The National Catholic Review

The constitutional process for approval of cabinet appointments has rarely seemed so crucial. The lack of experience in government or public service in expected nominees like Rex W. Tillerson, for secretary of state, Andrew F. Puzder, for secretary of labor, and Ben Carson, for secretary of housing and urban development, is just the beginning of the issues the senators will have to consider when vetting these individuals.

There are also large potential conflicts of interest for billionaire and multimillionaire nominees, who, like President-elect Donald J. Trump himself, must try to set their business interests aside for the terms of their service. The warm relationship of Mr. Tillerson with Vladimir Putin of Russia makes his nomination especially troubling.

The policy positions held by a number of the nominees raise questions about whether they have been appointed to lead departments or diminish them. Rick Perry has proposed eliminating the Department of Energy, which he is now being named to head. The Labor Department nominee, Mr. Puzder, is a fast-food industry executive who has fought raising the federal minimum wage. Scott Pruitt, named to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has opposed President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change. And while we applaud Betsy DeVos’s fight for vouchers, her strong criticism of public schools makes her an odd choice for the Department of Education.

The Senate has a duty to ensure that the president’s power to choose his own nominees for cabinet posts does not become a license for executive branch appointees to unilaterally reshape policy goals set by the legislature. Maybe these nominees can put aside conflicts of interest and negative attitudes and become stellar public servants. But they will be better on the job if the Senate does its job by carefully examining Mr. Trump’s picks.  


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Leonard Villa | 1/6/2017 - 5:57pm

Oh come on. These cabinet appointments are so crucial but Obama's were not? It seems like the alleged crucial nature of the appointments is directly related to a) it's a Republican President and b) it's Trump. Regarding the conflicts of interest concern, did you ever raise the same concerns about the Clinton Foundation? I would like to read that editorial. Human-caused climate change is debatable and in my view ideologically driven. With all Obama's executive orders and the he being the regulation king now you're worried that the Executive is invading legislative territory? Was there ever concern on your part about this during the entire Obama presidency, which he is continuing in his last days? Seems to me like the same old media double standard: one for Democrats (good) another for Republicans (bad). The former engender no concern or scrutiny while the latter engender the highest concerns and scrutiny? Give me a break.

Richard Booth | 12/29/2016 - 5:04pm

Regardless of how the water went under the bridge, we are now faced with asking Congress to clean up the mess that the majority of Catholic voters helped to create. While both candidates had their faults, as we all do, we can bemoan the election outcome all we want. We cannot deny, however, that what is happening now is like actually moving through the looking glass. It is like an alternate reality for which we must create new categories to understand. The onus now is partly on the Congress to save, if they choose to, the majority of voting Catholics and others from the results of the election decisions they have made. The argument, "We couldn't see this coming" does not hold water because the signs were in front of us the entire time. I am intending to criticize nobody; I just think more thought should have prevailed rather than sheer emotional knee-jerking.

Derrick Weiller | 1/7/2017 - 8:45am

Nicely said, Richard.

Patrick Murtha | 12/29/2016 - 4:37pm

Is not America's responsibility--that is the Jesuit America's responsibility--the working towards the return of Christ the King and the return to principles of Christ? Why is there so much concern over the national politics? Where is the concern over "supernatural politics"?

Where was America's concern over a nominee that supports the killing of children in the womb? Where was America's concern over a nominee that lied to the nation about her "secure" servers and such? Where was America's concern over a nominee that support same-sex marriage? Why is America so worried about the politics of the current president-elect? It has appeared from the articles in this magazine that it is biased against the current president-elect during the election and even now.

Please, America, use your pages and speak of the respect owed to this man in his office of authority. Encourage him towards what is Christ-like, as you ought to have also encouraged his opponent.

John Walton | 12/27/2016 - 10:29pm

Rex Tillerson vs Jack Lew as Secretary of Treasury -- to remind American mag readers -- Lew is a man of little accomplishment, principally having acted as a caddy,shagging balls for hedge fund managers at Citibank, his major accomplishment seems to have been getting accepted into Harvard.

