Last updated on Feb. 17, 2017
Secretary, Department of Labor
After weeks of pressure over domestic violence allegations and his hiring of an undocumented maid, Andrew Puzder stepped down from consideration on Feb. 15. An opponent of minimum wage increases and overtime pay, but keen on the automation of restaurant jobs, he had long seemed an odd choice to protect workers’ rights. But the nails in the coffin seemed to be a lawsuit brought by his workers for labor violations and an unearthed film of Puzder’s ex-wife on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1990, alleging that he had abused her and had “vowed revenge” for exposing him.
Secretary, Department of the Interior
An avid hunter and fisherman, first-term congressman Zinke reportedly styles himself after turn-of-the-century president and outdoorsman Theodore Roosevelt, who created many of the national parks Zinke will now control. The two men do share a history of fighting to keep public access to natural lands, but the question of climate change wasn’t around in Teddy Roosevelt’s day.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL officer, was elected to Congress on a platform of North American energy independence, and has since achieved a lowly 3% rating from the environmentalist League of Conservation Voters. It’s now his job to reverse drilling restrictions on natural land put in place by the Obama administration.
Secretary, Department of Agriculture
As a former veterinarian, agriculture businessman, and governor of Georgia, which has a substantial agriculture sector, Perdue has government experience and serious knowledge of the field. He came to public prominence in 2007, when he led hundreds of people in a prayer for rain as the state experienced a drought.
Despite Perdue’s experience, the visuals of Trump’s final appointment don’t look great: rounding off his picks with a white man means this is the first cabinet since 1988 to not have at least one Hispanic member. It also has only two women.
Perdue will most likely look to trim departmental spending—perhaps by targeting food stamps for low income households—and get rid of environmental regulations that Trump believes hurt farmers. Green activists have lashed out at his background in the fertilizer business, and ties to large agricultural conglomerates.
Secretary, Department of Commerce
Wilbur Ross Jr.
A billionaire replaces a billionaire: Trump’s “king of bankruptcy” Wilbur Ross, for Penny Pritzker, the hotel heiress from the Obama administration. An old friend of Trump’s, Ross spent two decades with the Rothschild Group before starting WL Ross & Co., a private equity firm that trades on his knack for making big bets on failing companies.
Seen as both hero and villain by the businesses he has taken over, 79-year-old Ross’s political views are not clear-cut. He’s in favor of cutting taxes for big businesses, but, like his new boss, has long aligned himself with labor unions by complaining about trade deals.
Secretary, Department of Labor
Trump appointed Acosta one day after his first nominee for labor secretary, fast-food executive Andy Puzder, withdrew from consideration. Acosta is the dean of the Florida International University College of Law. He has also served on the National Labor Relations Board; as an assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in the George W. Bush administration; and as the US Attorney for Southern District of Florida.
Secretary, Department of Housing and Urban Development
Perhaps the most baffling of all Trump’s cabinet picks, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has zero experience in government, housing, or urban issues. His run for the presidency fizzled in the primaries, and he has since been a steadfast Trump surrogate.
Carson previously said through a spokesperson his serving in the cabinet might “cripple the presidency.” In his about-face, Carson argued his qualifications stem from growing up in an “inner city”—immediately deploying a widely discredited term that illustrates his inexperience and the challenges in store for him ahead. The lesson here may be that the president-elect values loyalty above all else.
Secretary, Department of Energy
Skeptical of climate science, but pro-wind power, Perry has always been difficult to pigeon hole. In a primary debate during the 2012 presidential campaign, the Republican famously forgot the name of the department he is to lead—as he was pledging to eliminate it. His swagger led him to a 14 year tenure as Texas governor, the longest in state history. But his baffling predilection for miscues on the national stage destroyed his two runs for president.
In the likelihood he is confirmed by the Senate, Perry, coming from one of the most oil-drenched states in the country, will clearly push black gold. He also aligns with Trump’s unabashed rejection of climate science. But do not look for wholesale dismantlement of the energy department’s non-fossil fuel efforts, championed during the Obama administration. As he did in Texas, Perry could advocate for expansion of renewable energy, such as wind and even nuclear power. It’s also important to remember the majority of the department’s budget is allocated to managing the US nuclear weapons stockpile, researching military applications of nuclear technology, and preventing nuclear proliferation—policy areas that are largely question marks when it comes to Perry.
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt currently has an open lawsuit against the EPA, and has allied directly with oil and gas firms to lobby the agency. In one case found by the New York Times, he sent in his own name to the EPA a letter written almost word-for-word by a fossil fuels lobbyist. Pruitt’s main aim in his new job will undoubtedly be to dismantle as much as he can of Obama’s progressive climate change legacy.
