Opinion

Selecting A President’s Cabinet: Give The People A Voice

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Michael B. Abramson Author, A Playbook for Taking Back America
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Both the Republican and Democratic nominees for president should be required to announce their selections for Cabinet positions prior to the presidential election. Cabinet Secretaries have extremely powerful positions; they run government agencies and formally provide advice to the president. Knowing the nominees for the Cabinet would be very useful for Americans when they are deciding the candidate for whom they will vote. 

The President’s Cabinet is composed of secretaries (or heads) of agencies which affect almost every area of Americans’ lives. The Cabinet represents the following fifteen departments: State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, Education, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security.  Additionally, the following agencies have Cabinet-rank positions: the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Council of Economic Advisors, and Small Business Administration.

The president traditionally announces the Cabinet appointments after the election. The Senate votes on whether to confirm these individuals. A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required for an appointee to become a Cabinet Secretary.

The first reason for announcing Cabinet selections prior to the election is so that Americans will have a voice on the individuals running administrative departments. Voters would be able to influence the choice of the persons who runs government agencies because, if voters did not like a candidate’s nominees, they could vote for a different candidate. Relying on the president’s post-election choice and Senate approval is not sufficient. Cabinet Secretaries provide direction, guide policy, and oversee the operations of their respective segments of the government.

These departments exert tremendous influence over the country through the regulations and rulings that they issue. While Congress and the president pass a law, the departments shape the law, its implementation, and effect through the regulations and rulings which define it. For example, if the Congress and the president pass a law establishing and funding early childhood education, the Department of Education could issue regulations on specifics such as the curriculum or types of books which should be used. Departments issue these regulations and rulings both on laws passed in the present administration as well as ones before it. These departments are becoming more powerful and influential as the number of rulings and regulations increase. America is a democracy, and Americans should have a direct say in the people (Cabinet Secretaries) who have so much influence over their lives.

The second reason for requiring a presidential candidate to disclose Cabinet picks prior to the election is that the Cabinet selections provide a window into the president’s philosophy and decision making process. Secretaries of Departments likely share the president’s ideologies, philosophies, and views on Departmental policy or else they would not serve the president. More importantly, the president probably agrees with the Cabinet Secretary’s beliefs. 

This latter view must be the case for two reasons. First, the president would probably not seek advice from someone with whom the president disagrees about a core belief. Second, the president is entrusting great power to run agencies and would only grant this responsibility to someone the president trusted. The president is not able to be briefed on every agency decision, and the president wants departments to be administered as if he/she were the head of the departments. When the president chooses a potential Secretary, that decision is a vote of confidence in that person’s policy preferences, judgment, and abilities. 

By knowing Cabinet selections prior to the election, therefore, voters will be able to learn about a candidate’s philosophies, beliefs, and style of governing by analyzing the views of the Cabinet Secretary.  If a Cabinet nominee has an expressed view on how an element of a department should run (such as education) or a stated position on a policy (such as foreign affairs or treatment of a country), the presidential candidate probably agrees with these views. This information can provide great clarification in campaigns in which positions on issues get muddied.   

To have presidential candidates select Cabinet nominees prior to the election, the parties would likely have to nominate their candidates earlier. If potential Cabinet Secretaries were also running for office (in addition to being a Cabinet nominee), they could still be on the ballot for these positions (just as one as can be on the ballot for both Congress and Vice-President, such as Paul Ryan in 2012). The Senate would still confirm the Cabinet selections according to the provisions of the Constitution. Under the new system of announcements prior to the election, however, the people would have a more direct role in selecting the Cabinet rather than just relying on their Senators to choose the powerful heads of Departments.

The logistics of announcing Cabinet nominees prior to a presidential election might be a logistical hurdle, but the American people would benefit. Americans deserve the right to determine who runs government agencies. They should also know as much as possible about a presidential candidate as possible.

Michael B. Abramson is an Advisor with the National Diversity Coalition for Trump and the state chair of Georgia for Jews Choose Trump (www.jewschoosetrump.org).  He is an attorney in Atlanta and managing partner of the Abramson Law Firm.  He is the author of A Playbook for Taking Back America: Lessons from the 2012 Presidential Election. His articles can be found at http://www.michaelbabramson.com./  Follow him on Twitter:  @mbabramson.