Outcry over Trump’s unqualified Cabinet appointments demands a robust oversight effort to hold them accountable, CAP Action’s Neera Tanden says.
Washington, D.C. — Despite the massive public outcry against many of President Donald Trump’s unqualified Cabinet appointments, the Republican-controlled Senate is moving full speed ahead to confirm his nominees. Today, the Center for American Progress Action Fund announced the launch of “Trump Cabinet Watch,” a new and ongoing series of investigations, reports, and analyses that will ensure that Trump’s political appointees are held accountable as they take government office. At CAP Action, investigatory teams led by seasoned policy experts—many of whom previously served in the agencies now controlled by Trump political appointees—will use policy analysis; Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests; compliance checks; oversight of political personnel picks; and more to hold accountable Trump’s newly installed Cabinet secretaries.
“Republicans in the Senate have pulled out all the stops to confirm Trump’s unqualified and controversial Cabinet appointees—even suspending the Senate’s rules to jam nominees through or calling in the vice president to break a tie for a deadlocked vote of the full Senate,” said Neera Tanden, President and CEO of CAP Action. “As Trump’s cronies take their place atop key government agencies, CAP Action will hold these political appointees accountable.”
CAP Action’s Trump Cabinet Watch will launch with oversight of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, with additional Cabinet secretaries and agencies to be added as they are confirmed. The following lists are not exhaustive but cover some of the activities CAP Action will monitor as the new administration gets underway.
At the U.S. Department of Justice, or DOJ, CAP Action will monitor:
- Any attempt to undermine civil rights. CAP Action will track DOJ staffing patterns and grant allocations to expose if Attorney General Sessions shifts resources in a way that undermines civil rights and politicizes the DOJ. CAP Action will monitor to determine if DOJ has maintained involvement or abdicated responsibility in ongoing cases and consent decrees.
- Hostility toward criminal justice reform and support for so-called law-and-order policies that are outdated and fail to reflect research and data on how to effectively reduce crime. CAP Action will hold Sessions accountable if he inaccurately describes crime rates or gives funding for so-called tough-on-crime strategies that do not work. CAP Action will track and call out any attempts to undermine the independence of DOJ scientific agencies, including the National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics.
- Any unwillingness to act as an independent check on Trump administration policies. Where necessary, CAP Action will call on Sessions to form bipartisan, independent commissions to investigate clear violations of the law by members of the Trump administration, including all aspects of Russia’s operation targeting the 2016 presidential election. Through FOIA requests and tracking coverage, CAP Action will expose any attempt by Trump and Sessions to distort the DOJ to serve their own ends rather than protect the American people.
- Moves to weaken protections for women. In 2013, Sessions was one of just 22 senators to vote against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. CAP Action will work to ensure Sessions upholds the law despite his personal opposition. There have already been reports that the administration plans to defund the Violence Against Women grants in the Department of Justice. This could affect survivors of violence in need of support services and programs targeting men and boys at risk for perpetuating violence against women.
- Briefs and complaints filed by the DOJ that expose where Sessions has undermined the good work of his predecessors. CAP Action will ascertain how productive and active in enforcement Sessions’ DOJ is relative to the department under former attorneys general Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder. CAP Action will track any rise in criminal prosecutions, any change in civil rights enforcement, and any reduction in the number of amicus briefs filed in civil rights cases.
- The DOJ’s antitrust division to guard against growing concentration of economic power that raises prices, undermines wages, and corrupts the political process. CAP Action will also monitor for corrupt interference in the independent enforcement of antitrust laws.
At the U.S. Department of Education, CAP Action will monitor:
- Secretary DeVos’ conflicts of interest, many of which are related to her and her family’s various business holdings and investments. The U.S. Department of Education has enormous regulatory power in a number of areas, including federal student loans and for-profit colleges. Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress published an investigation of her many financial holdings related to education.
- Real-world impact of policy proposals from the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress on students, families, schools, and teachers. CAP Action will continue to offer progressive alternatives to harmful programs—such as vouchers. These alternatives would support public education and vulnerable students.
- Any ongoing DeVos family campaign donations to members of the U.S. Senate, including those that voted to confirm Betsy DeVos’ nomination. According to CAP analysis, 21 Republican senators that voted on DeVos’ nomination received, collectively, nearly $1 million in political donations from Betsy DeVos and her family.
- Secretary DeVos’ understanding and adherence to federal education law, including the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, or IDEA. Famously, at her confirmation hearing, DeVos was unable to distinguish between proficiency and growth when it comes to student assessment and also failed to recognized that the IDEA is a federal law that governs the education of students with disabilities.
- Attempts to sell out higher education students. In her confirmation hearing, DeVos refused to defend key regulations that protect students from predatory career training programs. She also offered no solutions for dealing with student debt or preserving key features of federal student loans. CAP Action will hold DeVos accountable for any attempts to weaken protections for students or otherwise sell them out to banks or predatory colleges.
- Secretary DeVos’ commitment to protecting civil rights and the rights of students with disabilities. In addition to her confirmation hearing flub on the IDEA, Politico reported that DeVos met with Sen. Jim Lankford (R-OK)—a longtime, vocal critic of the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, or OCR—to discuss the office’s role in handling campus sexual assault and other key civil rights issues.
- Whether President Trump’s political appointees at the U.S. Department of Education are committed to ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students. Before DeVos was even confirmed, at least one Trump campaign staffer appointed to serve at the U.S. Department of Education was found to have made hateful, racist posts on social media.
