Over the past week, President-elect Donald Trump has started to announce his Cabinet officials—appointments that have sparked much controversy. So far, he has made public the picks for four of the positions that will have to be confirmed by the Senate before they are made effective: Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist, Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff, Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and Mike Pompeo as C.I.A Director.
Trump quickly started a media frenzy with the selection of Steve Bannon as his Chief Strategist on the 13th of this month, The Atlantic reports Bannon was promoted to this position after being the C.E.O. of the Trump campaign since August. He has garnished criticism from both the left and the right ever since his days as the chief executive at the alt-right news source Breitbart News that regularly has promoted white nativism.
John Weaver of the former strategist for the John Kasich tweeted moments after the selection, “The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office. Be very vigilant America.” The Economist describes Bannon as “a maverick, tear-up-the-system right-winger” who used to reside over a news outlet with “offensively chauvinistic headlines.”
On the other hand, many conservative commentators insist that the accusations of white nationalism are overblown, such as Ben Shapiro who wrote in a piece for the Dailywire, “I have no evidence that Bannon’s a racist or anti-Semitic” even if he has, at times, opportunistically “embraced the racist and anti-Semitic alt-right.”
The same day that Trump announced the Chief Strategist, he also announced his pick for White House Chief of Staff: Reince Priebus, which is not an unexpected pick given Priebus’ position as Chair of the Republican National Committee. If Bannon is from the outskirts of conservative orthodoxy, Priebus is from the center, well within the GOP establishment. The Chief of Staff is generally considered one of the more influential positions in a President’s Cabinet, managing the West Wing staff and attending to the President’s agenda. Trump’s team made it clear, though, in a tweet at the time of the announcement that Priebus and Bannon will work as “equal partners to transform the federal government.”
According to The Economist, Trump’s most controversial pick so far is Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama for Attorney General. As the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the county, Sessions would hold an immense amount of power over a number of issues that have been in the spotlight throughout the campaign and election season, such as immigration. If confirmed, he would immediately hold in his hands the fate of over 700,000 migrants granted the right to stay under President Obama’s DACA program. This is concerning to many on the left because of Session’s history as one of the most fervent critics in the Senate of both documented and undocumented immigration.
Although most Republican and Democrat Senators understand that it would be impossible to deport the 11-some million migrants without the correct papers and support paths to legal status for those that are productive and non criminal, Sessions has proven to be unsupportive of almost all bipartisan immigration reform measures, believing that undocumented work depresses wages and takes jobs from unemployed Americans.
Progressives find Sessions’ political history especially concerning when considering the influence and Attorney General has over civil rights. In 1986, he was denied a position as a Federal Judge when the Senate heard testimony that he made racist comments, such as calling a white lawyer who defended black people “a disgrace to his race,” describing Civil Rights organizations such as the NAACP as “pinkos” that hate white people, and calling a black Federal Prosecutor “boy”—allegations that Sessions largely denied at the time.
For C.I.A. Director, Trump has selected Mike Pompeo, a Representative from Kansas and a former Army Officer. As The New York Times describes, Pompeo has been a sharp critic of Hillary Clinton, especially of her handling of the Benghazi attacks. He also seems to align with Trump’s expressed views on the use of certain torture mechanism when interrogating potential terrorists, denouncing Obama’s 2009 decision to require government interrogators to stick to the Army Field Manual. Still, Pompeo has often received compliments from both sides of the aisle for his work-ethic and intelligence.
Sources: The Economist, The New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Dailywire