Updated on February 1, 2017 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Only a few weeks ago, Rex Tillerson looked to be the Trump Cabinet nominee with the shakiest chances of winning Senate confirmation. Key Republicans had joined most Democrats in voicing concerns about his ties to Vladimir Putin and his lack of experience in government.
On Wednesday, however, Republicans put those worries aside and voted unanimously to install the former ExxonMobil CEO atop the State Department. The final vote was 56 to 43, as Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mark Warner of Virginia joined all Republicans in supporting Tillerson. Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted yes.
Tillerson’s confirmation was effectively sealed a week ago, when Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said that despite concerns over Tillerson’s commitment to prioritizing human rights, he would support him. Wavering Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had already come onboard, and Rubio’s vote ensured Tillerson would make it through the Foreign Relations Committee. Still, the vote was closer than for any secretary of state in decades, reflecting a polarized political environment that is playing out in the Capitol on a daily basis.
Department of State
Trump’s pick: Rex Tillerson
Background: He’s an oil executive. Tillerson has been the CEO of Exxon Mobil for the last decade after working his way up the ranks since 1975. It’s the only company Tillerson has ever known; the Texas native started at Exxon after graduating college. He’s also an Eagle Scout who served as a past president of the Boy Scouts of America.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: He’s a big-time businessman who makes big deals—including with the same foreign governments with whom he’ll have to engage as secretary of state. “The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments,” Trump tweeted.
Liabilities: Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin will be the biggest potential obstacle to his confirmation by the Senate. In 2012, Putin awarded him the “Order of Friendship”—a high honor in the Kremlin, but one that will not sit well with Russia hawks in Congress.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 56 to 43 on February 1.
Department of the Treasury
Why Trump likes him: Spot the pattern yet? He’s a successful businessman. But perhaps equally as important, Mnuchin was a relatively early convert to the Trump cause and joined the campaign as national finance chairman back in April, just as the Republican was shifting from relying on his own funds to setting up a more traditional fundraising apparatus. Mnuchin made clear early on he wanted the Treasury job, and Trump rewarded him.
Liabilities: Goldman Sachs and foreclosures. Economic populists will see Mnuchin’s nomination by a candidate who ran against Wall Street and the “rigged” system as the ultimate betrayal. If Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for the speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs, how can he turn around and pick a man who got rich there for treasury secretary? Moreover, while Trump hailed Mnuchin for his business savvy in making a boatload off IndyMac at the depth of the Great Recession, Democrats will savage him for the foreclosures that resulted and highlight stories like that of an 89-year-old widow who blamed hounding by the bank for her husband’s death.
Department of Defense
Trump’s pick: General James Mattis
Background: Mattis is a four-star Marine Corps general who led U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. He commanded forces in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mattis also worked with General David Petraeus to produce the field manual on battling counterinsurgents in Iraq.
Government experience: Forty-four years in the military, though none in civilian posts.
Why Trump likes him: For a guy who once said he probably knows “more about ISIS than the generals do,” he certainly likes hiring them for top positions. Mattis is known as a straight-shooter and a voracious reader, and Trump has gushed that he is “the closest thing to George Patton that we have.” Like Trump, Mattis is someone whose blunt talk occasionally crashes through the line of political correctness, and he has criticized the Obama administration stance toward Iran and its strategy across the Middle East. Trump seems to value his opinion: He told The New York Times that he was “impressed” when Mattis pointedly told him that torture does not work, though it did not change the president-elect’s support for the practice. Trump also seems fond of his nickname, Mad Dog.
Department of Justice
Trump’s pick: Senator Jeff Sessions
Background: Sessions has represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, building up a record as a staunch critic of illegal immigration and expanded legal immigration. He’s been a conservative all around, opposing the Obama administration at nearly every turn. Before his election to the Senate, Sessions served as a federal prosecutor and then Alabama attorney general. He might have had a lifetime appointment to the federal bench had the Senate not rejected his nomination in 1987 over allegations that he made racist comments and praised the KKK while criticizing the NAACP and the ACLU.
