Updated on March 2, 2017 at 4:40 p.m. ET
Ben Carson and Rick Perry, you may now start your jobs.
The Senate on Thursday confirmed the two former Republican presidential candidates to serve in President Trump’s Cabinet after a long delay. Carson, the retired neurosurgeon, won approval Thursday morning to serve as secretary of housing and urban development on a 58-41 vote. Perry, a former governor of Texas, will become the secretary of energy after a 62-37 vote in the afternoon.
Carson was a surprising choice to lead HUD given his lack of experience in federal housing, and his nomination came after his spokesman initially said Carson felt he was unqualified to lead a Cabinet department. Many Democrats, however, were won over by Carson’s testimony and commitments in personal meetings, and he won unanimous support in the Senate Banking Committee back in January. But that vote prompted a backlash from liberal activists, who harshly criticized Senator Elizabeth Warren, among others, for supporting a conservative Trump nominee they considered unqualified. Warren ended up voting against Carson in the final floor vote.
Perry would have seemed a more obvious pick after serving for 14 years of a large energy-producing state. But he had to explain to the Senate how he planned to lead a department that he memorably proposed—and then forgot he proposed—to eliminate as a presidential candidate in 2011. Perry also faced some embarrassment after The New York Times reported in January that he was initially unaware that the bulk of the Energy Department’s work involves the maintenance and security of the nation’s nuclear stockpile, not the development of oil and gas. Neither of those episodes derailed his nomination, however, as senators were comforted by his governing experience and GOP establishment credentials in a Trump Cabinet stocked with political outsiders.
The president now has all but two of his Cabinet picks confirmed. Former Georgia Governor Sunny Perdue is awaiting a hearing to lead the Department of Agriculture, and Alexander Acosta was nominated only last month to be secretary of labor after Trump’s first choice, Andrew Puzder, withdrew.
The Senate hasn’t formally rejected a Cabinet pick since it voted down President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of John Tower for defense secretary in 1989. But no new president has gotten all of their nominees confirmed in the last 30 years; those that become enmeshed in controversy or partisan brinkmanship (it’s often both) usually withdraw before a vote. Trump has lost one so far.
Check back here throughout March as we update each Cabinet pick through confirmation hearings, committee consideration, and ultimately the final votes on the Senate floor.
Department of State
Trump’s pick: Rex Tillerson
Background: He’s an oil executive. Tillerson has been the CEO of Exxon Mobil for the last decade after working his way up the ranks since 1975. It’s the only company Tillerson has ever known; the Texas native started at Exxon after graduating from college. He’s also an Eagle Scout who served as a past president of the Boy Scouts of America.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: He’s a big-time businessman who makes big deals—including with the same foreign governments with whom he’ll have to engage as secretary of state. “The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments,” Trump tweeted.
Liabilities: Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin will be the biggest potential obstacle to his confirmation by the Senate. In 2012, Putin awarded him the “Order of Friendship”—a high honor in the Kremlin, but one that will not sit well with Russia hawks in Congress.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 56 to 43 on February 1.
Department of the Treasury
Trump’s pick: Steven Mnuchin
Background: He’s a banker. Specifically, Mnuchin is a former senior executive at Goldman Sachs and a hedge fund manager who bought the failed mortgage lender IndyMac from the government in 2009. He spun it off into OneWest and sold it for a huge profit five years later. Mnuchin is also a Hollywood producer whose credits include Avatar, American Sniper, and the X-Men movies.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: Spot the pattern yet? He’s a successful businessman. But perhaps equally as important, Mnuchin was a relatively early convert to the Trump cause and joined the campaign as national finance chairman back in April, just as the Republican was shifting from relying on his own funds to setting up a more traditional fundraising apparatus. Mnuchin made clear early on he wanted the Treasury job, and Trump rewarded him.
Liabilities: Goldman Sachs and foreclosures. Economic populists will see Mnuchin’s nomination by a candidate who ran against Wall Street and the “rigged” system as the ultimate betrayal. If Trump criticized Hillary Clinton for the speeches she gave to Goldman Sachs, how can he turn around and pick a man who got rich there for treasury secretary? Moreover, while Trump hailed Mnuchin for his business savvy in making a boatload off IndyMac at the depth of the Great Recession, Democrats will savage him for the foreclosures that resulted and highlight stories like that of an 89-year-old widow who blamed hounding by the bank for her husband’s death.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 53 to 47 on February 13.