Chuck Kotlarz | 1/16/2017 - 10:50am

Donald Trump won seventeen states by at least fifty-five percent of the popular vote. All but three are right to work states. Hillary Clinton won nine states by at least fifty-five percent of the popular vote. None are right to work states. The nine states account for 70% of the nation’s economy. Can Trump's cabinet favorably impact the economies in the two groups of states?

1-16-17 correction: “The nine states account for 70% of the nation’s economy” should read “The nine states have over twice the GDP of the fourteen right to work states.”

Lisa Weber | 12/26/2016 - 6:49pm

The electoral college did not do its job in barring an obviously unfit president-elect from office. I do not expect the Senate to do much better. It will be a surprise if they fail to confirm even one of these dubious Cabinet nominees. Given the Russian interference with the election and Trump's likely cooperation with it, he should be on trial for treason, but I am not holding my breath waiting for politicians to show some courage.

Chuck Kotlarz | 12/26/2016 - 5:13pm

“You’d have to go back to Herbert Hoover to see a cabinet that was this reliant on wealthy people,” said Robert Dallek, a presidential historian. Herbert Hoover became president in 1929, the year the U.S. economy plummeted into the Great Depression.

Charles Erlinger | 12/24/2016 - 3:49pm

What the Trump transition team seems to be describing by enumerating plans for specific actions are steps in strategies toward as yet unarticulated policy objectives. A policy objective is some desired end-state which can be achieved by successfully executing plans, or strategies. A convenient example of an articulated end-state is one attributed to Kissinger which is quoted in the lead article in Politico on line today. This is just an example and merely illustrates the difference between policy and strategy.

""Ukraine needs to be embedded in the structure of European and international security architecture in such a way that it serves as a bridge between Russia and the West, rather than as an outpost of either side,"

The actions that an advocate of such a policy might take to achieve that objective would, no doubt, be numerous and, in fact, some might fail in which case a change in strategy would be in order.

Numerous such policy objectives have to be articulated, and then knitted together into a coherent whole. For example, one pertaining to Israel might talk about a two-state solution, or a one-state solution, etc.

Then the coherence problem has to be confronted, in terms of how the Ukraine objective supports or poses risks for the Israel objective, and whether any steps in the strategy for one might be incompatible with steps in the strategy for the other.

James MacGregor | 12/24/2016 - 3:04pm

RE: "The Senate has a duty to ensure that the president’s power to choose his own nominees for cabinet posts does not become a license for executive branch appointees to unilaterally reshape policy goals set by the legislature. "


But, even an unmanageable bunch like a Congress can change its mind.

Charles Erlinger | 12/24/2016 - 11:05am

My own expectation from Senate confirmation hearings is the revelation of coherence in an assembly of policy objectives, or desired end-states to be achieved by the new administration. Amidst a torrent of tactical misdirection maneuvers that generate doubt as to the underlying presence of a coherent set of policy objectives, whether these tactics relate to domestic relations or international relations, the very least the Senate hearings should produce is a knitted-together outline, not only of objectives related to specific areas of national policy, but a picture of how these policy objectives relate to one another to achieve security, prosperity and justice. If light could also be shed on some of the strategies that are being considered to achieve these objectives, if only to give us citizens a glimmer as to whether they adhere to legal and moral standards, that would be a nice, though unexpected bonus. I do not expect the hearings to produce anything at all useful regarding citizen concerns about actual or potential conflicts of interest. My sense is the Senate itself would not be very comfortable about demanding too much information in that area.

J Cosgrove | 12/24/2016 - 2:32pm

The Trump transition team has been very clear on what they want to do. Whether it is possible or not is another question. Here is a 25 min interview with Paul Ryan who will initiate any legislation for most of Trump's projects

There are other plans besides what Ryan will initiate. They are the Supreme Court nominees, reconsidering the Iran nuclear deal, renegotiating trade deals, relations with Russia, regulation reform, plans for taking on ISIS, plans for cyber attack security, tracking down and deporting immigrants who have committed crimes, ethical reforms regarding lobbying, etc. Depending on who you read their other area of focus.

I am sure a lot of people at America do not agree with all these projects but they have been clear on what they want to do. They seem to be drawing back on some issues such as deportation of illegals so we will have to see what they will actually do. A lot of Republicans are not happy with some of his plans because it seems like endless spending. The Infrastructure plan is one of these projects that many Republicans object to as too expensive.

