With the official announcement that he will nominate Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state — and reports that he will soon tap former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas as Energy secretary — Donald Trump has all but completed the assembly of his proposed Cabinet. “Proposed” is an important qualifier because several of those selections — including Tillerson — cry out for more than usual scrutiny by the Senate.
So how should we characterize the Trump team? The president-elect campaigned as a political outsider, and several of his Cabinet choices are faithful to that vision — if you consider Wall Street financiers, corporate executives, state government officials and military leaders to be outsiders simply because they’re not Washington bureaucrats or professional politicians.
By that standard, Tillerson is an outsider even though he’s a fantastically wealthy corporate chieftain who has spent decades as a leader in the oil and gas industry. So is recently retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s unconventional choice to serve in the civilian position of secretary of defense.
But Trump sounded populist, anti-Wall Street themes during the campaign, and in that sense these appointments break faith with his rhetoric. For example, Trump savaged Sen. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for connections to Goldman Sachs; yet his choice for secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, is an alumnus of the much-demonized investment banking firm (as is his top economic advisor).
Trump nominees are worrisomely extreme in some cases, but much of the governing philosophy of the new administration seems likely to be consistent with that of conservative House Republicans, particularly on domestic issues, and with the sort of policies that would have been promoted by some of Trump’s rivals in the Republican primaries had they been nominated and elected. That doesn’t make their stances on the environment, health care, civil rights and tax policy any less noxious; it just means they’re familiar.
Trump is, like any president, entitled to deference from the Senate in forming his administration. But senators must also insist that Cabinet officials are qualified for their positions and that they will enforce laws passed by Congress. Some of Trump’s nominations raise one or both of those concerns.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES