Trump’s Cabinet unfolds amid rumour and turmoil

By on 28/11/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
US President Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s Cabinet-appointment dramas have continued over Thanksgiving weekend, with the president-elect’s top advisor, Kellyanne Conway, acknowledging a grassroots outcry against the possible appointment of Mitt Romney as secretary of state.

Conway tweeted that she had received a “deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney”, following reports that the Trump administration is leaning towards asking the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate to run US foreign policy.

Some Trump loyalists have warned against the appointment of Romney, who has previously described the president-elect as a “con man”. Many favour ex-New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, an early supporter of Trump, for the role.

The cabinet so far

Trump’s eventual choice will join fellow nominees Jeff Sessions for attorney general, Betsy DeVos for education secretary and Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary. All Cabinet-level nominations will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Sessions, an Alabama senator for almost 20 years, is well known for his ultraconservative stance on issues such as immigration, abortion, religion and gun control; liberals haven’t forgotten the allegations of racism that killed his 1980s judicial nomination. DeVos, a wealthy Republican fundraiser closer to the mainstream of the party, has long campaigned on education issues – including advocating giving families taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools. Ross is an investor worth nearly $3bn with a speciality in bankruptcy, who helped shape Trump’s hardline stance on free trade agreements.

Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, is Trump’s choice for ambassador to the United Nations. Earlier this year she condemned Trump for failing to speak out forcefully against white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan.

Floated nominees

A further imminent nomination is likely to be Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, who hinted in a Facebook post on November 23 that he had accepted the position of secretary of housing and urban development. Carson has no known previous experience in housing policy.

Retired marine general James Mattis – nicknamed “Mad Dog” and described in a tweet by Trump as “a true general’s general” – is the frontrunner to become defence secretary. The 66-year-old was at the helm of major military conflicts from 2010 to 2013 and has been openly critical of Obama’s administration. Another name in the running is retired general David Petraeus, who has spoken out against Trump in the past, but said he would be willing to serve in the billionaire’s administration if asked. Both Mattis and Petraeus would need a waiver to serve as they haven’t been retired for the required seven years.

White House advisors

Trump’s early appointments, which do not need Senate approval, included Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, as White House chief of staff, and Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and senior counsel to the president. Bannon was a controversial choice, due to his role as chairman of far-right news website Breitbart.

The president-elect has also appointed former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn as national security advisor and, on Friday, Donald McGahn as White House counsel and Kathleen McFarland as Flynn’s deputy. McGahn, a libertarian, was Trump’s campaign lawyer, while in her role as Fox News analyst McFarland was a strong critic of president Barack Obama’s national security policies.

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See also:

Senior Republicans prepare to squeeze civil servants’ benefits and protections


What a Trump presidency means for other governments


Helping governments bridge the gap between intentions and performance


Team Trump – what we know so far


About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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