What he does: As the head of the State Department, the US Secretary of State is the President’s principal adviser on foreign policy. Any nonmilitary negotiations related to foreign affairs, namely international treaties and agreements, are conducted by the Secretary of State, who spends the bulk of his or her time traveling all over the globe, meeting with world leaders and representing the US in international organizations and agencies (think: NATO).
What he did: Tillerson spent the last 41 years at ExxonMobil. He was hired right out of college as an entry-level engineer, and by 2006 had worked his way up to CEO. In 2016, he was ranked 24th on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people, outranking the likes of Barack Obama (#48) and Chief Justice John Roberts (#50).
Where he stands: Tillerson’s political views mostly align with mainstream conservatism: he believes in free trade, championing such deals as NAFTA and the Trans Pacific Partnership, and he opposes US sanctions against Russia, believing them to be ineffective. On issues of climate change, Tillerson’s views diverge from President Trump’s in that he believes climate change is happening, and has, in the past, advocated for a carbon tax to help reduce greenhouse emissions. Tillerson supports the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, but has also expressed his support of the Paris Agreement, the world’s first-ever climate agreement, adopted by 195 countries and aimed toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
What to know: Tillerson isn’t the first Secretary of State to come from a “big business” background, but he is the first Secretary of State without any prior military or government experience. Successful execution of the job’s responsibilities requires an in-depth knowledge of history, international relations, and foreign policy. To this end, Tillerson has decades of experience establishing and building relationships with foreign leaders on behalf of ExxonMobil—a corporation so geopolitically responsive that it wouldn’t be a stretch to think of it as a state unto itself. (Incidentally, if ExxonMobil were a country, it would have the world’s 30th-largest economy.) Tillerson’s experience cutting deals with foreign leaders, however, also brings with it some concerns from Congress: he has a particularly strong rapport with Vladimir Putin, for example, who awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship (one of the highest honors given by Russia to foreign citizens) back in 2013.
What he does: The Secretary of Defense heads the Department of Defense (the largest organization within the federal government) and acts as the principal adviser to the President on defense policy. Outranked only by the President himself in authority over the military, the Secretary of Defense is tasked with everything from planning, developing, and executing policies concerning military affairs and national security, to navigating the more bureaucratic side of military operations by overseeing research and development, training, and resource management.
What he did: Mattis is a retired four-star general, making him the highest-ranking military official to lead the Pentagon. In his 41 years with the Marine Corps, Mattis served as a field commander in the Persian Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. Because Mattis only retired from the military in 2013, however, his appointment required a congressional waiver: the Secretary of Defense is a civilian position, and any former military personnel appointed to the post are supposed to have been retired for at least seven years. Mattis is the first exception to this rule since President Truman appointed George Marshall to the position in 1950.
Where he stands: To many outside observers, Mattis was a surprising addition to the Trump cabinet. He disagrees with the President on some key issues, including the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, the Iran Nuclear Deal, and the call to restrict travel from Muslim-majority countries. According to a profile of Mattis in Politico, his worldview is that of “an old-fashioned America-firster who couples his belief in military strength with a sober hesitation to use it.”
What to know: Despite technically being ineligible for the job of Defense Secretary, the Senate approved Mattis’s nomination with a 98-1 vote (the one objection was lodged by New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand). Such a wide margin of approval is especially remarkable given the fact that Trump’s cabinet nominees garnered more “no” votes in the Senate than those of any other first-term president in the country’s history. Widely respected throughout the military community, Mattis is considered a gifted commander and strategist. His reputation as a “warrior monk,” however, poses a stark contrast to his brash exterior, which has earned him the nickname “Mad Dog.” Mattis will face challenges posed by this unfamiliar terrain: while he has an irrefutable wealth of combat skills and military strategy acumen, he has minimal experience with global politics and foreign policy, and will have to learn the ropes of his job as he goes.
What he does: The Treasury Secretary serves as the President’s primary adviser on all issues relating to the economy and plays a key role in shaping fiscal policy. Functionally analogous to the CFOs of the corporate world, the Treasury Secretary manages the nation’s $19 trillion public debt by making interest payments and overseeing the auctioning of bills, notes, and bonds. Other responsibilities include manufacturing currency and enforcing federal tax and finance laws.
What he did: As a former hedge fund manager, Mnuchin is no stranger to large sums of money. He got his professional start at Salomon Brothers, but eventually ended up at Goldman Sachs, working his way up to executive vice president during his seventeen-year tenure. He’s the third former Goldman Sachs executive to serve as Treasury Secretary since the Clinton administration. Mnuchin has also dabbled in the entertainment industry, and the hedge fund that he founded, Dune Capital Management, was behind the production of films such as Avatar, Suicide Squad, and American Sniper. In April 2016, he was made the national finance chair of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Where he stands: Mnuchin is not considered to be a political ideologue; he’ll go for a good idea, regardless of which side of the aisle it happens to originate on. For example, Mnuchin has publicly entertained the possibility of the Trump administration establishing an infrastructure bank (an idea also proposed by Hillary Clinton during her presidential bid), but he also supports low taxes and fewer regulations. Mnuchin has also donated to prominent Democrats in the past, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and President Barack Obama. Among his top priorities in office, Mnuchin has cited the extraction of Freddie Mac and Frannie Mae from government control, as well as focusing on issues of cybersecurity.
