Trump’s inner circle: The men and women running the US
Donald Trump's team taking shape is the richest in US history, but has little political experience
Meet the people running Trump’s America
Not since the last series of Celebrity Apprentice two years ago has Donald Trump’s hiring drawn quite so much attention.
The former reality television star has had to deal with the reality of moving into the Oval Office with the most skeletal presidential administration in decades. More than 4,000 political appointees are required to fill out an administration and about 1,200 require confirmation by the Senate. He is nowhere near reaching those figures in his first week.
At the top of the presidential pyramid is Trump’s inner circle of cabinet nominees and White House staff. They are a mix of wealthy outsiders from business, insiders from the Republican ranks, die-hard conservatives and former generals who were critical of Barack Obama’s administration.
The most important appointees to be signed off by the Senate are Trump’s 21-strong cabinet. So far, just three have been confirmed.
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Nikki Haley as the next US ambassador to the United Nations on a vote of 96 to four. The two-term South Carolina governor has little foreign policy experience but she was sufficiently impressive in her meetings with senators, both privately and under the glare of the cameras in the committee rooms, that she sailed through the confirmation process.
Within hours of being inaugurated, Trump signed off on two retired generals to cabinet roles: James Mattis as defence secretary and John Kelly as homeland security. Kansas congressman and West Point graduate Mike Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director, though this job is not considered a cabinet-level role, according to the Centre for Presidential Transition.
Seven days into Trump’s administration and just three cabinet picks; it is the slowest start of any president in modern political history. On their first days in office in 2001 and 2009 respectively, the Senate confirmed seven of George W Bush and Obama’s nominees. Trump, already behind schedule after his surprise victory, lagged behind badly in terms of vetting his own nominees. His choice of wealthy business figures complicated matters as they went through the security and ethics vetting process.
The delay is in part political too. Democrats are taking revenge on Republicans over their refusal to vote on Obama’s last supreme court pick, Merrick Garland, and for applying the congressional brakes to other cabinet appointments during the last president’s years in office.
Democrats, still smarting from Hillary Clinton’s loss and fearful of Trump’s plan to roll back the key legislative wins and executive actions of the Obama presidency, have been dragging their heels and scrutinising his cabinet picks even closer than normal and seeking more time for debate.
They can use parliamentary tactics to stall cabinet confirmations and force Republicans through hoops, though ultimately Trump’s party has the votes to confirm his cabinet if they do not hobble themselves during the hearings. Wealthy philanthropist Betsy DeVos for education, US congressman Tom Price for health and Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency are enduring a tough ride.
Trump may have campaigned as the “blue-collar billionaire” and a champion of the angry masses with an anti-establishment message, but his cabinet could not be more different from the working and middle class voters of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin that propelled his rise.
“If there was ever a group of cabinet nominees that cry out for rigorous scrutiny, it’s this one,” the Democratic minority leader, senator Chuck Schumer of New York, said last week.
“The president’s cabinet is a swamp cabinet full of billionaires and bankers that have conflicts of interest and ethical lapses as far as the eye can see.”
Trump has amassed a cabinet and inner circle that is the richest in US history. Their combined fortunes are estimated to be worth $14 billion (€13 billion), according to CBS News.
DeVos comes from a family worth more than $5 billion; the commerce secretary nominee, investor Wilbur Ross, is worth $2.5 billion; wrestling mogul Linda McMahon has a family fortune of $1.2 billion. Despite ripping into Clinton for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs, two of Trump’s team are former executives of the bank, Steve Mnuchin and Steve Bannon.
“You don’t appoint a cabinet of billionaires to be taking on the establishment,” senator Bernie Sanders, runner-up to Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, said last month.
There are just three women in the cabinet and minorities are poorly represented. Ben Carson, nominated for the department of housing and urban development, is the only African American. Elaine Chao, for transportation, and Haley are the only Asian-Americans and, for the first time since the 1980s, there is no Hispanic cabinet member.
Nine cabinet members have previously held elective office. Three more have previously served in government, but only one, Chao, has experience running a full department. Seven come from the private sector and have no experience of serving in public office.
That matters little to Trump, who believes he has done his best hiring to date. “We have by far the highest IQ of any cabinet ever assembled,” he said the day before his inauguration.
Donald Trump's new cabinet
Nominations to cabinet or cabinet level
Former governor of Indiana
Describing himself as a “Christian, a conservative and a Republican – in that order”, Pence was the ideal choice of running mate for the brash, thrice-married property mogul and television celebrity from Manhattan. An anti-abortion advocate and opponent of gay rights, the former talk show host and US congresssman was embraced by conservative Republicans when he was picked. He used his connections on Capitol Hill and beyond to help build Trump’s team after his election victory.
Secretary of state
Former chief executive, Exxon Mobil
Tillerson (64), the Texas oilman and lifer at the world’s largest publicly quoted oil company, was a wildcard pick to be America’s top diplomat. Known for his close ties with Russian president Vladimir Putin through his business dealings, he was criticised by Republican senator Marco Rubio for refusing to call Putin a “war criminal” over Russia’s air strikes in Syria.
