(L to R) President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with retired United States Marine Corps general James Mattis after their meeting at Trump International Golf Club, Nov. 19, 2016 in Bedminster Township, N.J.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty

Trump’s cabinet nominees have a plan: disagree with Trump

As a rule, people nominated to serve in a presidential cabinet recognize a simple truth: if confirmed, their job will be to implement their boss’ agenda. Indeed, that’s largely the point of having cabinet secretaries. Presidents can’t directly oversee dozens of federal agencies, so they choose like-minded officials – presumably with some subject-matter expertise – to help them govern.

In Donald Trump’s case, however, the president-elect seems to have selected a series of nominees who don’t like key elements of his agenda at all. The Washington Post reported this morning:
Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, in their first round of confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill, have one after another contradicted the president-elect on key issues, promising to trim back or disregard some of the signature promises on which he campaigned.
It’s almost amusing how frequently Trump’s nominees rejected Trump’s ideas during confirmation testimony this week. Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to be Secretary of Defense, expressed strong support for NATO, saw merit in the Iran nuclear agreement, said Israel’s capital is Tel Aviv, and criticized Vladimir Putin’s Russian government.

Had Hillary Clinton won and sent a Pentagon nominee to Capitol Hill for consideration, we probably would’ve heard something similar. Mattis is obviously on Team Trump, but he has no use for many of the incoming president’s core beliefs. A Vox piece added yesterday, “Mattis aced his hearing – by throwing Trump under the bus.”

Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, rejected the president-elect’s remarks about nuclear proliferation and voiced support for NATO. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Attorney General nominee, said he’d oppose any plan to ban entry into the United States on the basis of religion, which is the opposite of the line his future boss pushed during the campaign.

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s choice to lead the CIA, rejected the president-elect’s call for renewed torture policies. Retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security, sounded skeptical of Trump’s idea of a wall along the southern border, testifying that “a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job.” Kelly also rejected Trump’s call for increased torture.

A week ahead of Inauguration Day, Donald Trump hasn’t quite persuaded his own cabinet nominees to agree with key elements of his platform.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told the New York Times yesterday that these many differences suggest the president-elect “wants advisers who will bring him different views. That would be very healthy. Or it could lead to confused messages both to our allies and our adversaries.”

And that would be unhealthy.

It might also lead to a policy dynamic in which Trump abandons many of the core elements of the platform he ran on or the new administration should expect a series of cabinet resignations in the near future, with officials unwilling to push policies they just swore under oath they oppose.