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Zirpoli: Trump cabinet qualifications? Loyalty to Trump

Remember when presidents picked the best and the brightest for important cabinet positions?

Gail Collins, writing for The New York Times, gave the honor of "worst cabinet member" of President Donald Trump's administration to Attorney General Jeff Sessions who she said once advocated capital punishment for people selling marijuana. Sessions has also garnered a lot of attention for forgetting three meetings with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearings.

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I disagree. I give Sessions credit for recusing himself from the FBI investigation of the Trump administration. I'm sure Sessions understood that this would make his temperamental boss upset (and it did — bigly). To his credit, he did it anyway, and I give him points for doing the right thing.

I think my favorite cabinet member is former Texas governor, Rick Perry, picked to be secretary of the Energy Department. Interestingly, as a candidate for president himself, Perry promised to eliminate the Department of Energy. During his confirmation hearing, however, Perry stated that "My past statements made over five years ago about abolishing the Department of Energy do not reflect my current thinking. In fact, after being briefed on so many of the vital functions of the Department of Energy, I regret recommending its elimination." In other words, when Perry said that he would eliminate the Department of Energy, he didn't know what the Energy Department actually did. Perry has since learned, probably to his surprise, that he is now responsible for our nation's nuclear weapons and power plants.

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I'm guessing that when he picked Perry, President Trump had no idea what the Energy Department did, either. Maybe Trump thought that the Energy Department managed oil production in the U.S., something Perry knows something about. Consider that Perry replaced Dr. Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and that Moniz replaced another physicist from Stanford University. A nuclear physicist to oversee our nuclear weapons and power plants? What was President Barack Obama thinking?

Perry also wanted to eliminate the Department of Education. But perhaps he has changed his mind now that he realizes that a little education, like knowing what the Department of Energy does, can be helpful. But, I give credit to Perry, who seems willing to learn and change his mind, and that he has not lost or accidentally detonated anything in his care. Yes, we all hope that Perry continues doing a good job.

Speaking of the importance of education brings me to my selection for worst cabinet selection — Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education. Sadly, DeVos has about the same amount of experience with public education as Perry has with nuclear energy. DeVos never attended a public school or university, and neither did her children. Is she at least familiar with public education issues? Not so much. When she was asked during her confirmation hearings about the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA), the most famous federal law related to students with disabilities, passed by Congress in 1975, and signed by a Republican president, DeVos didn't have a clue. This landmark law mandated that students with disabilities had the right to attend public school and receive an appropriate education. This federal law has been reinforced by Congress and upheld by multiple Supreme Court rulings for over 40 years. But DeVos stated that it should be up to each state to keep IDEA. This was a jolt to 12 percent of American families who have school-aged children with disabilities.

DeVos replaced Arne Duncan, who had extensive experience as an educator and served as superintendent of a large city school system. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush also picked experienced public school superintendents to head their education departments.

Trump, however, decided on DeVos, who has contributed millions of dollars to the GOP. DeVos also has investments in several financial companies dealing with student college loans, which she will now be regulating as education secretary. So much for draining the swamp.

Also in the No-Experience-Club is Trump's Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson. When asked by Fox News about his experience with public housing, Carson said that he lived in a city and that some of his medical patients lived in public housing.

Then there are the daughter and son-in-law appointments whose qualifications are, well, being Trump's daughter and son-in-law.

Trump held his first cabinet meeting last week. After announcing to the press that his administration has been the most successful in history — "Never has there been a president ... with few exceptions ... who's passed more legislation, who's done more things than I have," Trump said — he turned to his cabinet members for some love. One by one, they each praised the president and demonstrated their most important qualification to serve in his cabinet — their loyalty to Trump.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is program coordinator of the human services management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesday. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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