Conservatives have in recent times been measured by their ability to list departments of government worth eliminating, a habit that infamously came to a head during the 2012 presidential primaries, when Republican candidate Rick Perry failed to remember the name of the third agency he wanted to scrap. That there were at least three worth getting rid of was, of course, beyond question.
As US president-elect Donald Trump pulls together his cabinet, many of his nominations share the distinction of being people that have indirectly, and in some cases quite directly, fought against the missions of the very agencies they’ll be overseeing.
This is one area where Trump—whose economic advisor told Republicans that they should no longer think of themselves as Ronald Reagan’s party—is actually following in Reagan’s footsteps. During his campaign, Reagan vowed to nix the departments of energy and education, and ultimately named leaders who undermined them from within. Energy secretary James Edwards even promised to “work myself out of a job.”
This time around, Trump has characterized his appointments as “draining the swamp,” but his wish list so far reads like a wholesale effort to undermine the role of government. That’s also very Reagan: During his 1981 inauguration, Reagan famously said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” (Of course, the number of federal employees actually increased during Reagan’s two terms, but that’s a story for a different day.)
Here are some of Trump’s nominees and their opinions of their future agencies (and here’s a running list of all nominations):
Department of the Treasury, secretary
The shadow of 2008 is apparently short. Mnuchin, who most recently served as finance chief for Trump’s campaign, started his career at Goldman Sachs. He’s never held public office, and made billions off the housing bubble by purchasing a subprime lender later fined over dubious foreclosure practices. “Steve Mnuchin is the Forrest Gump of the financial crisis,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said last month. “He managed to participate in all the worst practices on Wall Street.”
Department of Justice, attorney general
An Alabama senator, Sessions served as a DOJ prosecutor for almost 15 years, and has wasted no opportunity to criticize the evolution of the department under Barack Obama. He has also called the Voting Rights Act “a piece of intrusive legislation” and in an interview with Breitbart last year said it was “appropriate to begin to discuss” a ban on Muslim immigrants. He voted against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, and against expanding the definition of a hate crime to include LGBT victims. He’s also against marijuana legalization. Oh, and in 1986, a Republican Senate rejected him for a federal judgeship due to his history of racist comments.
Department of Labor, secretary
Much of 2016’s minimum-wage debate centered on fast-food workers, so who better to tackle Trump’s labor department than a fast-food exec? Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, which includes Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. He’s against an increased minimum wage, as well as expanded overtime protections. He has criticized paid sick-leave policies, and blames Obamacare for starting a “government-mandated restaurant recession” (which isn’t a thing). Puzder also can’t wait until human workers become robot workers, telling Business Insider that machines “never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.” Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro said Puzder’s confirmation would mean “the fox is in the henhouse.”
Department of Health and Human Services, secretary
After six years and dozens of attempts, Republicans may finally be able to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and longtime Obamacare opponent Tom Price will be first in line to help. The Georgia representative also wants a major overhaul of Medicaid and Medicare, which could lead to deep cuts for both programs. He’s likewise keen to defund Planned Parenthood and nix the Obama administration’s requirement that insurers and employers provide women with free birth-control coverage. In what’s becoming a familiar refrain, Sen. Chuck Schumer described his nomination as “asking the fox to guard the henhouse.”
Department of Housing and Urban Development, secretary
It’s difficult to outline Ben Carson’s housing policies—he’s never held a position with relevant experience. But what he has expressed is a wariness of social safety-net programs. “By the time I was a young attending neurosurgeon,” Carson said in October 2015, “I was really struck by the number of indigent people I saw coming in who were on public assistance and who were not working. They were able-bodied people, and they were not working. I thought, ‘This is out of whack.'” Later in the same interview, Carson said, “I don’t want to get rid of any safety-net programs. I want to create an environment where they won’t be needed.”
Department of Education, secretary
Tapped to oversee the federal government’s involvement in education, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos has been a strong proponent of reducing the federal government’s involvement in education. She’s spent millions supporting the “school choice” movement, which provides taxpayer-funded vouchers for charter, religious, and private schools. That aligns with Trump’s proposal to redirect $20 billion in federal spending toward a school-choice expansion, a plan critics say could greatly undermine the public school system.
Environmental Protection Agency, administrator
Scott Pruitt doesn’t just dislike the EPA; he’s part of a group of state attorneys general suing the agency over its Clean Power Plan and its regulations regarding methane emissions. The Oklahoma attorney general has characterized the climate-change debate as “far from settled,” and describes himself on LinkedIn as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” That fits in nicely with Trump, who in a YouTube address last month promised to eliminate two regulations for every one new one. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said Pruitt as EPA admin is like “putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
Small Business Administration, administrator
The most recent job on Linda McMahon’s resume is co-founding World Wrestling Entertainment, but that’s hardly the most ironic part of her nomination. In 2012, McMahon supported Obama’s proposal (paywall) to merge the SBA with parts of the Commerce department and several other organizations. The plan, ultimately scrapped, would have eliminated the job she’s now nominated for. McMahon also has the dubious distinction of having run two of the most expensive (failed) US Senate campaigns in history, spending $100 million of her own money.
Department of Energy, secretary
The former governor of Texas, and two-time presidential hopeful, is the most ironic nomination so far. Perry’s 2011 debate flub, in which he couldn’t remember the name of the Department of Energy, was widely seen as hastening his demise in the primaries. Now Perry will be tasked with overseeing the $32 billion agency, which includes the enormous responsibility of keeping the country’s nuclear arsenal secure. Perry’s nomination arrives at a contentious time; just this week, the department refused to provide Trump’s transition team with the names of staffers who had worked on climate change. If there were a poignant simile for this one, it would be nominating a goldfish to run a bowl he forgot existed.