What to know: There’s one point on Mnuchin’s resume that raised a lot of eyebrows during his confirmation process, and it has to do with his acquisition of IndyMac bank, a defunct mortgage lender that Mnuchin purchased and reopened as OneWest Bank. OneWest was only operational for six years, and was ultimately sold for an estimated profit of nearly $1.5 billion, but during those six years, came to be known as a “foreclosure machine,” foreclosing on more than 36,000 homes under Mnuchin’s direction. As Treasury Secretary in the Trump administration, Mnuchin will likely play an integral role in attempts to dismantle Dodd-Frank, a major piece of legislation put in place by the Obama administration to strengthen regulations on the financial industry.
What he does: The Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice. As such, the Attorney General prosecutes cases in which the US government sues an individual or corporation, and defends the US government in court when it is sued. The Attorney General is the President’s primary legal advisor.
What he did: Sessions was first elected to the Senate in 1996, representing Alabama. He spent two decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which votes on the confirmation of federal judges and conducts oversight of the Justice Department. Prior to joining the Senate, he spent two years as the Attorney General of Alabama.
Where he stands: Sessions has a very conservative record on questions of civil rights, voting rights, and environmental law. He’s a proponent of a “law and order” approach to criminal justice, and would like to slow the effects of Obama-era efforts to reduce prison populations through clemency and more lenient sentencing, particularly in drug-related crimes. In keeping with that view, Sessions is firmly anti-legalization of marijuana, having stated that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions has criticized the federal government for “overreaching” by investigating the practices of local branches of law enforcement. He has also expressed support for restricting immigration from Muslim-majority countries, and for the construction of a physical wall along the US/Mexico border.
What to know: In 1986, Sessions was nominated for a federal judge post by Ronald Reagan. The Republican-majority Senate at that time, however, found Sessions’ civil rights history so troubling, that they refused to confirm him. As the head of the Department of Justice, Sessions will be responsible for providing the legal defense of the administration’s immigration policies, overseeing federal investigations, and halting and investigating terrorist attacks. Sessions’ Senate confirmation broke almost entirely along party lines, with only one Democrat (Senator Jim Manchin from West Virginia) voting to confirm him.
What he does: The Department of Homeland Security was only formed in 2002 (prompted by the September 11th attacks), but it’s tasked with the vitally important job of preparing for, preventing, and responding to domestic threats, particularly terrorism. The Secretary of Homeland Security serves as the head of the department which, on top of antiterrorism efforts, also focuses on issues of border security, immigration and customs, and cybersecurity.
What he did: Like Mattis, Kelly is also a retired Marine Corps general with over forty years of military service under his belt. He served three tours in Iraq and spent four years as the commander of the US Southern Command, which encompasses 32 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America, as well as the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. The Southern Command has a history of focusing less on combat than other regional military commands, instead throwing its weight behind issues related to migration, drug smuggling, organized crime, and disaster relief—a list of priorities similar to those of the Department of Homeland Security.
Where he stands: Kelly is definitely a hardliner when it comes to national security, though he doesn’t necessarily agree with the Commander in Chief about how best to secure the borders. Kelly has expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a border wall, for instance, suggesting that no physical barrier will stop immigrants fleeing violence and poverty, and that aid packages to South and Central American countries might be a more effective route to curbing immigration. As head of the Southern Command, Kelly focused a lot of energy on curbing drug trafficking, and is on the same page as Attorney General Jeff Sessions when it comes to enforcement of drug laws: “The solution there is for Americans to stop doing drugs,” he said in an interview with the Military Times, adding that “we’ve got great programs to convince Americans not to do things.”
What to know: Kelly will be in charge of overseeing some of President Trump’s most controversial policy initiatives, such as the hotly-contested immigration restrictions on Muslim-majority countries, and mass deportations of undocumented South and Central American immigrants. Kelly’s tenure as head of the Southern Command gives him unique insight into the challenges inherent in defending the southern border. Kelly has stressed the importance of cooperation, humanitarian aid, infrastructure development, and human rights education to address immigration. He’ll most likely be the person in charge of building President Trump’s border wall.
What he does: The Chief of Staff is traditionally the highest-ranking White House employee, overseeing the Executive Office of the President. The Chief of Staff does not require Senate confirmation, but that doesn’t mean the role doesn’t come with its own degree of influence. The exact nature and responsibilities of the Chief of Staff vary greatly from president to president, but they’re typically in charge of managing all communications and information flow to and from the Oval Office, and deciding who makes it onto the president’s schedule. Given his close relationship with the president, the Chief of Staff is also a top adviser and sounding board on issues domestic and international, weighing in on both political and policy decisions.
