Home Politics Elections UPDATED: A who’s who in the Trump administration

UPDATED: A who’s who in the Trump administration

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Editor’s Note: The following is an updated list of President-elect Trump’s choices for his presidential Cabinet. The Cabinet consists of Vice President Mike Pence and 15 members who serve as heads of executive departments. 

Jan. 4:

Director of National Intelligence

Former Sen. Daniel Coats, R-Indiana, is Trump’s pick for the director of national intelligence position. Coats was the ambassador to Germany during the G.W. Bush administration and served in the Senate for 16 years.

Coats is a member of the Intelligence and Armed Services committees, where he has pushed for heavy sanctions in response to Russia’s “territorial aggression,” annexing part of Crimea and backing separatists militarily in the Ukraine. The former senator was one of the individuals to be banned from Russia when President Vladimir Putin responded to the 2014 U.S. and European sanctions.

While serving as the German ambassador, Coats had a significant role in explaining the CIA’s mistake of kidnapping a German citizen on the assumption that he was a terrorist to the German government.

Coats supported a cyber bill that expanded cyber threat data-sharing between the government and private sector, which critics claimed would give the government more access to U.S. citizens’ personal data. He also voted against cutting the NSA’s bulk-phone-records collection program and sponsored an amendment that would strengthen the role of the counterintelligence office, which tries to wean out insider threats like Edward Snowden and tracks foreign spies.

“In the wake of the Snowden leaks, it is more important than ever for the White House, the director of national intelligence and the Senate Intelligence Committee to work together to strengthen our counterintelligence practices,” he said. “With Russia trying to resurrect the Cold War and China growing more brazen, a mistake of this magnitude cannot be repeated.”

Almost every one of Trump’s Cabinet picks supported him in the beginning of the presidential race or at least near the end, but Coats did not support Trump. Instead, he put his vote toward Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.

Critics of the president-elect, like Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, have praised the choice of Coats for the director position.

“He’s one of my favorite people,” McCain said. “I think he’s so well-qualified.”

U.S. Trade Representative

Robert Lighthizer has been chosen once again to fulfill his role as deputy trade representative. Lighthizer, who is a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, was the trade representative for the Reagan administration.

As a lawyer, he focused on trade litigation, policy advice and legislative initiatives for large U.S. corporations and coalitions. According to the Chicago Tribune, Lighthizer is a “self-proclaimed Hamiltonian” and often refers back to when “steep import tariffs helped shield infant industries from cheaper foreign competition.”

In the 1980s, he defended U.S. companies from allegedly unfair competition. He also served as lead counsel on anti-dumping cases, including one in 2015, that harmed American producers. Lighthizer has consistently and publicly criticized China for its misbehavior and breaking of World Trade Organization rules, such as not opening its own market to international competition like it promised in 2001.

In 2010, he advocated for stricter and more aggressive stance on combating China’s misdemeanors. His stance does not venture far from that of the Obama administration. President Obama brought 24 cases to the WTO, 15 of which were against China for alleged offenses like subsidizing tire exports.

Lighthizer will continue holding China and other countries accountable by continuing the work of the Obama administration and enforcing the Trump administration’s new trade and tariff ideas.


Dec. 16:

Secretary of State

On Dec. 13, President-elect Donald Trump announced his pick for secretary of state: Rex W. Tillerson. Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil, the world’s largest publicly traded international oil and gas company.

Tillerson will have to be confirmed by the Senate, an issue the New York Times wrote may be a “bruising confirmation fight” for Trump. Objections to Tillerson’s appointment come from both parties. Complaints focus on ExxonMobil’s connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson has had a business relationship with Russia for 20 years. In 2013 Rutin awarded him the Russian Order of Friendship.

In the event of his confirmation, Tillerson’s new position may have financial implications for his company. At the moment, it has billions of dollars in oil contracts, mostly in Moscow. The contracts can only go forward if the U.S. lifts sanctions against Russia. Tillerson, according to the New York Times, has been skeptical of the sanctions.

If his appointment is confirmed, Tillerson will have to manage the relationship between the U.S. and Russia without complicating matters with his own business interests.

Interior Secretary

While many believed former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was favored to lead the interior department, the president-elect has chosen Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana. Zinke served as a NAVY Seal from 1986 to 2008 before campaigning for his current seat in the House of Representatives. He is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee and the Armed Services Committee.