Department of Defense
Trump’s pick: General James Mattis
Background: Mattis is a four-star Marine Corps general who led U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013. He commanded forces in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mattis also worked with General David Petraeus to produce the field manual on battling counterinsurgents in Iraq.
Government experience: Forty-four years in the military, though none in civilian posts.
Why Trump likes him: For a guy who once said he probably knows “more about ISIS than the generals do,” he certainly likes hiring them for top positions. Mattis is known as a straight-shooter and a voracious reader, and Trump has gushed that he is “the closest thing to George Patton that we have.” Like Trump, Mattis is someone whose blunt talk occasionally crashes through the line of political correctness, and he has criticized the Obama administration stance toward Iran and its strategy across the Middle East. Trump seems to value his opinion: He told The New York Times that he was “impressed” when Mattis pointedly told him that torture does not work, though it did not change the president-elect’s support for the practice. Trump also seems fond of his nickname, Mad Dog.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 98 to 1 on January 20.
Department of Justice
Trump’s pick: Senator Jeff Sessions
Background: Sessions has represented Alabama in the Senate for 20 years, building up a record as a staunch critic of illegal immigration and expanded legal immigration. He’s been a conservative all around, opposing the Obama administration at nearly every turn. Before his election to the Senate, Sessions served as a federal prosecutor and then Alabama attorney general. He might have had a lifetime appointment to the federal bench had the Senate not rejected his nomination in 1987 over allegations that he made racist comments and praised the KKK while criticizing the NAACP and the ACLU.
Government experience: Extensive. He served in the U.S. Senate since 1997 and held public office in Alabama beginning in 1981.
Why Trump likes him: Loyalty. In February, Sessions became the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy, and he has been a surrogate and close adviser ever since. Sessions’s top aides are working in the Trump transition and at least one, policy adviser Stephen Miller, might snag a senior post in the West Wing. Sessions has made his name opposing comprehensive immigration reform and citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and Trump adopted similar positions that helped vault him to the top of the GOP primary field.
Liabilities: The same comments that derailed Sessions’s nomination for a federal judgeship in the 1980s are likely to be front-and-center at his confirmation hearings, as will the staunchly conservative record he has amassed in the Senate. In his 1986 hearing before the Senate, Adam Serwer wrote for The Atlantic, “witnesses testified that Sessions referred to a black attorney as ‘boy,’ described the Voting Rights Act as ‘intrusive,’ attacked the NAACP and ACLU as ‘un-American’ for ‘forcing civil rights down the throats of people,’ joked that he thought the Ku Klux Klan was ok until he found out they smoked marijuana, and referred to a white attorney who took on voting-rights cases as a ‘traitor to his race.’” Sessions will face scrutiny over how he intends to enforce civil- and voting-rights laws as attorney general.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 52-47 on February 8.
Department of Homeland Security
Trump’s pick: Retired General John Kelly
Background: The military. Like Mattis, Kelly is a veteran of more than 40 years in the Marine Corps, having served as commander of the U.S. Southern Command for the final three ending in January. The jurisdiction included South and Central America, as well as the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Kelly also has the sad distinction of being the highest-ranking military officer to lose a child in Iraq or Afghanistan. His son, Lt. Robert Michael Kelly, was killed after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan in 2010.
Government experience: Four decades in the military, including assignments as a liaison to Congress.
Why Trump likes him: Aside from being a general, Kelly’s deep knowledge of border security and the challenges posed by illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America are likely the reason Trump selected him. He has warned about the danger of terrorists using known drug smuggling routes to send operatives to the United States through Mexico, which was a theme for Trump on the campaign trail.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 88 to 11 on January 20.
Department of Health and Human Services
Trump’s pick: Representative Tom Price
Background: The deeply conservative, six-term Georgia congressman is chairman of the House Budget Committee, a leading critic of the Affordable Care Act, and an architect of Republican proposals to replace the health law. Before entering politics in the 1990s, Price was an orthopedist for 20 years in Atlanta.
Government experience: Twelve years in Congress and another eight in the Georgia state Senate before that.