Secretary of energy
Former Texas governor, former Texas agriculture commissioner, two-time presidential candidate
Perry (66) was the longest serving governor of Texas, holding office from 2000 to 2015. During a debate in his 2012 run for the presidency he forgot the name of a department he promised to abolish as president in his famous “oops” gaffe. It was the department of energy. During his confirmation hearing, Perry, an oil industry supporter and a contestant on the 2016 series of Dancing with the Stars, said he regretted recommending its abolition.
Secretary of interior
US congressman from Montana, former Navy SEAL
The 55-year-old one-term Republican congressman served as a Navy SEAL from 1986 to 2008. He was an early supporter of Trump, endorsing him in May, and is one of four military veterans in his cabinet. As secretary of the interior, he would oversee more than 20 per cent of US federal land including the national parks of Yosemite and Yellowstone.
Secretary of defence
Retired US marine general, former commander of US central command
The highly regarded military man, revered by fellow marines, was nicknamed “Mad Dog” by the press for making remarks such as “a good soldier follows orders but a true warrior wears his enemy’s skin like a poncho”. Former military personnel must take a seven-year break from active duty before leading the Pentagon, but just after he was inaugurated Trump signed a waiver that allowed Mattis (66), who retired from the military three years ago, to take up his post.
Secretary of treasury
Trump campaign finance chairman, former Goldman Sachs executive, Hollywood producer
A 17-year veteran of Goldman Sachs, and hedge fund manager, who was national finance chairman of Trump’s campaign. The New Yorker (54) drew fire from senators during his confirmation hearing for aggressively foreclosing on homeowners who had borrowed from residential lender Indymac, the firm he bought after the 2007-2008 financial crisis. He has helped finance more than 100 Hollywood movies including hits Avatar, American Sniper and the X-Men movies.
Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (70) has served as a US senator for Alabama since 1997. In Congress, Sessions, who is of Scots-Irish and English heritage, is known as an anti-immigration hardliner. Three decades ago, he was denied a federal judgeship as a 39-year-old US attorney because of racist remarks he made. He called a black attorney who worked for him “boy” and the civil rights groups NAACP and ACLU “un-American”.
Secretary of housing and urban development
Former paediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, 2016 presidential candidate
The 65-year-old retired doctor and author endorsed Trump after ending his own presidential bid in March 2016. He was raised by his mother in an impoverished neighbourhood of Detroit and is the only African-American in the cabinet. Carson, who regularly derides political correctness and government efforts to legislate racial equality, lambasted the government housing agency, which has a budget of $50 billion (¤47 billion), in 2011 when it criticised a city in Iowa for discriminating against black tenants. “This is what you see in communist countries,” he said.
Secretary of commerce
Former investment banker, investor in distressed companies
The New Jersey native (79) made his name and vast fortune turning around failed companies in a range of industries at home and abroad, from steel and coal to telecoms and banking. As a restructuring specialist with Rothschild investment bank, he helped Trump save his Atlantic City casino, the Taj Mahal, from bondholders in 1990. Trump sees Ross, an investor in Bank of Ireland after the property crash, applying his skills to restoring the US manufacturing industry.
Secretary of health and human services
US congressman from Georgia, chairman of House budget committee, orthopedic surgeon
Price (62) built a large orthopedics practice in Georgia before becoming a politician. He went on to represent a district covering the Atlanta suburbs for 12 years, climbing the ranks on Capitol Hill to become House budget committee chairman. A vociferous critic of the Obamacare healthcare plan, he was criticised during his confirmation hearing for buying shares in a medical device maker days before introducing legislation that would have benefited the company.
Secretary of education
Champion of charter schools, philanthropist, Republican donor
The billionaire philanthropist (59) believes in privatising public education. The former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and her family, who own the Amway business, have donated more than $200 million to the party. She was criticised for her shaky grasp of education issues during her confirmation hearing and for suggesting that guns should be allowed in certain schools to deal, for example, with the threat from grizzly bears in Wyoming.
Secretary of transportation
Former US labour secretary
Chao (63), the Taiwanese-American wife of the Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, became the first Asian-American to hold a cabinet position when George W Bush appointed her labour secretary in 2001. She was the only member of his cabinet to serve for his entire presidency. In Trump’s cabinet, she will responsible for shaping one of his signature policy initiatives, a proposed massive investment in the country’s infrastructure.
US ambassador to United Nations
Governor of South Carolina
Haley’s confirmation as Trump’s envoy at the United Nations made her the first Indian-American to serve in the cabinet. The 45-year-old Republican became a household name when, as governor of South Carolina, she supported the removal of the Confederate flag, regarded as a symbol of racism, from the state-house grounds in her home state after the mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston in 2015.
Secretary of labour
Chief executive, CKE Restaurants
The executive behind the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr fast food chains was hailed as a man with a “record of fighting for workers” by Trump, but the 66-year-old who will lead the government department that regulates wages has argued against a higher minimum wage and said that the Obama administration’s expansion of overtime pay diminishes opportunities for workers.
