Trump Cabinet Nominations Almost Complete

December 16, 2016; PBS NewsHour

About 40 days have passed since Election Day on November 8th and there are about 32 days until Inauguration Day on January 20. In that time, President-elect Donald Trump has announced most of his nominees for Cabinet posts and most of his selections for key administrative positions. Nonprofit advocacy organizations, nonprofit professional and trade associations, and many individual nonprofit organizations are not only reviewing the GOP platform and Trump campaign promises, as NPQ recommended last month; they are in the process of scouring the writings, speeches, press interviews, and other records of each of the nominees for information that may be used to help or hinder their Senate confirmation.

Here is a list of the 15 Cabinet departments listed in the presidential order of succession. Only the Secretaries of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs have not yet been nominated.

Position Nominee Current Position/Notes
State Rex Tillerson CEO, ExxonMobil
Treasury Steve Mnuchin Financier – banks and movies
Defense Gen. James Mattis (Ret.) Fmr. head of US Central Command (CENTCOM)
Attorney General U.S. Rep. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) Member of Congress
Interior U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) Fmr. Navy Seal, leader of Naval Special Warfare graduate school
Agriculture
Commerce Wilbur Ross Investor
Labor Andrew Puzder CEO, CKE Restaurants
Health & Human Services U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) Orthopedic surgeon
Housing & Urban Development Ben Carson Neurosurgeon (retired)
Transportation Elaine Chao Fmr. Labor Sec.; wife of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Energy Rick Perry Fmr. Gov. of Texas
Education Betsy DeVos Investor; school choice advocate
Veterans Affairs
Homeland Security Gen. John Kelly Fmr. head of US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)

The following are senior agency positions where a nomination or appointment has been made. If Senate confirmation is required, an asterisk (*) appears before the position title. If Senate confirmation is not required, the appointee will begin work officially as soon as Trump is inaugurated.

Position Appointee/Nominee Current Position/Notes
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Chair, Republican National Committee
Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon Trump campaign chair; fmr. CEO, Breitbart
Senior Adviser for Policy Stephen Miller Fmr. U.S. Congressional staffer; Trump campaign adviser
White House Counsel Don McGahn Attorney; fmr. chair, Federal Election Commission
National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn Fmr. dir., Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
Deputy National Security Adviser K. T. McFarland Fmr. nat’l security aide; Fox News analyst
National Economic Council Gary Cohn President, Goldman Sachs
*Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt Oklahoma Attorney General
*Small Business Administration Linda McMahon Co-founder and fmr. CEO, WWE Wrestling
*Ambassador to the United Nations Gov. Nikki Haley (R-SC) Governor of South Carolina
*Ambassador to China Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA) Governor of Iowa
*Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman Attorney
*Deputy Secretary of Commerce Todd Ricketts Chicago Cubs co-owner
*Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (HHS) Seema Verma Health policy consulting, esp. for Indiana

Assuming that the Electoral College elects Trump (there is more question about the Electoral College this year than during most past elections) and that election is ratified in a joint session of the new Congress on January 6, the Senate’s confirmation work will begin in earnest. Research will be done, nominees will visit with senators and key staff, hearings will be scheduled, and countless advocates and detractors will seek to inform and even testify for or against nominees.

Cabinet and other senior administration appointments are no longer subject to the filibuster rule, so only a majority vote is required for Senate confirmation. However, the GOP has a slim 52-48 (when the two independents are counted) majority, so as few as three dissenting Republican votes could imperil a nomination, assuming all Democrats and independents vote against that person’s confirmation. Traditionally, the president has been able to name his Cabinet members will little dissention or partisan divide. However, in recent years, confirmation votes have come to reflect the sharp partisan divide present in the country as a whole, so united minority (in this case, Democratic) opposition is more likely now than it was in past administrations.

The likelihood of opposition to Trump’s nominees will need to be restrained by the capacity of opponents to sway GOP votes away from supporting a nominee. Experts believe opponents will focus on one or two nominees rather than fight against the entire slate.

Several of Trump’s selections are current or former legislators and military officers, including three generals who have previously been approved for their military ranks by the Senate. These nominees are typically given great deference by the Senate, not least because they would hope to receive similar deference were they ever to be nominated for a position in a presidential administration. On the other hand, many of the nominations are perceived as controversial or even indicative of a provocative change in policy direction for the agency they are nominated to lead. Possible confirmation fights include those against Rex Tillerson for State, Rick Perry for Energy, and Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator. David M. Friedman’s nomination to be ambassador to Israel will likely also attract a furor, as Friedman’s past statements on Israel and Palestinian relations are at odds with long-standing U.S. policy.

We’ll keep watch on these and other nominations as they wind their way through the Senate and the media, with an eye to see how they will affect current and future nonprofit advocacy and practice.—Michael Wyland