Government experience: Extensive. He served in the U.S. Senate since 1997 and held public office in Alabama beginning in 1981.
Why Trump likes him: Loyalty. In February, Sessions became the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy, and he has been a surrogate and close adviser ever since. Sessions’s top aides are working in the Trump transition and at least one, policy adviser Stephen Miller, might snag a senior post in the West Wing. Sessions has made his name opposing comprehensive immigration reform and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and Trump adopted similar positions that helped vault him to the top of the GOP primary field.
Department of Homeland Security
Trump’s pick: Retired General John Kelly
Background: The military. Like Mattis, Kelly is a veteran of more than 40 years in the Marine Corps, having served as commander of the U.S. Southern Command for the final three ending in January. The jurisdiction included South and Central America, as well as the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kelly also has the sad distinction of being the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.
Government experience: Four decades in the military, including assignments as a liaison to Congress.
Why Trump likes him: Aside from being a general, Kelly’s deep knowledge of border security and the challenges posed by illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America are likely the reason Trump selected him. He has warned about the danger of terrorists using known drug smuggling routes to send operatives to the United States through Mexico, which was a theme for Trump on the campaign trail.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 88 to 11 on January 20.
Department of Health and Human Services
Trump’s pick: Representative Tom Price
Liabilities: Medicare, Medicare, Medicare. The biggest obstacle to Price’s confirmation is not his fervent opposition to Obamacare but his support for Ryan’s longstanding desire to convert Medicare into a voucher program. Democrats will do their best to make his confirmation hearings a referendum on this plan, particularly since Ryan has said he wants to try to pass it at some point during Trump’s first term.
Chances at Senate confirmation: Decent. Price’s ideological conservatism and his support for overhauling healthcare entitlement programs mean he is likely to gain very little, if any, support from Democrats. Republican senators like Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will be ones to watch. But Price is well-liked personally, and his relationships with Republican lawmakers as a veteran member of the House make his confirmation chances better than even.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Trump’s pick: Dr. Ben Carson
Background: The conservative former Trump rival for the Republican presidential nomination has no formal experience in housing policy. He’s a retired neurosurgeon renowned for pioneering a procedure to separate conjoined twins. But what Carson would bring to HUD is the personal experience of having grown up poor in Detroit. He has written and spoken extensively about his upbringing, saying that his hard work and passion for reading, along with the firm encouragement of his single mother, helped him to escape the poverty of the inner city.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: Again, loyalty. Carson endorsed Trump after he dropped out of the presidential race, and though he wasn’t his most effective surrogate, he stayed with him through the ups and downs of the general election. Trump lambasted him during the primary, mocking his childhood struggle with what Trump described as “a pathological temper.” The two have long since patched things up, however. Carson was pegged for a Cabinet post early on, but it figured to be the Department of Health and Human Services, given his deep experience in medicine. Trump and Carson do appear to share an up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy toward combatting poverty, where government programs play a smaller role than they do now.
Department of Energy
Trump’s pick: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry
Background: Perry served three-and-a-half terms as the governor of Texas, succeeding George W. Bush after he became president. He then ran for president twice, failing to win the Republican nomination in 2012 and then again in 2016. His experience in energy-rich Texas would, on the surface, seem to make him a natural fit, but the Energy Department is actually more of a national security agency that’s responsible for designing and protecting the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. The last two energy secretaries were award-winning scientists.
Chances at Senate confirmation: Very good. The “oops” moment will cause Perry some embarrassment, but barring another Texas-sized gaffe, it’s hard to see it blocking his confirmation. He should win strong support from Republicans and even a few red-state Democrats looking for a bipartisan vote.