Zinke’s 2015 congressional campaign was based on a platform that advocated North American energy independence. He defended public access to federal lands but has a history of voting against environmentalists on issues ranging from coal extraction to oil and gas drilling. Over the summer, Zinke quit his position as a GOP platform-writing committee member, as the group’s writing was about to transfer federal land to the states. This action correlates well with Trump’s position on land transfer, something he openly opposes.

“What I saw was a platform that was more divisive than uniting,” Zinke said. “At this point, I think it’s better to show leadership.”

When it comes to the interior department, Zinke recently criticized the rule that aims to curb inadvertent releases of methane from oil and gas operations on federal land, referring to the process as “duplicative and unnecessary.” He referenced the Keystone Access Pipeline as an infrastructure project the department should invest in so as not to “flare excess gas.”

Zinke is well-known by outdoors groups for his advocacy for fully funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund and by fellow Republicans for opposing Rep. Don Young’s (R-Alaska) push for states to buy up to two million acres in U.S. Forest Service land to boost timber production.

He also opposes the safeguards set up by President Obama for temporary wetlands, intermittent streams and temporary moratoriums on coal leasing in federal land.

“You wouldn’t know he’s a congressman,” said Land Tawney, CEO and president of the Montana-based Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. “He really prides himself on being a Theodore Roosevelt Republican, and he lives that a little bit more than other people.”

While he has not completely denied climate change, Zinke has said it is not proven science either.

Energy Secretary

When he ran for president in 2011, former Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, was asked in a Republican primary debate which three departments he would dismantle should he win the office. His response? The commerce and education departments. Now, which department did Perry forget? The very one he will run in 2017: the energy department.

Although the energy department clearly has a focus on energy resources, it also plays a strong role in designing, regulating and ensuring the safety of nuclear weapons. According to the New York Times, about 60 percent of the energy department’s budget is for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Perry is the longest-serving governor of Texas, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and he holds a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Texas A&M University.

Dec. 9:

Labor Secretary

Andrew F. Puzder, executive of CKE Restaurants, will head the labor department for the Trump administration.

According to The Washington Post, Puzder is a well-known critic of increasing the minimum wage. He argues that raising the minimum wage to $15 will increase costs for consumers and lead to fewer jobs. The fast-food executive also opposes the labor department rule under the Obama’s administration that aims to make millions of workers eligible for overtime pay.  

When it comes to the Affordable Care Act, Puzder claims it hurts the restaurant industry because higher health premiums leave consumers with less money to spend. He does, however, support lowering taxes for corporations and loosening regulations for businesses in order to give the economy a boost.

Although he was selected to join Trump’s cabinet, Puzder’s stance on immigration differs greatly from that of the president-elect. In a 2013 op-ed for the San Diego Union Tribune, Puzder urged Congress to pass legislation that “creates a path, perhaps an arduous one, to a form of legal status for undocumented immigrants.” He said it is unrealistic to deport 10 million people and also mentioned that modernizing the immigration system will help the economy.

Small Business Administration

Trump has tagged former World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder and CEO Linda McMahon to take on the small business administration. McMahon, who co-founded WWE with her husband, unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2010 and 2012.

McMahon, who according to Forbes has a net worth of $1.16 billion, said her entrepreneurial background prepared her for the challenges faced by small-business owners.

“My husband and I built our business from scratch, building it to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees,” she said.

Trump is no stranger to the McMahon family. He once put his infamous hair on the line, pitting a WWE wrestler of his choice against one of Mr. McMahon’s choosing. The winner had the privilege of shaving the loser’s hair.

The clip of Trump’s triumph can be seen below.  

EPA Administrator

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who wrote that the scientific debate over climate change is “far from settled,” was recently selected to be the EPA administrator for the Trump administration. Acording to CNNPruitt has invoked Trump’s opinion on climate change in the past few years. Pruitt has not connected climate change to propaganda by the Chinese government, as Trump once asserted on Twitter:

In Pruitt’s official biography, he is referred to as a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” He has sued the EPA once for allegedly being too close and comfortable in a “sue and settle” relationship with environmentalists. Pruitt is also a defender of fossil fuels and the coal industry; according to the New York Times, he once wrote a letter to the EPA that was ghostwritten by lawyers from an Oklahoma oil and gas company.