Why Trump likes him: The two men don’t have much of a personal history, but Price is a close ally both of Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Paul Ryan from their years together as conservatives in Congress. Price will be instrumental in working with Republicans on Capitol Hill to devise and pass a replacement for Obamacare. In the meantime, Price’s experience in federal health policy could allow him to begin dismantling the Affordable Care Act from the inside at HHS.
Liabilities: Medicare, Medicare, Medicare. The biggest obstacle to Price’s confirmation is not his fervent opposition to Obamacare but his support for Ryan’s longstanding desire to convert Medicare into a voucher program. Democrats will do their best to make his confirmation hearings a referendum on this plan, particularly since Ryan has said he wants to try to pass it at some point during Trump’s first term.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a party-line vote of 52-47 on February 10.
Department of Housing and Urban Development
Trump’s pick: Dr. Ben Carson
Background: The conservative former Trump rival for the Republican presidential nomination has no formal experience in housing policy. He’s a retired neurosurgeon renowned for pioneering a procedure to separate conjoined twins. But what Carson would bring to HUD is the personal experience of having grown up poor in Detroit. He has written and spoken extensively about his upbringing, saying that his hard work and passion for reading, along with the firm encouragement of his single mother, helped him to escape the poverty of the inner city.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: Again, loyalty. Carson endorsed Trump after he dropped out of the presidential race, and though he wasn’t his most effective surrogate, he stayed with him through the ups and downs of the general election. Trump lambasted him during the primary, mocking his childhood struggle with what Trump described as “a pathological temper.” The two have long since patched things up, however. Carson was pegged for a Cabinet post early on, but it figured to be the Department of Health and Human Services, given his deep experience in medicine. Trump and Carson do appear to share an up-by-the-bootstraps philosophy toward combatting poverty, where government programs play a smaller role than they do now.
Liabilities: Experience, or lack thereof. Carson’s most formidable challenge may be explaining his own assessment of his qualifications to lead a Cabinet department, as explained by his spokesman, Armstrong Williams, to The Hill shortly after the election: “Dr. Carson feels he has no government experience, he's never run a federal agency. The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 58-41 on March 2.
Department of Energy
Trump’s pick: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry
Background: Perry served three-and-a-half terms as the governor of Texas, succeeding George W. Bush after he became president. He then ran for president twice, failing to win the Republican nomination in 2012 and then again in 2016. His experience in energy-rich Texas would, on the surface, seem to make him a natural fit, but the Energy Department is actually more of a national security agency that’s responsible for designing and protecting the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons. The last two energy secretaries were award-winning scientists.
Government experience: Three-and-a-half terms as governor of Texas, a short stint as lieutenant governor, and eight years as Texas agriculture commissioner.
Why Trump likes him: Perry is another example of a Republican who fought bitterly with Trump only to make amends. Early in the 2016 race, Perry was actually more confrontational with Trump than any other Republican. He gave an entire speech devoted to attacking him in July 2015, during which he said Trump was “a cancer on conservatism.” But Perry was out of the race a few months later, and he came around to Trump once he secured the nomination and campaigned for his election.
Liabilities: “Oops.” As Democrats will undoubtedly remind the public to no end, the Energy Department was the Cabinet post that Perry infamously forgot he wanted to eliminate during a Republican primary debate in 2011. The mocking, however, will quickly turn serious as senators force Perry to explain how he plans to lead a department that he doesn’t believe should exist. As with a few other Trump nominees, expect to hear the words “fox in the henhouse” more than a few times.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a 62-37 vote on March 2.
Department of Labor
Trump’s pick: Alexander Acosta
Background: Acosta is a veteran of the George W. Bush administration, having served as head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and later as a U.S. attorney in Florida. He also served for a year as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, and for the last eight years as dean of Florida International University’s law school.
Government experience: Extensive. Acosta served in the federal government for nearly the entire George W. Bush administration in a variety of roles.
Why Trump likes him: Acosta has a sterling academic and legal pedigree that Trump mentioned, having graduated from Harvard and clerked for future Justice Samuel Alito when he served on a federal appellate court. Trump reportedly also wanted a Hispanic in his Cabinet, and while that may have not been an overriding factor, Acosta’s nomination does check that box. Finally, as Trump noted, Acosta has already won Senate confirmation three times, and after the failure of his first labor nominee, Andrew Puzder, the president needed someone who could get the job.