Ambassador, United States Trade Representative
A former deputy US trade representative under Ronald Reagan, Lighthizer is a true believer in Trump’s pledge to do economic battle with China. He has long backed the president-elect’s protectionist trade policies, writing in a 2011 op-ed that Trumpian-style protectionism has a long and respected history in the Republican party. Expect the renowned tactician to team up with Trump’s other China hawks to set policy on how to engage with the world’s second largest national economy.
Vice President, White House
If his relationship with Trump remains stable, Mike Pence looks set to be one of the most influential vice presidents in modern history. The former governor of Indiana, six-term congressman and ex-talk show host was chosen from a shortlist of candidates designed to help guide political neophyte Trump through the governing process.
So far, that hasn’t proven empty talk: almost immediately after the election, Pence usurped New Jersey governor Chris Christie as presidential transition team head. The Tea Party darling will also be perhaps the most conservative VP ever; with a record of virulent anti-abortion and anti-LGBT legislation, climate change denialism, and belief in creationism.
Secretary, Department of State
He’s the CEO of one of the world’s largest and most valuable companies—ExxonMobil—with a presence in at least 52 countries on six continents. It’s precisely Tillerson’s conflicts on the international business stage that have many in Washington questioning his fitness to be Trump’s top diplomat.
Tillerson has fought against imposing sanctions on Russia and has a “very close” (paywall) relationship with Vladimir Putin. During his tenure atop Exxon, he’s signed billions of dollars worth of deals with the Russian government and Rosneft, a state-owned oil company. Republican lawmakers like John McCain and Marco Rubio are troubled by Tillerson’s foreign entanglements.
The nomination of Tillerson over a diplomat like John Bolton, a general like David Petraeus, or a politician Mitt Romney is a sign that the Trump administration sees energy security as the US’s primary global threat.
Secretary, Department of the Treasury
The man in line to run the US economy has been picked on the basis of being a “Trump guy,” not on his credentials. Mnuchin is a hedge fund CEO, Hollywood producer, and former Goldman Sachs partner who had no political experience before becoming Trump’s campaign finance director in the spring. Taking that job reportedly baffled his peers, but he explained by declaring: “Nobody’s going to be like, ‘Well, why did he do this?’ if I end up in the administration.”
Mnuchin may face a tricky confirmation given his Wall Street background—so loathed by Trump supporters—and his checkered history during the financial crisis. Elizabeth Warren, the fiery Democratic senator, cut straight to the chase, saying “[Mnuchin] managed to participate in all the worst practices on Wall Street.”
Secretary, Department of Defense
It’s no great surprise that Trump and retired four star General James “Mad Dog” Mattis have hit it off—both men are brash, controversial, and rebellious. They also align on critical policy questions, sharing hardline stances on Iran and a rejection of Obama’s ISIL strategy.
Putting a soldier in a role designed to ensure civilian control of the military has raised eyebrows and will require a congressional waiver, though it may not be a bad thing for the inexperienced Trump to have a defense chief considered one of the great military thinkers of his generation. Case in point: Mattis has already eased Trump’s views on the efficacy of torture.
Attorney General, Department of Justice
The three-term senator from Alabama is in line to be the country’s top cop, despite a Republican Senate rejecting him for a federal judgeship in 1986. The reason then? A history of outright racist comments. He allegedly called an Alabama official a “nigger,” referred to a senior black prosecutor as “boy,” and joked he thought the KKK was “OK, until I found out they smoked pot.”
A Senate judiciary committee member and early Trump backer, Sessions favors cutting high-skilled immigration, upholding extremely strict drug sentences, and has opposed every recent Senate proposal to safeguard the LGBT community.
Secretary, Department of Health and Human Services
The choice of six-term Georgia congressman Tom Price is an early sign that Trump is sticking to his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. The orthopaedic surgeon has been one of Congress’s most steadfast opponents of the program, proposing several replacement bills since Obamacare’s inception in 2009.
With close links to the Tea Party, Price also backs defunding Planned Parenthood, whose abortion practices he has called “barbaric.” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer signalled that Democrats won’t let him be confirmed by the Senate without a fight, declaring Price’s nomination “akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house.”
Secretary, Department of Transportation
Trump would have struggled to find a better qualified transportation secretary. A longtime Washington insider, Chao was number two in the department under president George H.W. Bush. She then spent eight years as president George W. Bush’s labor secretary, gaining a reputation as a fearsome political operator.
