Trump’s Cabinet Appointments: Likely Senate Vote Outcome in Each Case
Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson
Exxon executive with no government experience, but close ties with Russia. Slam dunk, right? Tillerson is a savvy business elite with government connections that run very deep, and with very important boosters, like former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates is said to be the person that brought up Tillerson to Trump for SOS. That should be reassuring since Gates is one of the few remaining Republican patricians that is willing to govern in a legitimately (not rhetorically) bipartisan manner.
Tillerson’s hearings have been contentious, with several Republicans voicing serious reservations about voting to confirm him to the post. However, I believe they will heed his decent answers to their concerns about Russia, and he will eventually be confirmed with some Democratic support, 68-32. Even still, he might be the only cabinet pick to face a no vote from a GOP Senator, which is quite remarkable given the controversies and lack of experience of other candidates.
Secretary of the Treasury: Steve Mnuchin
Goldman Sachs executive keeping the streak of ex-Goldman execs running the nexus of monetary and fiscal policy. At least he was one of the financiers behind Mad Max Fury Road. Jest aside, before the bombshell that he failed to disclose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets, I would of thought he would be confirmed with something like 81-19, but now Democrats have more credibility to say there is something awry here. That said, I doubt it sinks his chances. Now we are looking at something closer to a party-line vote with some sporadic Democratic support, 59-41.
Secretary of Defense: James Mattis
Trump’s best cabinet pick, with something to like on all ends of the spectrum, from doves that appreciate his calculated nature and seriousness in deliberation, and hawks that love his anti-Iran suspicions. I have heard leftist circles call him a war criminal, but that perspective is not shared by many Democratic senators.
The Warrior Monk will either be confirmed by acclimation (no recorded vote) or if there is a recorded vote, at worst it will be something like 88-12.
Confirmed 1/20/17, 98-1 (51-0 R; 45-1 (Gillibrand) D)
Attorney General: Jeff Sessions
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has a long, well-known history with confirmation hearings. In fact, he only came to the Senate because he was denied a judgeship on the circuit courts. Even considering his baggage and fairly extreme views, there is ZERO chance Sessions will be denied confirmation? Why? First, because many Democratic senators will defer to one of their own, that they know well and generally respect (Cory Booker’s theatrics notwithstanding). I expect Al Franken and many of his ilk to vote to confirm Sessions, which will undermine their credibility with the party base. Second, for Sessions to fail nomination, three Republican senators would have to vote against confirmation. That is very unlikely. One person above all exemplifies how unlikely this is: Susan Collins–the most liberal Republican in the Senate–introduced Sessions in his first hearing. She expounded his virtues and proclaimed he is not a racist. Good to know. When the most liberal Republican is one of his biggest advocates, it suggests this confirmation was signed and sealed before it even started.
Sessions is confirmed, 74-26. His time at DOJ may not be long, as he should also be considered a dark horse candidate for Trump to appoint to the Supreme Court. He would likely fail confirmation, if that were the case, since the stakes would be even higher.
Secretary of the Interior: Ryan Zinke
On its face, a very solid pick. Zinke is perhaps the squeakiest clean nominee Trump put forward, or at least top two with Chao. He says the right things about conservation and seems like a decent person. One of DOI’s biggest issue purviews is on indigenous issues, and Montana is generally pretty good to its native population (in a comparative sense). However, despite his modest proclamations, Zinke will probably favor liquidating more federal lands, which in isolation is not so bad, but in conjunction with deregulation, cronyism, and imminent ecological disaster foretells a dangerous tenure at the helm. Arctic drilling is sure to be a priority in this administration.
Will definitely be confirmed, and probably by a fairly large margin given the low regard people hold in DOI jurisdictions, and Zinke’s station as a current representative. 94-6.
Secretary of Agriculture: Sonny Perdue
After much delay, Trump finally selected former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue to be his ag secretary. Although Perdue is very conservative, has a history of pseudo-racist remarks, and may have improperly benefited from sweet heart land dealings while in office, he is actually very mainstream and is among Trump’s safest picks. He will likely work toward the long-standing GOP goal of eliminating farm subsidies, but as someone who has benefited from them, perhaps he minimizes the amount of change from former Secretary Vilsack. Perdue will be confirmed 67-33.
Secretary of Commerce: Wilbur Ross
Billionaire who had an “illegal” immigrant working in his home. That exact dynamic–hiring an undocumented immigrant for domestic are–has sunk several nominations in the past. It would be him too, especially since Democrats have little to like about Ross. 56-46.
Secretary of Labor: Andrew Puzder
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Tom Price
Tom Price has long been a far-rightist trying to pull the party over with him. He gained influence as the head of the Republican Study Committee, where he espoused practical versions of non-mainstream ideas. Price has long been in hot water for ethical lapses, and the latest alleged insider trading will not help. Will anyone in the GOP care? Perhaps. At this point, it seems he will fail to get the majority needed for confirmation, which means he likely will not face a vote (why put a failing nominee up?).
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ben Carson
Eternally fascinating that of Trump’s biggest early surrogates within the GOP, Carson–not Christie, Giuliani, or Gingrich–that gets a governmental job. The others have ample experience, but Carson’s novice understanding of most things non-medical has propelled him to Corinthian heights.