Secretary of homeland security
Retired US marine general, former commander of US southern command
A native of Boston, Kelly (65) was a popular pick to lead the department that oversees border security. He shares views with Trump, clashing with the Obama administration on plans to close the Guantànamo Bay camp and criticising illegal immigration on the US-Mexico border. His son Robert, a marine lieutenant, was killed when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Oklahoma attorney general, former state senator
One of Trump’s most contentious cabinet picks, Pruitt (48) has repeatedly sued the agency that he has been asked to lead. He has close ties to the fossil fuel industry and has sought to undermine environmental regulations. He has said that there is a “debate” about climate change and clashed with senator Bernie Sanders during his confirmation hearing, suggesting that humans may contribute to climate change “in some manner” rather than being the cause of climate change.
Director of office of management and budget
US congressman from South Carolina
A staunch fiscal conservative and budget hawk, Trump’s pick to run this powerful office in the executive branch of government was a founding member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus. The Irish-American politician (49) was elected to represent South Carolina in the US Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010. He faces tough questions at his confirmation hearing over his admission that he did not pay more than $15,000 in taxes for his triplets’ nanny.
Administrator of the Small Business Administration
Former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment
McMahon (68), along with her husband Vincent, became rich from growing their professional wrestling operation from a regional business into an international corporation over 30 years. She left the WWE in 2009 to run unsuccessfully for the US Senate in Connecticut and was a big donor to both Trump’s campaign and his family’s scandal-prone charitable foundation.
US trade representative
Former deputy US trade representative
Lighthizer was picked by Trump from a blue-chip Washington law firm in a sign that his administration intends to take a hard line on China. A trade representative during the Reagan years, Lighthizer has accused China of unfair trade practices. His experience in trade litigation and policies for US corporations will help Trump in his plan to negotiate better trade deals.
Secretary of veterans affairs
Under secretary for health at the department of veterans affairs
Shulkin (57), a physician who has 30 years of experience running private hospitals, would be the first veterans affairs secretary who has not served in the military. He was unanimously confirmed for his post as undersecretary in charge of the Veterans Health Administration in June 2015. This should put him in a strong position to be approved for this more senior role at a department plagued by mismanagement and malpractice over the treatment of military veterans.
Secretary of agriculture
Former Georgia governor
Perdue (70) served two terms as governor of Georgia, from 2003 to 2011 and comes to Trump’s cabinet with strong agricultural credentials for his new role running a far-reaching agency with a budget of $150 billion. He grew up on a farm and has several agricultural-related businesses. He has described climate change as a “running joke” and the arguments of liberals concerned about the environment as “ridiculous and so obviously disconnected from reality”.
White House appointments
Chief of staff
Chairman of Republican National Committee
Trump tapped this top Republican Party apparatchik to bridge the gap between the property mogul’s insurgent camp of outsiders and the party faithful in Congress. Priebus (44), the former Republican national committee chairman, is close to fellow Wisconsin native Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the highest ranking Republican on Capitol Hill. Priebus is seen as an anchor of stability for the Trump ship in the stormy seas ahead.
National security adviser
Former director of the Defence Intelligence Agency and retired army lieutenant general
Flynn (58) was a senior intelligence official in Iraq and Afghanistan at the height of the US wars. He was fired by President Barack Obama in 2014 over his pugnacious style and during the campaign has played an influential role informing Trump’s world view on the war on “radical Islamic terrorism”. His ties to Russia have been investigated by the FBI in recent weeks.
Former executive chairman of Breitbart News
Bannon (63), another former Goldman Sachs executive in Trump’s inner circle, ran the right-wing Breitbart News website before joining the billionaire’s presidential campaign last summer. This combative operator has been responsible for guiding Trump on his hardline, nationalist and populist message. He has described the mainstream media as “the opposition party”.
White House counsel
Former member of the Federal Election Commission
The Atlantic City-born campaign finance lawyer (48) was chief counsel for the National Republican Congressional Committee and was appointed to the Federal Election Commission in 2008 by George W Bush. He was one of the earliest recruits to Trump’s presidential campaign, signing on in early 2015. He will have to navigate difficult legal terrain offering advice to the president on the extent of his executive authority and dealing with potential ethical issues.
Counsellor to the president
Former Trump campaign manager and senior adviser, pollster
The former pollster (50) was promoted from senior adviser to be Trump’s campaign manager, his third in 14 months, in August. She is credited for limiting his wayward rants and keeping him on message in the latter stages of the campaign. She became the first woman to lead a winning presidential campaign and was rewarded with a key position within Trump’s White House team.
Former chief strategist and communications director, Republican National Committee
Spicer (45) worked with Reince Priebus at the Republican National Committee and both joined Trump’s team after he secured the presidential nomination. In his first official briefing at the White House last Saturday, Spicer, a proud Irish-American whose great-grandfather came from Co Cork, angrily accused the media of “deliberately false reporting” on the size of the crowd at the president’s inauguration. He has delivered steadier performances since then and will be the president’s most public defender over the coming four years.