Joseph J Dunn | 12/23/2016 - 2:09pm

“The Senate has a duty to ensure that the president’s power to choose his own nominees for cabinet posts does not become a license for executive branch appointees to unilaterally reshape policy goals set by the legislature.” That concern would have been more appropriate in the past six years, when the president was constrained by opposition majorities in Congress. Did the president rely on executive orders to bypass Congress? Did his appointed cabinet members use their regulatory powers thus?

The Editors’ concern that Rex Tillerson and other appointees “lack government experience” is interesting. Was this concern raised when President Obama appointed Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China, or Caroline Kennedy as ambassador to Japan, or John B. Emerson as ambassador to Germany? Tillerson has solid experience dealing with other cultures, governments, etc., which has brought him into contact with people such as Putin, various dictators, etc. All of that is an important part of being Secretary of State. After leading a very large corporation with lots of professionals (engineers, geologists, plant managers, scientists of various stripes, etc) as well as numerous working men and women (refinery workers, pipe fitters, truck drivers, sailors, etc.) around the world, he should be able to manage the professionals and career diplomats within the State Department quite deftly. Measured against the job description, Tillerson’s resume is quite strong.

“Maybe these nominees can put aside conflicts of interest and negative attitudes and become stellar public servants.” The concern about conflicts of interest is always appropriate, and the ways of properly satisfying these concerns are well established.
Are “negative attitudes” any attitudes that differ from attitudes of the current administration? Or, are these “negative attitudes” legitimate questions about the efficacy of the current administration’s policies?

ed gleason | 12/26/2016 - 1:51pm

Tillerson as a Trump supporter was good at crying about corporation taxes as Exxon paid 15% just like the hedge fund carried interest crybabies. Trump of course, pays nothing. so I guess they have a right to whimper.
" (refinery workers, pipe fitters, truck drivers, sailors, etc.; ALL PAY MORE.. no whimper from them?
The employed workers pay twice as much income taxes than all the corps combined. Some, like GE never pay taxes while their top executives live tax free on corporation doles. credit cards, 'expense accounts etc.

James MacGregor | 12/24/2016 - 3:08pm

I like your post for a lot of reasons. One of them is my recollection of President Kennedy being asked how he could nominate his younger brother to be Attorney General. He had no experience in any state or federal court, causing the President to joke, "I can't see that it's wrong to give him a little legal experience before he goes out to practice law."

J Cosgrove | 12/23/2016 - 4:07pm

Is Trump's cabinet appointees a threat to the Democratic Party and progressives

Democrats are intimidated by Trump’s Cabinet of successful superstars

The lack of experience in government or public service in expected nominees

We have the glaring example of a failed cabinet appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State who had no experience in international relations other than as a White House host. She helped make the Mideast a debacle. Instead the editors criticize a man who has negotiated with many world leaders as problematic.

There was a cartoon of Trump talking with Ben Carson and saying that running HUD is not like it was neurosurgery.

Are the editors scared that Trump will make a positive difference? And that his cabinet is made up of competent people who will help make that happen? My guess is that they are alarmed that their progressive ideas may be dead and the American public has rejected their ideology with something that could actually work.

Is it possible that people with track records of accomplishment could be just the ticket for moving the country ahead. I will take competence every time over political appointments. We will have to see.

Chuck Kotlarz | 12/27/2016 - 1:50pm

“…Trump’s Cabinet of successful superstars.” Successful at what…making billionaires wealthier?

The Tax Policy Center found 75% of Paul Ryan’s tax cut plan goes to the top 1 percent. The top 0.1 percent of U.S. earners would see after-tax incomes rise by almost 17 percent. The bottom three-fifths of households would see an average gain below one percent.

Leonard Villa | 12/23/2016 - 10:45am

What is the track-record of those "experienced in government and public service"? Do they get things done? I suggest their track-record is abysmal and that's what the push-back by voters here and in other countries has been all about. The experienced governors/public service folks are responsible for the open borders refugee crisis in Europe where lives are being lost because of this irresponsible policy. They live in an ideological bubble and not in the real world.

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