I agree with what his surrogate Armstrong Williams noted in November, which is Ben Carson is not qualified to run an executive department. Of all of Trump’s picks, this is the most likely to fail during the confirmation process. His support base is limited to the GOP, but if he has a series of good meetings with some Democrats, it could become a minimal bi-partisan vote. I suspect Carson never reaches the vote stage, and instead, after Carson receives enough grief he and GOP leaders will tell Trump to let it go. The one potential saving grace for Carson’s candidacy is the GOP does not value HUD much, and the amount of damage Carson can do in that department is not terribly high. He could still run the department incompetently, but it might not be a FEMA level disaster.
Carson may be the only casualty of everyone Trump has put forward, but it won’t be because of Democrats. His incompetence in office may have utility to them. If he fails, it will be because enough GOP members realize Carson has neither the know-how nor disposition to run an executive department. At this moment, I expect him to be confirmed 50-50 with VP Pence breaking the tie.
Secretary of Transportation: Elaine Chao
Competent career GOP technocrat and wife of Senate Majority Leader McConnell. Selecting Chao shows Trump does plan to govern to some extent beyond the boilerplate arch-conservative ALEC type of agenda he will pursue. Whether Chao is the person to oversee a massive trillion dollar investment in infrastructure is less clear, but that opacity can leave some hope while many still believe Trump will deliver.
Unanimous passage by voice vote (or something like 99-0, with McConnell abstaining).
Secretary of Energy: Rick Perry
Qualified by proxy because he is idiot king of Texas, but actually has very little demonstrated knowledge on energy policy, let alone nuclear policy. Insofar as he is just a figurehead of a very large department, his commitments to fossil fuel extraction and against transitioning to renewable energy clearly indicate how Trump’s administration will operate for its four years.
Reluctantly confirmed, with only a handful of Democratic votes. Slight chance he could be a casualty of the confirmation process, but not due to skeletons or lack of qualification. Perry might just come across as too dumb or unaware. 62 to 38.
Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos
Of all the nominees Trump put forth, she should be contested the most. She and her whole family of in-laws have a warped view of religion in government and education (as well as the role of mercenaries in a democracy). Flatly, she is an opponent of public education–no need for euphemisms about being for charter schools or vouchers. She also lacks any expertise whatsoever and will likely stumble over and over again throughout her tenure.
Will three Republicans decide to reject her appointment? Very doubtful. Even if she is incompetent, her antipathy toward public education is mainstream within the GOP, so they will take the lightweight to accomplish a larger agenda. Still, someone might vote no. 51-49.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs: David Shulkin
Secretary of Homeland Security: John F. Kelly
[I didn’t get around to predicting Kelly’s vote share, but as a respected member of the national security apparatus, and given the continuation of the Washington Consensus across the parties on security issues, I would have thought he would received at least 75 votes. He got substantially more.]
Confirmed 1/20/17, 88-11 (51-0 R; 35-11 D)
United Nations Ambassador: Nikki Haley
Haley has no record of foreign policy, but the daughter of Indian immigrants, it is assumed she has a world outlook. Haley is not much of an internationalist, but compared to Trump, she looks like Woodrow Wilson. Other than descriptive features, I am not entirely sure why Trump wants Haley to represent the country in the UN, but she should have no problem get through the process. Not much is riding on the position.
Office of Management and Budget: Mick Mulvaney
Mulvaney and Trey Gowdy always seemed like the two South Carolina reps from the Tea Party wave most destined for notoriety, mainly because they crave it (more the latter than the former). Mulvaney generally comes across poorly as a smarmy, sharp-toothed operator, but he is also clearly intelligent and has some ideas. With any of this help him at OMB, which requires someone above all else with solid judgment? I am not sure. But if his failure to pay taxes does not sink him, little else will. He is confirmed 64-36.
Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt
Yep, Trump did it. Trump fucking did it. He nominated one of the most well-known climate skeptics in Oklahoma’s Attorney General Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has sued the federal government and EPA numerous times to allow his state’s fossil fuel industry to pollute and exploit the environment. I get the problems farmers have with dust regulation in their cultivation processes, but the environmental contamination–and EARTHQUAKES–caused by fossil fuel extraction. Although Oklahoma has long been an oil state, the recent movement to maximal natural gas extraction through fracking is wrecking Oklahoma’s nearly faultless plains terrain. Here, take a look at how unique Oklahoma’s ecological topography and earthquake ubiquity are compared to other states.
Notice all the earthquakes? Perhaps they are all not caused by fracking, but a history of the state shows earthquake activity in this region used to be relatively rare, and is now commonplace. Well, luckily the defender of this order will be able to have some power to nationalize this trend by lessening regulation of a resource extraction method that causes this problem. Pruitt is among the most likely to face unified Democratic oppositions, sans Joe Manchin. However, it is unlikely Susan Collins or any other Republican opposes his candidacy. Democrats will be on notice, however, that voting for this confirmation will likely be used against them in a primary in the future. Therefore, Pruitt will become EPA administrator, 61-39.
Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon
The fairy tale story of Linda McMahon’s ascendency in politics continues. After failing to buy a Senate seat in two consecutive elections (and setting records for campaign spending in the process), the Grand Ole Party will reward one of its least successful, but richest members with a cabinet position. Nevermind that Linda McMahon knows nothing about how to foster small business, since she and her husband practice a trust style of capitalism.
SBA is not usually deeply contested in confirmation hearings, so she will get passed into executive office. I doubt she will receive universal acclaim, but she will likely receive 60+ votes, perhaps as much as 80. Being rich helps in this setting. Final vote: 66 to 34