At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, CAP Action will monitor:
- Efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, without an immediate replacement. Although Secretary Price has promised that Trump will not “pull the rug out on anyone,” the current congressional strategy to repeal the ACA without an immediate replacement would result in 32 million people becoming uninsured. Price’s own supposed replacement legislation would likely result in many people becoming uninsured, facing higher costs, or losing critical consumer protections. CAP Action will continue to resist efforts to repeal the ACA and will continue to analyze alternative proposals as they emerge.
- Efforts to undermine America’s health care safety net, including any attempt to gut the Medicaid program by converting its financing structure to a block grant or per-capita cap, both of which would shift costs to states and likely result in millions of low-income people becoming uninsured. Furthermore, Trump’s nominee to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, supports a variety of harmful changes to the Medicaid program, including work requirements, premiums and increased cost-sharing, and reduced benefits.
- Proposals that would change Medicare to a premium support model, which would massively shift costs to seniors over time. CAP Action opposes premium support for Medicare and will work to hold President Trump to his campaign promise to protect Medicare.
- Efforts to defund Planned Parenthood or make changes to the birth control mandate or other women’s preventive health services. Secretary Price arrives at HHS with a long anti-choice record, having voted numerous times while in Congress to limit women’s access to vital reproductive health care, including by defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting access to abortion, and changing the ACA’s birth control coverage requirement. CAP Action will continue to analyze how defunding Planned Parenthood would further reduce health care options for low-income women and women of color and how changes to the birth control coverage mandate or other women’s preventive health services could change the entire scope of women’s health coverage and further disadvantage vulnerable communities.
- The continuity of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which has generally received bipartisan support and must be reauthorized later this year. While in Congress, Secretary Price repeatedly voted against CHIP, which is a critical lifeline for millions of low-income children. CAP Action will advocate strongly for CHIP extension and hold Secretary Price accountable if he does not support this bipartisan program.
At the U.S. Department of the Treasury, CAP Action will monitor:
- Attempted giveaways to Wall Street. A recent executive order directed the Treasury Department to revisit the Dodd-Frank Act, the Wall Street reform package put in place after the global financial crisis that wrecked the U.S. economy. CAP Action will expose any attempt to reopen the Wall Street casino.
- Efforts to rig the tax code. The Treasury Department ensures the nation’s tax laws are being enforced fairly and plays an important role in changes to the tax system. CAP Action will monitor the Treasury Department’s actions on tax policy and enforcement to ensure the Trump administration is not further rigging the tax code in favor of the wealthy few.
- Efforts to instill a tax code for the wealthy and self-dealing tax breaks. As treasury secretary, Mnuchin will be in charge of advising the president on tax policy. Based on financial disclosures, both Mnuchin and Trump have taken maximum advantage of pass-through businesses to reduce the taxes they pay, and Trump’s campaign proposed a huge cut to the pass-through business tax rate. CAP Action will monitor the administration’s tax policy proposals for widening of the pass-through loophole to benefit lucrative businesses, such as those owned by Mnuchin and Trump.
- Access to homeownership. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s two largest mortgage buyers, are government-backed enterprises that help make the mortgage market work for working- and middle-class families. CAP Action will watch for any policies that would hurt the housing market, such as turning Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into purely private entities that do not have a responsibility to serve the broad American public.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, CAP Action will monitor:
- Actions to undo the Obama administration’s progress to address climate change and cut greenhouse gas pollution from power plants, oil and gas operations, and cars and trucks. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Administrator Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times to block EPA rules, including the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever carbon pollution standards for power plants. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set limits on pollution that endangers public health and the welfare of future generations, including carbon pollution. CAP Action will hold Administrator Pruitt accountable to the letter of the law and monitor the agency for conflicts of interest that give an unfair advantage to polluters.
- Efforts to weaken limits on toxic mercury pollution from power plants. Mercury is a powerful toxin that can damage the developing neurological systems of babies and children. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Administrator Pruitt unsuccessfully sued to block the EPA from setting limits on the amount of mercury power plants can spew into the environment. CAP Action will monitor any efforts to weaken mercury pollution standards at the expense of children’s health.
- The agency’s adherence to science when setting air quality standards. The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set national ambient air quality standards—essentially, the level of pollution that is safe to breathe without adverse health effects—based on the latest science. Administrator Pruitt could rescind recent standards for smog-forming ozone pollution and issue a weaker standard that would leave children, the elderly, and others vulnerable to respiratory disease. CAP Action will call out any attempts to cater to polluters rather than listen to scientists when implementing the Clean Air Act.
- Attempts to take away the ability of California and other states to set stronger air pollution standards for vehicles. The Clean Air Act gives California special authority to set emissions standards for vehicles that are stronger than federal standards, given the state’s unique history and intractable pollution problems. Other states can opt into those standards as well. Administrator Pruitt has said he is a staunch supporter of federalism and wants to give states more flexibility and power to implement the nation’s environmental laws, but he has cast doubt on whether he will continue to support California’s clean cars framework. CAP Action will fight any efforts to undermine California’s leadership in building a cleaner vehicle market and cutting pollution from the transportation sector.
- Attempts to cut environmental organizations, public health advocates, and communities of color out of the process. Administrator Pruitt has demonstrated his willingness to side with the oil and gas industry and other polluters over what is best for the public interest. CAP Action will monitor the agency’s efforts to communicate with and listen to the concerns of all stakeholders, including low-income communities and communities of color that could face disproportionate impacts from efforts to weaken the country’s environmental laws.
- Efforts to weaken enforcement of the nation’s environmental laws. While attorney general in Oklahoma, Administrator Pruitt disbanded the office’s environmental protection unit, calling into question his commitment to holding polluters accountable to violations of the law. CAP Action will monitor federal enforcement of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws and ensure that the EPA is holding state enforcement agencies accountable to a strong standard.
For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at gro.noitcassergorpnacirema@ssierpa or 202.478.6331.