At virtually every campaign rally he held in October and November, the words “drain the swamp” came out of Donald Trump’s mouth, referring to the insider culture in Washington, D.C. as well as the prevalent myth that the city was built atop a swamp.
“Decades of failure in Washington, and decades of special interest dealing, must come to an end,” a Trump press release from Oct. 18 states. “We have to break the cycle of corruption, and we have to give new voices a chance to go into government service.”
How’s that campaign promise going? Well, he just tapped a 17-year Wall Street veteran to be his Secretary of the Treasury, so that swamp is looking particularly undrained right now.
Despite promises of a fresh start free of Washington insiders and Wall Street influence, almost all of Trump’s appointees so far are people who have spent their life navigating the halls of power in our country. While you might argue such people are necessary to keep the wheels of government turning, that is not an argument Donald Trump has ever made. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Starting with his most recent appointees, let’s look at all of Trump’s cabinet picks and see how swampworthy they are.
Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury
Trump attacked the financial firm of Goldman Sachs multiple times on the campaign trail. He used the image of its CEO Lloyd Blankfein in an ad tinged with anti-Semitism critiquing “global special interests.” And yet, he has chosen a 17-year veteran of the company, Steven Mnuchin, to run the nation’s finances.
Mnuchin, who was the national finance chairman of Trump’s campaign, will actually be the third former employee of Goldman Sachs to serve in the position, following Henry Paulson in the George W. Bush administration and Robert Rubin under Bill Clinton. How very conventional!
He also had a career in Hollywood—he helped produce Storks!—and was directly involved with some of the most harmful Wall Street practices when he led a takeover of the failed bank IndyMac. Mother Jones reported that as the FDIC took on most of the losses from that deal—about $13 billion—the new bank, OneWest, aggressively foreclosed on homeowners behind on their payments. The California Reinvestment Coalition, a housing advocacy group, estimated OneWest foreclosed on 36,000 homeowners in 2009.
Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce
Ross is a billionaire on the Forbes 400 list, which is how you know he’s a man of the people. He’s spent his entire career working on Wall Street, where he made his fortune.
He’s known for investing in “distressed” assets, industries, and companies that are failing, and turning them around, usually through a combination of layoffs and cuts. A New York Times profile on him asks the question “‘Vulture’ or ‘phoenix’?” in the headline.
This isn’t Ross’s first time in politics, either. He’s dabbled in the past with roles in the Clinton administration and he worked for Rudy Giuliani. He was also married to former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, who is best known for her extensive opposition to then First Lady Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform proposals.
Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation
If you’re wondering what outsider credentials our potential new Secretary of Transportation has, you’ll have to go back quite a way to find then. She once worked in international banking, but since a 1983 White House Fellowship during the Reagan administration, she has held a series of appointed positions under Republican presidents, including:
- 1986, deputy administrator of the Maritime Administration
- 1988, chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission
- 1989, deputy secretary of transportation
- 1991, director of the Peace Corps
- 2001, secretary of labor (she held this position for eight years)
It should also be noted that she is married to a minor Republican official, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff
At the heart of the proposed Trump White House is the man who has held the highest position in the Republican Party leadership for the last five years. Just another political neophyte joining the swamp drainers.
Reince Priebus was first elected as chair of the Republican National Committee in 2011 and then went on to win two more terms. The chairmanship caps a career spent in leadership positions in the party, both on the national level and in his native Wisconsin.
Betsy DeVos, secretary of education
To determine whether or not Betsy DeVos represents the “special interest dealing” Trump has pledged to stop, I will simply provide the following quote from a 1997 guest column she wrote for Roll Call:
I know a little something about soft money, as my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party. I have decided, however, to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now I simply concede the point. They are right. We do expect some things in return.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, attorney general
Amid the many, many (many) other issues involving Sessions’ appointment, it seems impossible to classify a 20-year member of the U.S. Senate as a “new voice.”
- Chief counsel Donald McGahn — National Republican Congressional Committee chief counsel from 1999 to 2008. FEC commissioner from 2008 to 213.
- National Security Adviser Mike Flynn — Career Army, retired Lieutenant General, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
- CIA Director Mike Pompeo — Four-term congressman.
- Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland — Deputy assistant secretary of defense under Reagan, former aide to Henry Kissinger.
- U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — two-term governor of South Carolina, three term state representative.
- Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price — six-term member of Congress.
The only one who comes close to being a real outsider is Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, and even he has a background on Wall Street. Still, this fresh-faced outsider is sure to have some great ideas on how the swamp can be drained.