Diary

Assessing Trump's Cabinet - Part III (Conclusions)

The last two weeks’ blogs have covered appointments in National Security and Economics. This week will briefly address the remaining appointments, and highlight some key themes.

Doctor David Shulkin for Secretary of the Veterans Administration. Prior to being appointed as Undersecretary by President Obama, Shulkin was very successful in turning around major hospitals in New York and New Jersey. This position is highly sensitive to a major Trump constituency – a non-partisan, “get it right” imperative. Shulkin, a practicing doctor, but not a veteran, favors preserving the essence of the VA, but allowing use of “out of network” providers where the VA falls short. Dr. Ben Carson might have liked this gig, but Shulkin has immensely more demonstrated executive experience.

Linda McMahon for the Small Business Administration. McMahon (former Chairman of World Wrestling Entertainment, and failed Senate candidate from Connecticut) and her billionaire husband have been business friends of Trump for decades and early major contributors to his campaign. The SBA guarantees some $7 billion in loans, provides counselling, and advocates for minorities, women, disabled, veterans, and general inclusion of small businesses in government contracting. McMahon will do no harm.

Betsy DeVos for Education. Like the Environmental Protection Agency (Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt), and the Department of Energy (Governor Rick Perry), the appointee to run the federal Department of Education is intended to take direct aim at the mission of the department. Another billionaire, DeVos has been a substantial and successful advocate for charter schools and vouchers (which can be used in private schools), has supported numerous “school choice” candidates around the country, and will be a strong advocate for decisions being made at the state and local level. The teachers union and the liberal media hate her. Jeb Bush – a strong advocate for K-12 school reform – endorses her. In her Senate hearing she showed little understanding of special education laws, the student debt crisis, or how success should be measured. An unnecessarily combative selection.

Former agribusiness-owner and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for Agriculture. This is a key appointment for rural America which has endured four years of depressed grain and meat prices brought on by over-production. The department oversees food safety, food stamps, and the Forest Service, and advocates for exports. Perdue is an experienced expert in agriculture and politics, and will be a player in Trump’s foreign trade deliberations.

And some overall themes:

– Trump has chosen what he considers to be the strongest candidates, with little concern for the “political correctness” of diversity. He does like successful generals and business people, but has done little to cater to political subsets. Among the “top 50”, there are one African American (Dr Ben Carson), two Asian Americans (Elaine Chao; Nikki Haley), no Hispanics, and a smattering of high powered women (Betsy DeVos; Linda McMahon; Elaine Chao; Nikki Haley). Some Hispanics have been considered for Agriculture, the Veterans Administration, and other secondary posts, but the leading minority Republicans have not been part of the process – Senator Ted Cruz of Texas; Senator Marco Rubio of Florida; Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina; Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada; Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Trump’s claim of having the smartest cabinet ever may be true.

– As a corollary to favoring competence, he accepts disagreement from his key lieutenants. Much of this is because Senate questioners are trying to engage nominees in criticism of the President-elect on statements which he may or may not have meant at the time. But, to the credit of Trump and the nominees, there are disagreements to be worked out on a broad array of subjects: tariffs, the corporate tax code, interrogation techniques, “reform” of NATO, nuances of Russia and China policy. He obviously likes to be able to take extreme positions, then back off as appropriate.

– There is a low standard for personal financial transparency – reflective of Trump’s own approach. DeVos did not submit the traditional “Conflict of Interest” forms before her hearing. As House Budget Chair, Price maintained a diverse stock portfolio with at least the appearance of trading on inside information. The federal Office of Government Ethics has complained about the fast pace of review, particularly with so many wealthy appointees having complicated financial dealings – but the complaint sounds more partisan than substantive.

– Russia has emerged as the bete noire – for the Democrats because Putin can be used to de-legitimize Trump’s election; for the liberal media because Trump may succeed where Hillary and Obama failed miserably; for the Establishment Republicans because the Russians have been the arch-villains since the beginning of the Cold War. Trump and his national security team have come across as worldly wise, seeking an accommodation which would settle Syria and the buffer states of eastern Europe, allowing attention to be focused on ISIS and China.

– To the dispassionate observer, several of the Democratic questioners – Elizabeth Warren; Bernie Sanders; Corey Booker; Al Franken – have come across as partisan bullies. None of the nominees has risen to the bait to provide a disqualifying response. It seems that all will pass, with the Republicans holding 52 Senate seats. The Democrats will consider it a victory if they can delay the repeal/replace of Obamacare by slowing down the appointment of Tom Price as HHS Secretary; hopefully they will understand that delaying State, Defense, and Homeland Security would have real consequences – for the country, and for them.

Enjoy the inauguration. Happy day!!!

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www.RightinSanFrancisco.com – 1/20/18