Trump’s cabinet: Eight essential reads

President Donald Trump signs his first executive order, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Editor’s note: The following is a roundup of archival stories.

The members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet will hold power over policies that determine many aspects of life in the U.S., touching citizens and immigrants, America’s relations with foreign governments and our nation’s use of natural resources.

The task of approving the president’s nominees falls to the Senate, which acted quickly to confirm retired Gen. James Mattis just hours after Trump was sworn in. The Senate’s vetting and voting will pick up pace over the next few weeks.

Our experts have written about some of the most important – and some of the most controversial – of Trump’s Cabinet picks. Read on to learn more about what the nation can expect from them if confirmed.

Secretary of state

Trump’s pick as secretary of state is Exxon Oil executive Rex Tillerson. Brian Black of Penn State University sees the origin of the pick in the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s.

“With Tillerson, the political influence of the energy sector has reached a high point,” Black notes, “particularly because it strikes the president-elect and other observers as a sensible, mainstream selection.”

If confirmed as secretary of state, Tillerson will face huge challenges around the world, but especially in the Middle East, according to analysis by David Mendicoff of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

And yet, Mendicoff notes, Trump’s oft-repeated message that bloated government had failed to support many Americans is one that could resonate with the people of the Middle East. That point of connection could actually improve the U.S.‘s standing in this volatile region.

“If the new U.S. leader works with his pragmatic, deal-oriented nominee for secretary of state,” Mednicoff writes, “he might apply his affinities for business and construction to policies and projects that could address the region’s predominantly sociopolitical grievances. This is admittedly a huge 'if.’”

Department of Agriculture

Sonny Perdue, Trump’s choice for secretary of agriculture, will direct an agency most associate with rural America, a part of the country that helped tip the election in Trump’s favor, Jennifer Zwagerman of Drake University writes. While Perdue has strong rural roots as the former governor of Georgia, understanding the complexity of the nation’s rural places will be his first challenge.

“There’s not just one ‘rural voice,’ unified on all issues,” Zwagerman points out. “Rural communities relying on recreation tourism may support increased environmental regulations while those relying on farming or manufacturing may be opposed. Farmers may support international trade agreements that open markets to crops, while those in manufacturing fear the loss of jobs.”

Department of Energy

Another former governor, Rick Perry of Texas, is Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Energy. While Perry’s background leading an oil-rich state may appear a good fit at first blush, the department’s primary responsibilities have little to do with producing energy.

Rather, “Physical science is at the heart of everything DOE does,” writes Harvard’s William Tobey. “Indeed, it could as accurately be called the Department of Physical Science… The Energy Department’s 17 national laboratories focus on physics, chemistry, and materials and other sciences.”

Tobey writes that nearly half of the department’s US$30 billion budget goes to the National Nuclear Security Administration which produces nuclear weapons, naval reactors and works to prevent nuclear proliferation. Past leaders of DOE have come from Navy, industry and academia. As a politician, Perry would be an outlier.

Department of Education

Trump’s pick to head the Department of Education is Betsy DeVos, a billionaire heiress who has promoted school choice in her home state of Michigan.

DeVos would oversee a federal agency that has ballooned in size since 1980. Dustin Hornbeck of Miami University writes that if DeVos is confirmed, public school advocates will be following the money to predict what’s next.

“The education portion of his budget will reveal the intentions of the coming policies of the DeVos era and subsequent potential for ‘school choice,’” Hornbeck writes.

Secretary of interior

John Freemuth and Mackenzie Case of Boise State University explored two big issues that will confront U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana if he is confirmed as secretary of the interior – energy development on federal lands and transfer of some of those lands to state control.

“The question is not whether there will be a renewed push for energy development on western public lands, but how and where,” Freemuth and Case write.

On public land transfers, a perennial issue in western states, the pair sees mixed signals from Zinke, although the congressman has a history of opposing of land transfers.

Environmental Protection Agency

Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s attorney general, to head the Environmental Protection Agency is one of his more controversial picks. The Sierra Club called it like putting “an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”

Robert Percival, a professor of environmental law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, explains how Pruitt’s history of legal actions against the EPA and the federal government make him a lightning rod for environmentalists.

“Pruitt wants to repeal the Clean Power Plan and EPA’s ‘Waters of the United States’ rule, which seeks to clarify the limits of federal jurisdiction to protect wetlands,” Percival writes.

A position leading the EPA could put Pruitt into a more powerful positions, making it easier for him to achieve those goals.

Department of Health and Human Services

Unlike other Republican critics of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, Trump’s pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has offered many detailed replacement plans.

Miranda Yaver of Yale University unpacks the details of Price’s proposed plans.

According to Yaver, the following groups could be negatively impacted by the repeal of Obamacare: “People who have preexisting conditions and those who rely on Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides insurance to poor children, pregnant women of a certain income level as well as the disabled and blind under 65. Price’s policies could also limit access to care for children, women and for many people of all ages with chronic and mental illnesses.”

The American Medical Association has endorsed Price. However, over 5,000 physicians signed a letter challenging that endorsement.