What he did: Priebus has never held public office, having launched an unsuccessful bid for a Wisconsin State Senate seat in 2004. Still, as the longest-serving chairman of the Republican National Committee (serving from 2011 to 2016), Priebus is the ultimate “Washington insider.” Hailing from Kenosha, Wisconsin, a union town, Priebus came of age as a staunch Republican surrounded by Democrats. He became chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party in 2007, and is credited with helping transform his home state from a Democratic stronghold, to a thoroughly Republican political entity, flipping both state legislatures and helping Scott Walker win his 2010 run for Governor.
Where he stands: As RNC Chairman, Priebus spearheaded the famous “autopsy” of the GOP following Mitt Romney’s defeat in the 2012 presidential election. In the years in between the study (titled “Growth and Opportunity Project”) and President Trump’s candidacy, Priebus urged his party to abandon its anti-immigration platform and do more to court the LGBT community. Priebus has also implored the GOP to do more to attract women voters.
What to know: Priebus is seen as a peacemaker on Capitol Hill, and is highly adept at brokering political deals. For that reason, his appointment angered swaths of President Trump’s conservative base, who see Priebus as the embodiment of everything President Trump rallied against during his campaign, and worry that, in the interest of party unity, Priebus will be to quick to encourage President Trump to compromise on issues like tax reform, immigration, and healthcare reform—all issues he’s expected to challenge the establishment on. Also, given the president’s emphasis on personal loyalty in determining his cabinet make-up, Priebus poses yet another surprise: after the release of the Access Hollywood tapes, Priebus publicly suggested that President Trump should drop out of the presidential race. However, it seems that the assets Priebus brings to the table outweigh those criticisms: he’ll be in charge of steering President Trump’s agenda through Congress, a role that will be of the utmost importance under President Trump, given the president’s lack of political experience and minimal connections to important Washington figures. In this capacity, it helps that one of Priebus’s close friends is House Speaker Paul Ryan.
What he does: The position of Chief Strategist was created specifically for Bannon. The same day that President Trump announced the appointment of Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff, he announced Bannon’s appointment as well.
What he did: Bannon served as the chairman of the far-right Breitbart News website. Prior to that, he worked as a banker for Goldman Sachs, and also spent four years at sea with the Navy. Bannon amassed most of his current fortune after acquiring a stake in the royalties of a little show called Seinfeld.
Where he stands: As the most controversial appointment to President Trump’s cabinet, it seems fitting that Bannon espouses some of the most extreme views of anyone in the current administration. His worldview is said to hinge largely on his belief in American ‘sovereignty.’ Bannon said that countries should protect their citizens and their essence by reducing immigration, legal and illegal, and pulling back from multinational agreements.
What to know: Democrats and Republicans don’t seem to agree on much these days, but they sure have found common ground in their opposition to Bannon’s appointment. Of course, this matters little, since Bannon (like Priebus) did not require Senate confirmation. President Trump restructured the National Security Council (NSC) to make Bannon a permanent member, effectively demoting the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence (the highest-ranking military officer and intelligence officer in the country, respectively). However, on April 5, President Trump removed Bannon from this position. Up to that time, Bannon’s level of influence in the Oval Office could best be measured by the fact it was Bannon who wrote the executive order aimed toward restricting immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.
What he does: “Senior Adviser to the President” is a title given to any of the president’s high-ranking assistants. It’s a broad designation, its exact roles and responsibilities dictated by the president’s needs, the adviser’s strengths, and the nature of the relationship between the two parties. Kushner, for his part, has been tasked with heading up the newly-established White House Office of American Innovation. In an interview with the Washington Post, Kushner said of the initiative, “The government should be run like a great American company. Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens.”
What he did: The son of real estate developer Charles Kushner, Jared took over as CEO of his family’s billion-dollar real estate enterprise in 2008, when he was 27 years old. He was thrust into a leadership position with the company even earlier than that, though, taking the reins in 2004. He is also President Trump’s son-in-law, having married Ivanka Trump in 2009.
Where he stands: It’s hard to pin down Kushner’s political leanings, if for no other reason than he hasn’t made it a habit to comment publicly on President Trump’s policy initiatives. According to Politico, Kushner is “a supporter of gay rights,” and in the time since he became involved with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, “has emerged as a moderate voice” in the president’s inner circle. An Orthodox Jew, Kushner supports pro-Israel policies, and has expressed disappointment over Washington’s acceptance of the Iran Deal.
What to know: For a minute, it looked like Kushner’s role in the White House might be thwarted by an anti-nepotism law prohibiting the appointment of the president’s family members to government jobs or Cabinet positions. Kushner was cleared by the Department of Justice back in January, though, and he appears to be one of few people to have earned the President’s complete trust. Despite Kushner’s lack of political or foreign policy experience, President Trump has entrusted him with some of the most sensitive and complex diplomatic issues of today, including resolving the dispute with Mexico over the construction of a border wall, and brokering a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.