- By Ruby MellenRuby Mellen is a fellow at Foreign Policy with a background in TV, print, and digital journalism. Before coming to FP, she covered the 2016 election as a news associate at CNN in Washington, D.C., working on State of the Union with Jake Tapper. Prior to that, she was a politics fellow at the Huffington Post. She was born in New York and is a dual citizen of Belgium and the United States.
The Trump administration is in the process of filling its cabinet and cabinet-level positions, and the shift we have seen so far from the Obama administration’s approach is, to put it simply, stark. One particularly notable contrast: President Barack Obama’s nominees typically thought the jobs for which they were being appointed should exist.
Some of Trump’s appointees do not. Not all of them, of course; according to reports Wednesday, Trump has selected Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke as interior secretary. Though a climate change skeptic, Zinke at least believes the government agency overseeing federal land should exist. But several Trump cabinet selections have indeed undermined and even called for the abolition of the very organizations of which they may soon take the helm.
Here are four examples of names Trump has put forth who presumably will take the proposed jobs, but who may not think their new positions should exist.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Trump officially named Perry as his Energy Department pick on Wednesday, and the former governor called it “a tremendous honor to be selected.” But in 2011, while running for president, Perry said he wanted to abolish the Energy Department — and then forgot during a Republican primary debate it was one of the three agencies he had proposed to eliminate. Also, while Perry’s policies might, in part, fall in line with current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s support of domestic oil production and hydraulic fracking, his view of the department back in 2009 as a superfluous federal organization raises questions about how he is going run it and what lengths he may go to to make it, in his eyes, worth funding.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Trump’s tap for head of the Environmental Protection Agency is a known climate change denier and coal industry supporter. He is currently slated to run an agency that has a stated mission of “controlling the emission discharge of pollution.” As a lawyer defending the Oklahoma coal industry, he has taken legal action against the Obama administration’s “Clean Power Plan,” an EPA-led initiative which regulates coal production to reduce emissions. Pruitt will now be tasked with leading the very agency that he has sued and called due for a “regulatory rollback.”
Fast-food CEO Andy Puzder. The Department of Labor’s mission is “to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.” Puzder opposes the raising of the minimum wage, and said earlier this year he wants to replace his employees at the restaurant chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s with machines, raising questions of how he envisions a position meant to promote worker “welfare.” His stated support of beautiful women eating burgers while wearing bikinis (he thinks “it’s very American”), while potentially inviting workplace harassment or a labor violation, is not in itself a contradiction with the position, as it does not fall within the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor.
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has not directly criticized the position or mission of secretary of state. He has, however, directly lobbied against it. In 2014, when Russia invaded Crimea and found itself under U.S. economic sanctions, Tillerson declared sanctions as an ineffective way of conducting American diplomacy. His business reportedly lost $1 billion due to these economic sanctions against Russia, which incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has hinted Trump may undo. As one profile pointed out, Tillerson has spent the past 12 years running a company that has been compared to a quasi-state, interacting with foreign leaders in ways sometimes inconsistent with the interests of the department with which he may soon be entrusted.
Given that some senators seem poised to oppose at least Tillerson’s appointment, we have some time before we learn how these four men handle the agencies — for which they seem to have unfettered contempt.
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