The proposed cabinet for the new administration has been described as “light” in government experience and “heavy” in wealth and business connections, although to date the numbers show a split slightly tilted toward wealth and connections. While it is no surprise that the new president’s background predisposes him to favor that tilt, it is distressing that some of the nominees, by their past actions and words, are seriously opposed to the mission of the departments they may lead, and face little opposition for confirmation.
For example, part of the mission of the Education Department is to ”ensure equal access to educational opportunity for all,” yet nominee Betsy De Vos, has no experience in public education, and espouses greatly expanding charter schools and voucher programs, programs that have not ensured equal access. Scott Pruitt, who has spent much of his tenure as attorney general for Oklahoma suing the Environmental Protection Agency, and whose career has been funded in part by the oil industry, is the chosen candidate to lead the EPA. And Andrew Pudzer, a fast-food executive with a dubious labor record who opposes minimum wage laws, is slated for the Department of Labor. The list goes on and on.
The Democrats have little hope of seriously influencing the outcome unless Republican senators are pressured by their constituents to vote against specific nominees. Rex Tillerson, nominated for secretary of state has drawn opposition from Republican Senators Marco Rubio and John McCain, because in his 41 years at Exxon Mobil he has forged close relations with the Russian leadership and the Russian State Oil Company. Coupled with the Russian hacking scandal, this nomination is under heavy scrutiny.
Part of the confirmation process requires background checks, but only three Senate committees have the authority to require nominees to release their tax returns. Each committee can amend its rules to require this, something that most states require of their officeholders, but there is no movement toward that in the Senate. In fact, the refusal of the new president to release his financial and full medical records during the campaign upended 40 years of tradition and set an example that many in his administration may follow unless compelled to do otherwise. Unless there is full disclosure of business interests and connections, it will be impossible to know if the individual actions of the administration are truly in the public interest or whether actions by foreign entities are seeking to “curry favor.” For example, the embassy of Kuwait has held an event at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown in the past, but suddenly cancelled this year’s contract and moved the event to the Trump Washington Hotel. Were they pressured or did they see an advantage in this?
By the time you read this article, some or all of the cabinet nominees may have been confirmed and left with the foxes guarding the henhouse. What are we to do? Expose and oppose. Be vigilant about new laws and rule changes coming from Washington, which I will follow and pass along, and monitor their effect at the local level, where you can have an impact in mitigating or overturning such changes. There is a lot of advocacy experience in the Section and the NCJW Washington office is always available for advice and help. We are only on a detour, one full of roadblocks as we continue our work for women and children, social justice and the rights and freedoms of all.