Department of Labor
Trump’s pick: Andrew Puzder
Background: Puzder is best known as the chief executive of the parent company for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., the fast-food chains. He worked his way up in the business world originally as a lawyer and general counsel, the position he first held at CKE Restaurants. He’s also a frequent conservative commentator and a critic of minimum-wage laws and the Obama administration’s overtime rule.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: He’s been a “vocal defender of Trump’s economic policies,” and shares a rhetorical style with the president. As brash businessmen, they seem like two peas in a pod. Under Puzder’s leadership, Carl’s Jr. has relied on sexually-suggestive ads featuring women eating burgers in swimsuits. “I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American,” he told Entrepreneur last year.
Liabilities: Puzder’s confirmation will be a rough ride for a number of reasons. On policy, his opposition to a minimum-wage increase will be a target for Democrats, who will argue that placing a wealthy executive atop the Labor Department is an insult to working-class voters who supported Trump. And his politically-incorrect comments about women could pose problems, along with reports that he repeatedly abused his wife during the 1980s. (The ex-wife, Lisa Fierstein, has since said she regretted making the allegations in their divorce proceedings and said, according to New York Magazine, that Puzder is “a wonderful father, a great person, and was a good husband.”)
Department of Transportation
Trump’s pick: Elaine Chao
Background: As labor secretary for the full two terms of the George W. Bush administration, Chao brings more civilian experience in the federal government than anyone else in Trump’s Cabinet. Before that, she directed the Peace Corps and led United Way. During the first Bush administration, Chao also served as a deputy secretary in the department she is poised to lead.
Government experience: Extensive: see above.
Why Trump likes her: While Trump surely appreciated Chao’s deep experience in government and Washington, there is probably another factor in his decision to nominate her for transportation secretary: Chao is married to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a man who will hold wide sway over whether Trump’s agenda makes it into law. In particular, she’ll be a key player in Trump’s push for an expensive infrastructure package that McConnell and his conservative allies are cool to.
Department of Education
Trump’s pick: Betsy DeVos
Background: DeVos is a longtime philanthropist and Republican donor and the former chairwoman of the state party in Michigan. She’s been a major advocate for education reform centered on expanding charter schools and private-school vouchers. She led the advocacy group, American Federation for Children, that pushes for increased school choice for parents. The New York Times reported on her successful effort to kill legislation in Detroit that would have imposed tougher accountability standards on charter schools.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes her: Trump has shown that he favors plucking people from the private sector who will come in and shake up a government agency, and DeVos fits that bill. She has strong support among Republican school reformers, especially those who favor both expanding charter schools and vouchers. (Democrats favor the former but not the latter.) She is further to the right on education than two other women Trump interviewed: Eva Moskowitz, a charter school leader in New York, and Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools.
Department of the Interior
Trump’s pick: Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana
Background: Zinke is a Republican member of the House who was just reelected to his second term in November. He had been expected to run for the Senate in 2018, but at least for now, he’s headed for Trump’s Cabinet. Zinke served for more than 20 years in the Navy Seals before entering politics, earning numerous medals. In Congress, he has opposed the sale of federal lands but supported mining and drilling on them.
Chances at Senate confirmation: Excellent. Many Democrats will oppose Zinke over his environmental record, but don’t expect a major fight over his confirmation. The party has a political reason for letting him go through: Serving in Trump’s Cabinet may remove him as a threat to challenge Senator Jon Tester in 2018.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a floor vote. Approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on January 31.
Department of Commerce
Trump’s pick: Wilbur Ross
Background: Another billionaire, Ross is the chairman of a private equity firm that he founded and later sold. For 25 years, he led Rothschild Inc., where he made a reputation as a turnaround specialist who bought up and restructured steel, textile, and mining companies, among other industries.
