President Donald Trump named R. Alexander Acosta as Labor Secretary on February 16, following the previous day’s announcement that his original nominee CKE Restaurant CEO Andrew Puzder had withdrawn himself from consideration in the wake of an assortment of scandals. Acosta, 51, who is currently Dean of Florida International University College of Law and chairman of U.S. Century Bank, holds the distinction of being the first Hispanic Assistant Attorney General, a role he held within the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department during the George W. Bush Administration. Acosta was also previously a U.S. attorney from the Southern District of Florida and a member of the National Labor Relations Board. During his tenure as the U.S. Attorney with the Southern District of Florida, his office convicted Charles Taylor Jr., the son of Liberia’s former leader of torture. He also prosecuted terrorism suspect Jose Padilla and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Acosta, who is known as Alex, received his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University.
On February 16, the Senate also confirmed South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney 51-49 to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget. The vote was largely on party lines with Republican John McCain (Arizona) voting against the confirmation. The Arizona Senator voted “no” because of Mulvaney’s past history of supporting defense budget cuts and his 2011 vote to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.
On February 17, the Senate voted today 52-46 to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. The vote was largely on party lines with Republican Susan Collins of Maine voting “no” and two Democrats from coal producing states, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, voting “yes”.
Pruitt, has been controversial in that as Oklahoma Attorney General he sued the EPA fourteen times. He has also frequently challenged the existence of climate change. Since his nomination was announced, Democrats were very vocal about their opposition. “Attorney General Pruitt made his name opposing EPA rules that protect human health and the environment, fighting against clean air and clean water, disregarding the science behind the EPA’s protections for human health and the environment, on behalf of for-profit special interests, not the public interest”, Senator Tom Udell (D-Mexico) remarked.
On the other hand, Republicans think that Pruitt is the ideal candidate to revamp the EPA, which was originally established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, a Republican. “He has consistently fought against federal intrusion,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said of Pruitt. “The EPA must accept the limits of federal power.”
Pruitt’s confirmation was further complicated by a request by an Oklahoma judge for Pruitt’s Attorney General’s Office to turn over to The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) 3,000 emails which included exchanges between his office and the coal industry. The judge order was to enforce an open records request which dates back to 2014. The CMD has alleged that the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has ignored multiple open records requests. As of Thursday night, Pruitt’s office had only turned over 411 of the emails. Democrats endeavored to use the records request as a way to delay the confirmation vote keeping the Senate in another all-night session. Ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put an end to the delay tactics calling these actions “unprecedented, harmful and pointless.”
On Friday February 17th the Trump Administration announced that the appointment of Crossroads Media founder Mike Dubke as the White House Communications Director. Dubke is an interesting choice for this role given that as a Republican communications strategist, he spent most of the 2016 Presidential Campaign creating and delivering “never Trump” messaging. For the first month of the Trump Administration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had been also simultaneously serving as White House Communications Director. Given President Trump’s interest in communicating directly with the people and the media as evidenced by his 79-minute press conference on February 16 and campaign like rallies this week in Charleston, South Carolina and Melbourne, Florida he needs a full communications staff.
Earlier this week, former Goldman Sachs Executive Steve Mnuchin and Obama Administration Undersecretary of Health David Shulkin, and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) executive Linda McMahon were respectively confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs and Small Business Administration Administrator. Confirmation votes for HUD Secretary nominee Dr. Ben Carson, Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross, Secretary of the Interior nominee Ryan Zienke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry are likely to take place within the next two weeks.
photo credit: kennethkonica #Trump wants to rule with an iron fist but this isn’t #Russia. via photopin (license)