A Look At Donald Trump's Key Cabinet Picks

Dec 9, 2016
Originally published on December 9, 2016 5:15 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump promised to roll back government regulations, and two of his Cabinet picks announced this week underscore his intention to do just that. Trump plans to nominate fast food executive Andrew Puzder to head the Labor Department and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. If confirmed, the two men would signal a sharp break from the policies of the Obama administration. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now to talk about these nominations. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: All right. So Donald Trump announced his choice for labor secretary late yesterday. What can you tell us about this man?

HORSLEY: Andrew Puzder was a big contributor to Trump's campaign. And he has been advising the president-elect on economic policy. He was also an adviser to Mitt Romney four years ago, so he's not a newcomer to the political scene. He is CEO of the company that runs Carl's Jr. and Hardee's hamburger chains. And along with his franchisees, he employs tens of thousands of mostly low-wage workers.

Puzder has been critical of national efforts to boost the minimum wage, saying that would just force companies, like his, to replace more people with robots. Although, I should say there was a study by the White House economist recently that found job growth in states that raise their minimum wage - and about 18 have done so in recent years - job growth in those states was just as strong as in states that did not.

MARTIN: So what does this pick mean? Because President Obama - he was unsuccessful in his efforts to raise the federal minimum wage, but he still used the Labor Department in other ways to try to boost paychecks for American workers. So with this pick, what does it mean for those efforts?

HORSLEY: Yeah. One of the Obama administration's most ambitious efforts to boost paychecks was a Labor Department rule that would have made millions more Americans eligible for overtime pay. Right now, you have a lot of salaried workers, especially in industries like fast food and retail, who are not eligible for overtime, even though they might be working 60, 70 hours a week. That rule was scheduled to take effect last week, but it has been blocked by a federal judge. And it's one of the Obama-era regulations that the incoming labor secretary is likely to try to unwind.

MARTIN: All right. Let's move over to Trump's choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA - a controversial choice. His name is Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma state attorney general. What can you tell us about him?

HORSLEY: Yeah. The EPA has been at the heart of President Obama's climate agenda, and as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt would be a central player in unwinding that. Pruitt is a skeptic when it comes to the overwhelming scientific consensus that human pollution is contributing to a changing climate. He's a staunch ally of the oil and gas industries, which, of course, are big players in his home state of Oklahoma.

He's not only been critical of Obama's climate agenda, but he's been a leader in the legal efforts to challenge that agenda. So fossil fuel interests are cheering his selection as EPA administrator; environmentalists are cringing. The Sierra Club liken Pruitt's pick to putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.

MARTIN: Yeah. The guy who has been suing the EPA is now going to lead it if confirmed by Congress. But it's not really a surprise from Donald Trump, is it? I mean, he campaigned against Obama's climate agenda.

HORSLEY: He did. Although since the election, there had been some, you know, faint smoke signals that maybe Trump was backing away from that position. He told The New York Times he was keeping an open mind on climate issues. His daughter Ivanka reportedly wanted to make climate sort of a signature cause, and there was that much publicized meeting this week between the president-elect and Al Gore...

MARTIN: Yeah.

HORSLEY: ...Who, of course, has been an evangelist on climate issues. What the selection of Scott Pruitt suggests, though, is that you can just ignore those smoke signals. Those are a smokescreen, and the incoming president-elect does intend to gut the outgoing president's climate agenda.

MARTIN: NPR's Scott Horsley. Thank you so much, Scott.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.