Chances at Senate confirmation: Very good. Expect Democrats to paint Mnuchin and Ross with the same brush, but the bigger fight will probably occur over the bigger job, treasury secretary.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a floor vote. Approved on January 24 by Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
Department of Agriculture
Trump’s pick: Sonny Perdue
Background: Perdue is the former governor of Georgia, having served two terms ending in 2011. An immigration hawk, he grew up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Trump’s pick: Dr. David Shulkin
Background: The only Trump pick currently serving in the Obama administration, Shulkin is now the under secretary for health at the VA. He’s previously served as a top executive at hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City.
Government experience: A year-and-a-half as a senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs
Chances at Senate confirmation: Decent. The fact that the Senate has recently confirmed Shulkin for a senior post should help him this time around, particularly with Democrats, since he is an Obama appointee.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a committee vote. Hearing held on February 1 in the Veterans Affairs Committee.
Key sub-Cabinet positions
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Trump’s pick: Scott Pruitt
Background: Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma, and in that position he has led the conservative legal fight against the Obama administration’s agenda to combat climate change. Along with other Republican attorneys general, he sued to stop the administration’s climate rules—a case that is still pending in federal court. Like Trump, he has voiced doubts about the science behind climate change and its connection to manmade activities.
Government experience: Six years as Oklahoma attorney general, and eight years in the Oklahoma state senate
Chances at Senate confirmation: Decent. Democratic leaders have made Pruitt one of their top targets among Trump Cabinet nominees, warning that his views on climate change are extreme and that his confirmation would ensure the dismantling of the Obama-era regulatory regime. They hope to pressure centrist Republican senators like Susan Collins to vote against him. Yet to defeat Pruitt, Democrats likely will need several Republicans to join them, because more conservative and politically vulnerable Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia will probably vote for his confirmation. Manchin has already signaled as much, issuing a laudatory statement after meeting with Pruitt in early January.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a committee vote.
Ambassador to the United Nations
Trump’s pick: Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina
Background: Haley has been considered a rising Republican star ever since she won election as governor of South Carolina in 2010. She gave her highly sought-after endorsement to Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential primary last year, and she was seen as a likely vice presidential pick if Rubio had won the nomination. But Rubio didn’t, and Trump’s early selection of Haley as his nominee for U.N. ambassador was a bit of a surprise. She has no formal foreign-policy experience, but her background as the conservative daughter of Indian immigrants undoubtedly appealed to Trump.
Government experience: Six years as South Carolina governor, and another six as a state legislator before that
Chances at Senate confirmation: Excellent. Despite her lack of foreign-policy experience, Democrats have signaled they will not put up much of a fight over her nomination. Haley is considered well within the mainstream of the modern Republican Party, and Democrats are likely to use her confirmation hearings to press her on whether she fight inside the Trump administration for sustained U.S. funding for the U.N. and an internationalist foreign policy.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 96 to 4.
Director, Office of Management and Budget
Trump’s pick: Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina
Background: Mulvaney is a hard-line conservative in the House and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He was a frequent critic of former Speaker John Boehner and voted for budget and debt proposals that called for steep spending cuts across discretionary and entitlement spending programs. The question is whether his support for overhauling Medicare and Social Security and his resistance to major increases in defense spending will conflict with Trump, who took opposing views on the campaign trail.
Government experience: Six years in the U.S. House and four years as a state legislator in South Carolina
Chances at Senate confirmation: Solid. Mulvaney is, like Price, a deeply ideological choice that most if not all Democrats will oppose. But as with many other Trump nominees, it’s not yet clear that any Republicans will defect. At minimum, he may face questions from GOP senators who favor sharp increases in military spending.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a committee vote.
Trump’s pick: Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas
Background: Pompeo was elected to his fourth term in the House in November and served on the Intelligence Committee. He drew wider attention as a member of the House Benghazi Committee and for his aggressive questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her 11-hour testimony in 2015. Before running for Congress, he served as an Army captain and then started a company that manufactured parts for commercial and military airplanes.
Government experience: Six years in the U.S. House
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 66 to 32 on January 23.
Categories: U.S. Pol / Gov