Chao will play a lead role on Trump’s proposed trillion-dollar infrastructure project, and she’s connected to the hilt with the people who’d need to pass the project’s spending measures—starting with her husband, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. But putting Chao, the daughter of a maritime shipping magnate, in charge of transportation won’t do much to ease the clamoring about conflicts of interest.
Secretary, Department of Education
The choice of wealthy philanthropist DeVos signals that Trump plans to follow through on his promise to massively cut the level of power federal authorities have over education. DeVos is known as a fierce advocate for parent choice in schooling. A group she chairs reportedly helped craft the bill that Trump has backed to spend $20 billion on expanding charter schools and voucher programs. However, a billionaire cabinet appointee doesn’t do much for Trump’s promise to rid the government of elite influence.
Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs
The pick of Shulkin to head up the VA is his first cabinet choice of a currently serving non-elected government official. President Obama tapped Shulkin as undersecretary for health at the VA, with a mandate to fix the controversy-filled VA medical center system in 2015. If confirmed, Shulkin would continue that work as the first non-veteran head of the agency. (Shulkin’s father was an Army psychiatrist and was born on an Army base, according to Military Times.)
Prior to his role in government, Shulkin was the president and CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Around 9 million veterans use the VA for medical services or receive VA benefits. Trump has said that he is considering privatizing parts of the veterans health care system and adding more mental health care professionals to the system.
Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
The choice of retired marine Kelly takes the high-level billionaire-to-general count to 3:3. The former head of the US Southern Command (directing all the military operations in Latin America) fits three major Trump requirements: exceptionally hawkish on terrorism; leery of sending US troops into battle; possessing extensive knowledge of trafficking through America’s southern border.
Kelly’s opposition to closing Guantanamo Bay prison has perhaps gained the most attention during his career. He has insisted that force-feeding hunger-strikers is reasonable, that keeping Guantanamo open didn’t inspire more militant action, and, despite reports to the contrary and the fact they hadn’t been tried, that every inmate was guilty of terrorism.
Director, Office of Management & Budget
Mulvaney, a congressman from South Carolina, first won his seat in the Tea Party wave of 2010. A member of the House Freedom Caucus, Mulvaney is among GOP leaders who view nearly any compromise with the Obama administration as treasonous. He weakened then deal-making speaker John Boehner by abstaining from a 2013 vote to re-install Boehner as head of the House. That led indirectly to Boehner’s 2015 resignation and the dawn of the Paul Ryan era.
Lindsey Graham, a senator from Mulvaney’s home state who has been highly critical of Trump and his cabinet appointments, praised Mulvaney on Twitter, saying he “would be a great choice” to be budget director.
Mulvaney has opposed raising the debt ceiling and has supported drastic government spending cuts. If confirmed, he will be charged with formulating and managing the budget and spending proposals Trump sends to Congress.
Ambassador, United States Mission to the United Nations
Trump’s first pick from outside his inner circle, the South Carolina governor’s appointment shows much-needed magnanimity. Seen as a rising Republican star, Haley endorsed Rubio and was critical of Trump throughout his campaign. The first woman and person of color in the Trump’s cabinet gained national attention and praise for backing the movement to take down the confederate flag from South Carolina’s statehouse.
However, UN ambassador is a curious post for someone with precious little experience outside South Carolina—beyond heading a few state trade delegations. As for her foreign policy views? Aside from opposing the Iran nuclear deal, no one really knows.
Administrator, Small Business Administration
Trump tapped his old acquaintance, the WWE wrestling magnate Linda McMahon, despite her initially backing his rival Chris Christie for president and calling his comments about women “deplorable.” She later came around, donating $6 million to a pro-Trump super PAC.
McMahon, who with her husband built WWE from the ground up, has had two unsuccessful Senate bids as a Republican candidate in Connecticut, spending nearly $100 million on the campaigns. Her priorities then were cutting the corporate tax rate and culling regulations. She’ll be in charge of helping extend loans to small businesses and ensuring they get their cut of federal contracts.
Chief of Staff, White House
The former Republican National Committee chairman has the unenviable job of running a White House that’s promising to take apart the political establishment. He is expected to play the role of rational angel on one of Trump’s shoulders, while chief strategist Steve Bannon will be the bomb-throwing devil on the other.
As a close friend of fellow Wisconsinite and House speaker Paul Ryan, Priebus is also likely be the administration’s link to congress. His merger of the RNC’s infrastructure with Trump’s shoestring campaign laid the groundwork for the candidate’s poll-defying victory. In the process, he showed he has the canny operating skills a successful chief of staff needs.