Liabilities: Democrats may ask about Acosta’s time in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, which overlapped with the scandal over the politicization of the hiring of U.S. attorneys. As David Graham wrote, Acosta’s deputy was Bradley Schlozman, who was faulted by an inspector general’s report for inappropriately considering politics and ideology when screening federal prosecutors. But Acosta was not formally rebuked, and that decade-old controversy may not carry as much weight as it once did.
Chances at Senate confirmation: Very good. On paper, Acosta appears to be a qualified nominee that Democrats will have more difficulty opposing, especially after their victory in thwarting Puzder’s confirmation.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a hearing.
Previous nominee: Andrew Puzder, who withdrew on February 15
Department of Transportation
Trump’s pick: Elaine Chao
Background: As labor secretary for the full two terms of the George W. Bush administration, Chao brings more civilian experience in the federal government than anyone else in Trump’s Cabinet. Before that, she directed the Peace Corps and led United Way. During the first Bush administration, Chao also served as a deputy secretary in the department she is poised to lead.
Government experience: Extensive: see above.
Why Trump likes her: While Trump surely appreciated Chao’s deep experience in government and Washington, there is probably another factor in his decision to nominate her for transportation secretary: Chao is married to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and a man who will hold wide sway over whether Trump’s agenda makes it into law. In particular, she’ll be a key player in Trump’s push for an expensive infrastructure package that McConnell and his conservative allies are cool to.
Liabilities: Virtually none. Given her government experience and obvious qualifications for the post, Chao might be the least controversial of any of Trump’s choices so far. Her selection even won praise from Vice President Joe Biden.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 93 to 6 on January 31.
Department of Education
Trump’s pick: Betsy DeVos
Background: DeVos is a longtime philanthropist and Republican donor and the former chairwoman of the state party in Michigan. She’s been a major advocate for education reform centered on expanding charter schools and private-school vouchers. She led the advocacy group, American Federation for Children, that pushes for increased school choice for parents. The New York Times reported on her successful effort to kill legislation in Detroit that would have imposed tougher accountability standards on charter schools.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes her: Trump has shown that he favors plucking people from the private sector who will come in and shake up a government agency, and DeVos fits that bill. She has strong support among Republican school reformers, especially those who favor both expanding charter schools and vouchers. (Democrats favor the former but not the latter.) She is further to the right on education than two other women Trump interviewed: Eva Moskowitz, a charter school leader in New York, and Michelle Rhee, the former chancellor of the Washington D.C. public schools.
Liabilities: Teacher unions will aggressively oppose DeVos over her support for unfettered and largely unregulated expansion of charter schools and vouchers. That likely won’t matter much to Republicans, but it will hurt her chances of winning broad bipartisan support. Conservatives who favor reduced federal power over education will question her previous support for Common Core standards and her affiliation with organizations that have championed Common Core. Anticipating that issue, DeVos has said that while she supports “high standards and strong accountability” for schools, Common Core “got turned into a federalized boondoggle.”
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a 51-50 vote on February 7, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie
Department of the Interior
Trump’s pick: Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana
Background: Zinke is a Republican member of the House who was just reelected to his second term in November. He had been expected to run for the Senate in 2018, but at least for now, he’s headed for Trump’s Cabinet. Zinke served for more than 20 years in the Navy Seals before entering politics, earning numerous medals. In Congress, he has opposed the sale of federal lands but supported mining and drilling on them.
Government experience: Two decades in the military and two years in Congress.
Why Trump likes him: Trump was, not surprisingly, impressed with Zinke’s military background, and the congressman reportedly impressed Trump’s son Donald Jr., an avid sportsman who was influenced by the recommendation of the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
Liabilities: Environmentalists immediately denounced the Zinke nomination, citing his support for mining and drilling and his skepticism about climate change. And a recent report in The Intercept alleged that he committed “travel fraud” while serving in the Navy special-forces unit SEAL Team 6. But there were no other immediate obstacles to his confirmation.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a 68-31 vote on March 1.