Pruitt served for eight years on the Oklahoma State Senate. During that time, he advocated for fiscal responsibility, religious freedom and pro-life issues. Pruitt also filed the first lawsuit challenging the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

“The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses,” Pruitt said upon his appointment.

Homeland Security Secretary

General John F. Kelly, who retired in February from the U.S. Southern Command, is the new homeland security secretary. Kelly is adamant about the need for border control.

According to the Washington Post, his “blunt manner” caused conflicts within the Obama administration, where he served as the Southern Command chief and as senior military adviser to Robert Gates and Leon Panetta. Kelly opposed Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo and he expressed concern over the Pentagon’s order to open all combat unit jobs to women.

In a congressional testimony, Kelly warned that existing smuggling routes could easily be used by terrorist groups. As the homeland security secretary, he will take on the president-elect’s most complicated agenda: the wall.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Rumor has it: Ben Carson, who is a retired neurosurgeon, is the new secretary of the housing and urban development department. The former Republican presidential candidate and opponent of the president-elect will oversee the development of affordable housing and mortgage insurance accessibility.

Carson graduated from Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School. From 1984 to 2013, he was the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was the youngest chief of neurosurgery in the U.S. at age 33. In May of 2015, Carson announced that he was running for president; his campaign was suspended in March 2016.

Although Carson has no experience in housing policies or government work in general, he was a critic of the Obama administration’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing policy. In an opinion article, Carson said the policy would place affordable housing “in the wealthier neighborhoods with few current minority residents” and continued his critique by comparing it to the “failure of school busing.”

His readiness to jump headfirst into the world of politics and accept his new position is credited to his experience with the “inner city.” Carson grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and, according to his autobiography, claims that to overcome poverty one must focus on individual efforts, not government programs. The programs, like those that provide vouchers and other rental assistance for low-income families, are the very ones Carson will be leading.

Dec. 2:

Defense Secretary

Under the Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution, certain appointments, like General James N. Mattis to defense secretary, will require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Aside from that, it seems that the general, also known as Mad Dog or Warrior Monk, is the president-elect’s final choice for the position.

Mattis was the head of the U.S. Central Command, leading the helm of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2013, Mattis retired from the Marine Corps after 41 years of service. During those years, he led troops during the Persian Gulf War, as well as the initial U.S. wave in Afghanistan and in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

As the head of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Mattis and Gen. David Petraeus wrote the counterinsurgency manual. It quickly became the guide for how U.S. military should operate in Iraq to combat Sunni insurgency.  

“We are going to have to recognize that we have an imperfect arms control agreement,” Mattis said of the Iranian nuclear deal. “What we achieved was a nuclear pause, not a nuclear halt. We’re going to have to plan for the worst.”

At the moment, Mattis is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Treasury Secretary

Trump has selected Steven Mnuchin, his national finance chairman for his campaign and a Wall Street native, as treasury secretary. The Yale University alumnus began his career at the infamous Goldman Sachs where he worked as a mortgage bond trader.

After 17 years at Goldman Sachs, Mnuchin began working with Edward Lampert, CEO of Sears, and then the Soros Fund Management in its private equity division. Following those experiences, he founded his own motion picture firm, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, which produced Avatar, American Sniper, Mad Max: Fury Road and the X-Men franchise. Mnuchin also founded Dune Capital Management. The company even invested in one of Trump’s Chicago real-estate projects but was later sued by the businessman and political phenomenon to extend the terms of the company’s loan. The suit was later settled. Partnering with Soros, Mnuchin also bought the failed housing lender IndyMac in 2009, renaming it OneWest and selling it to CIT Group in 2015.

In 2016, nonprofits filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging redlining by OneWest Bank. Redlining is the practice of denying services to residents of certain areas based on the racial or ethnic makeups of those areas. The dispute is ongoing.

For Trump, Mnuchin will carry out the enactment of large tax cuts, alterations of foreign trade agreements and the design of a new infrastructure spending program.  

Commerce Secretary

Wilbur Ross, the Democrat and king of bankruptcy himself, will be the commerce secretary for the next four years of Trump’s administration. During the election, the bankruptcy specialist worked as the president-elect’s economic adviser.

According to The New York Times, officials of the transaction team say Ross is well-known for “buying, restructuring and selling off steel makers and other fading industrial companies.” He also made deals in the coal mining, automotive and textile industries.

