U.S. President Donald Trump addresses members of his cabinet and the news media as he holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., August...
Kevin Lamarque

A cabinet of underwhelming former US House members

Updated

Reporting on Rep. John Ratcliffe’s (R-Texas) nomination to serve as the director of national intelligence – overseeing the entire U.S. intelligence community – the New York Times reported on how the young, far-right congressman helped get on Donald Trump’s radar.

Mr. Ratcliffe, 53, has a 96 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, and earned a 100 percent in the most recent session score from Heritage Action for America. […]

Amid whispers that Mr. Coats was on the way out, conservative allies of the president, including Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, favored Mr. Ratcliffe as a replacement.

That’s not too surprising, given that Mulvaney and Ratcliffe spent a couple of years as members of the House Republican conference. But this also raises a related point: one former far-right congressman on Team Trump signaled his support for another far-right congressman to join Team Trump.

In fact, quite a few far-right congressmen – none of whom enjoyed especially illustrative careers on Capitol Hill – have joined the president’s cabinet in prominent and powerful roles.

One of the first was Tom Price of Georgia, Trump’s first secretary of Health and Human Services, who joined the cabinet despite a rather serious ethics controversy, and despite the fact that he wasn’t a particularly impressive policymaker.

Mike Pompeo of Kansas was tapped for two different powerful roles – he was Trump’s CIA director before becoming secretary of State – after just three underwhelming terms in the House, where he was best known for peddling conspiracy theories and receiving a whole lot of support from the Koch brothers.

Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina earned a reputation as a rather fringe figure on the Hill, where he made all kinds of strange arguments, and where he was a founding member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus. Trump tapped him to serve as the White House budget director and the acting White House chief of staff.

If we widen the aperture just a little, we might even include Vice President Mike Pence on this list, since he too was a far-right member of Congress for a while. Indeed, during the Indiana Republican’s tenure in the U.S. House, almost no one was to his right.

It’s not hard to make the case that none of the GOP men was the best available person for their respective posts, but if there’s one thing we know about the nation’s first amateur president and his approach to personnel decisions, it’s that Trump doesn’t much care about qualifications.

The idea that John Ratcliffe is prepared to serve as the national intelligence director is tough to take seriously, but if he’s confirmed, he’ll find a variety of similarly unqualified former House members at future White House cabinet meetings.