn. He flipped to the Republicans in the early 2000s, and generally favours deregulation. Former general Michael Flynn also was a Democrat.
In fact, much of Trump’s family fits that description. Politico reports his daughter, Ivanka, intends to play a First Lady-like role and champion climate change causes, after already having pushed her father to announce plans for a parental-leave program.
Trump has also been meeting with some Democrats during the transition.
Led by campaign allies – mostly
The top White House staffers will be fellow travellers from Trump’s campaign – Republican chair Reince Priebus and strategist Steve Bannon. The commerce secretary, Ross, wrote Trump’s anti-NAFTA trade platform.
The Treasury nominee shocked Wall Street friends earlier this year by coming out as a Trump adviser on tax policy. Mnuchin was quoted replying in one report: “Nobody’s going to be like, ‘Well, why did he do this?’ if I end up in the administration.”
His intuition proved correct.
Other loyalists include the attorney-general nominee. Sessions was the first senator to support Trump. The national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was his earliest prominent adviser on defence issues.
However, Trump has gone outside the tent.
He’s appointed former critic Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, as UN ambassador. He’s meeting Mitt Romney and former general David Petraeus for the secretary of state job, to the chagrin of loyalists like Rudy Giuliani.
A potential generals’ club
Trump has appointed Michael Flynn as national security adviser. He has just announced the nomination of Mattis, a blunt-talking, well-regarded, well-read retired Marine. Former general David Petraeus is in the running for secretary of state. On Friday, Trump meets retired Rear Admiral Jay Cohen
Going to have racial controversies
At his Senate confirmation hearing, Sessions will certainly be asked about his last confirmation hearing, three decades ago. The chamber refused to make him a federal judge because of remarks about blacks, including one possible joke about supporting the Ku Klux Klan.
He’s an ardent foe of undocumented immigrants, and supports voter-ID and justice policies that disproportionately affect blacks.
Flynn has often made disparaging remarks about Islam. In one speech, he described the religion as “a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people” that must be “excised.”
Intent on reforming NAFTA
Trump’s Commerce pick suggests he intends to revamp NAFTA, as promised. Ross helped write that promise. The billionaire has invested in struggling manufacturing companies, and says the U.S. would have more if it fought foreign sales-tax policies _ which he says are designed to force U.S. companies to relocate.
Ross has heralded it an early priority: “We’re working out the fine-point details, but NAFTA is a logical starting point,” he told CNN.