Ross has a history with Trump; he once assisted Trump with the handling of the Taj Mahal Casino Resort’s bankruptcy. Ross’ involvement is credited with saving Trump’s chairman seat.

It seems bankruptcy is Ross’ forte. After graduating from Yale and receiving an MBA from Harvard Business School, he worked on Wall Street as a bankruptcy specialist at Rothschild Inc. Following this, he opened his very own firm, WL Ross & Co., where he serves as chairman and CEO.

Ross has said the U.S. “must free itself from the ‘bondage’ of ‘bad trade agreements” and has advocated for steep tariffs on goods from China. As commerce secretary, he would oversee a department that, according to MSN, describes itself as “the voice of U.S. business within the President’s Cabinet.”

Nov. 30:

Transportation Secretary

Former Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao, the only official to serve eight years in former President George W. Bush’s administration, has been selected for transportation secretary. She was a White House fellow for former President Ronald Reagan, and she was the director of the Peace Corps and deputy transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, also worked for the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Heritage Foundation. She is also a member of the board of directors for News Corporation, which includes Fox, and on the board of Wells Fargo. Chao was also a banker for Citicorp where she helped close transactions that involved transportation financing.

Health and Human Services Secretary

American physician and six-term Congressman Tom Price, R-Georgia, is putting his professional experience to work as the new Health and Human Services Secretary for the Trump administration. Price graduated from the University of Michigan Health System with an M.D. and completed his residency at Emory University. He ran an orthopedic clinic in Atlanta for 20 years before returning to EU as an assistant professor for orthopedic surgery. Price was also the director of the orthopedic clinic at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital and is now a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.

Price is against abortion and supports the “Protect Life Act.” The legislation denies Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act funding to health care plans that offer abortion and allows hospitals to decline emergency abortion care.

He sponsored the Empowering Patients First Act, which is proposed as a potential replacement for the ACA. According to the Huffington Post, when it comes to health care reform Price favors a “free-market framework built on privatization, state flexibility and changes to the tax code.” He also supports privatizing Medicare and limiting federal Medicaid spending to give states a block grant, which is money a local authority can allocate to different services.

Price will have Seema Verma, a health care consultant, running the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. She will oversee Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Verma received a master’s degree for public health from Johns Hopkins University and has served as vice president of planning for the Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, Florida.

Verma has her own consulting firm, SVC Inc., and worked closely with Vice President-elect Mike Pence to design Indiana’s Medicaid expansion, called HIP 2.0. Because of her work, Verma was also contracted to help with states like Iowa, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky on their Medicaid expansions.

According to NPR, however, some of her work came with conflicts of interest. She has received millions of dollars from Indiana for her work with the state government and was also paid by Hewlett-Packard, a Medicaid vendor.

Together with Price as the head, the congressman and Verma will run the Health and Human Services Department.

Nov. 29:

U.N. Ambassador

Gov. Nikki Haley, R-South Carolina, a former Trump critic, has been appointed the country’s ambassador to the United Nations. Haley supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio during the Republican primaries and then Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when Rubio dropped out. She is well-known for criticizing the president-elect during his campaign on his failure to condemn hate-groups like the Ku Klux Klan and for his rhetoric advocating a ban of Muslims in the U.S. 

Haley is the first female and first minority to be governor of South Carolina, and before winning the gubernatorial seat in 2011 served in the South Carolina House of Representatives. According to Trump’s transition team, Haley brought the state’s unemployment rate to a 15-year low. When it comes to international work, she has negotiation experience from talking to international companies interested in moving to South Carolina. She also led seven trade missions overseas.

The South Carolina governor opposed the Iran nuclear deal and asked the U.S. State Department not to resettle Syrian refugees in her state. However, South Carolina today hosts several dozen refugees against the wishes of Haley, whose parents immigrated from India.

At the U.N., Haley will serve as America’s permanent, veto-wielding member of the Security Council.

Official South Carolina Governor's Office Photo by Sam Holland
Official South Carolina Governor’s Office Photo by Sam Holland

Education Secretary

Former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and an education activist Betsy DeVos is the new education secretary for the Trump administration. DeVos currently chairs the American Federation for Children and the Alliance for School Choice. She is also the head of the Foundation for Excellence in Education.