Department of Commerce
Trump’s pick: Wilbur Ross
Background: Another billionaire, Ross is the chairman of a private equity firm that he founded and later sold. For 25 years, he led Rothschild Inc., where he made a reputation as a turnaround specialist who bought up and restructured steel, textile, and mining companies, among other industries.
Government experience: None.
Why Trump likes him: The two businessmen go back many years together and share a critical view of U.S. trade policy in the last two decades. Ross, who specialized in turning around manufacturing firms, served as an adviser to Trump during the campaign. Ross, the president-elect said in nominating him, “is a champion of American manufacturing and knows how to help companies succeed. Most importantly, he is one of the greatest negotiators I have ever met, and that comes from me, the author of The Art of the Deal.”
Liabilities: Yes, Ross may have turned around companies, but at what cost to workers? He will get the Mitt Romney treatment from Democrats, who are portraying him as an out-of-touch plutocrat who outsourced jobs and slashed benefits at the companies he restructured. He’ll also face questions over the 2006 explosion at a mine run by one of his companies, which killed 12 workers.
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 72-27 on February 27.
Department of Agriculture
Trump’s pick: Sonny Perdue
Background: Perdue is the former governor of Georgia, having served two terms ending in 2011. An immigration hawk, he grew up on a farm and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
Government experience: Two terms as Georgia governor and a decade in the state legislature
Chances at Senate confirmation: Excellent. Perdue should have little trouble winning approval. He’s well-known to Republicans on Capitol Hill, and Georgia’s junior senator, David Perdue, is his cousin. One GOP senator who may be disappointed, however, is Charles Grassley of Iowa. Grassley tweeted earlier in January that he wanted Trump to pick an agriculture secretary from “above the Mason-Dixon line.” He was pushing for Iowa’s longtime agriculture chief, Bill Northey.
Status of nomination: Awaiting a hearing.
Department of Veterans Affairs
Trump’s pick: Dr. David Shulkin
Background: The only Trump pick currently serving in the Obama administration, Shulkin is now the under secretary for health at the VA. He’s previously served as a top executive at hospitals in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York City.
Government experience: A year-and-a-half as a senior official at the Department of Veterans Affairs
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 100 to 0 on February 13.
Key sub-Cabinet positions
Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency
Trump’s pick: Scott Pruitt
Background: Pruitt is the attorney general of Oklahoma, and in that position he has led the conservative legal fight against the Obama administration’s agenda to combat climate change. Along with other Republican attorneys general, he sued to stop the administration’s climate rules—a case that is still pending in federal court. Like Trump, he has voiced doubts about the science behind climate change and its connection to manmade activities.
Government experience: Six years as Oklahoma attorney general, and eight years in the Oklahoma state senate
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 52-46 on February 17.
Ambassador to the United Nations
Trump’s pick: Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina
Background: Haley has been considered a rising Republican star ever since she won election as governor of South Carolina in 2010. She gave her highly sought-after endorsement to Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential primary last year, and she was seen as a likely vice presidential pick if Rubio had won the nomination. But Rubio didn’t, and Trump’s early selection of Haley as his nominee for U.N. ambassador was a bit of a surprise. She has no formal foreign-policy experience, but her background as the conservative daughter of Indian immigrants undoubtedly appealed to Trump.
Government experience: Six years as South Carolina governor, and another six as a state legislator before that
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 96 to 4.
Director, Office of Management and Budget
Trump’s pick: Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina
Background: Mulvaney is a hard-line conservative in the House and a founding member of the Freedom Caucus. He was a frequent critic of former Speaker John Boehner and voted for budget and debt proposals that called for steep spending cuts across discretionary and entitlement spending programs. The question is whether his support for overhauling Medicare and Social Security and his resistance to major increases in defense spending will conflict with Trump, who took opposing views on the campaign trail.
Government experience: Six years in the U.S. House and four years as a state legislator in South Carolina
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 51-49 on February 16.
Trump’s pick: Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas
Background: Pompeo was elected to his fourth term in the House in November and served on the Intelligence Committee. He drew wider attention as a member of the House Benghazi Committee and for his aggressive questioning of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her 11-hour testimony in 2015. Before running for Congress, he served as an Army captain and then started a company that manufactured parts for commercial and military airplanes.
Government experience: Six years in the U.S. House
Status of nomination: Confirmed on a vote of 66 to 32 on January 23.