According to The New York Times, DeVos’ appointment hints that Trump intends to push direct public funds to private and charter schools. She is an avid support of school choice, which includes inspiring parents and communities to take ownership of education policies.

Devos recently announced on her website that she does not support Common Core, “period.” On the contrary, she does support school vouchers, charter schools and homeschooling.

DeVos is known, not kindly, for her work with Detroit’s charter school system, one of the lowest-performing districts on math and reading scores. According to The Times, charter advocates acknowledge Detroit as one of the worst school reform disasters.

As education secretary, DeVos will be responsible for the overall direction, supervision and coordination of all education activities, federal policies and programs.

Nov. 22:

Attorney General

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, who was one of the first senators and one of the only members of Congress to endorse Trump, is the president-elect’s pick for U.S. attorney general. Sessions served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1973 to 1986 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Under former President Gerald Ford, he was the assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama and was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan to be U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C.

When nominated in 1986 by Reagan for a second term, a former assistant U.S. attorney accused Sessions of racist remarks. He was also accused of opposing the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Council. Although he denied the allegations, Sessions withdrew his nomination.

Sessions has served in the U.S. Senate since 1996. He opposed the 2007 legislation to grant legal status to illegal immigrants, promoted E-Verify (a system that prevents illegal immigrants from getting jobs) and expressed building a wall … before it was part of Trump’s campaign.

The senator is also a member of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Honoring Every Requirement of Exemplary Service Act was written by Sessions and signed into law in 2005.

National Security Adviser

Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn last served as the 18th director of the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, and is now Trump’s official national security adviser. Even though he was a registered Democrat, he served as Trump’s main national security adviser during his campaign.

In his new role, Flynn will have the last word on how the president should respond to transnational crises. Much like his president-elect, Flynn is very outspoken on social media.

Aside from online networks, he also wrote a book where he laid out his view of the world, seeing the U.S. as “facing a singular, overarching threat that can be described in only one way: radical Islamic terrorism.”

CIA Director

Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, although not formally confirmed by the Senate, is Trump’s choice for director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He is a former U.S. Army officer, graduating first in his class from West Point, and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He also founded Thayer Aerospace, which provides components for commercial and military aircraft.

He advocates for enhancing enforcements of the Iran Deal, keeping Guantanamo Bay prison open and expanding the federal government’s surveillance authority.

Pompeo has also defended interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration after 9/11, much to the distaste of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona.

Nov. 15:

White House Chief of Staff

On SundayTrump announced Reince Priebus as his chief of staff. Priebus is a chairman of the Republican National Committee. He previously served as RNC general counsel and as a chairman of the Republican Party Wisconsin. Priebus has also been credited with helping Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) transition into power on the state level and prominence on the national stage.

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Chief Strategist

Trump also announced Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon is a former right-wing media executive and a chairman of the president-elect’s campaign.

According to the New York Times, many civil rights groups, senior Democrats and some Republican strategists are not fond of the president-elect’s decision, making statements that Brannon “will bring anti-Semitic, nationalist and racist views to the West Wing.”


Nonetheless, Bannon is a former naval officer and Harvard Business School graduate. He worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs before becoming interested in conservative politics. He also co-founded the Government Accountability Institute which investigated the Clinton Foundation and accused the foundation of offering state department favors to donors. Bannon also took the time to create a few documentaries, one being “Battle for America,” a positive portrayal of the tea party, and “The Undefeated,” a film shining a positive light on former Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-AL) political career.

Bannon is known for his provocative news and opinion website Breitbart News, which publishes articles like the ones by Milo Yiannopoulos that read “The Solution to Online ‘Harassment’ is simple: Women Should Log off” and “There’s No Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews.” CNN anchor Jake Tapper has also reported that Bannon’s ex-wife said, on their children’s possible schooling at Archer Academy, “the biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend” in her 2007 court testimony. Allegations have also surfaced of domestic abuse, Bannon allegedly assaulted his then-wife in a 1996 argument which led to a divorce.

In recent events, Bannon was criticized by his own staff when reporter Michelle Fields and Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro said the site did not stand by them when then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski assaulted Fields.

To Be Announced:

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development – Ben Carson



U.S. Trade Representative – Rob Lighthizer

Director of National Intelligence – Dan Coats

Agriculture Secretary

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

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