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What you need to know for 10/18/2017

Tight race for title of Trump’s worst Cabinet member

Tight race for title of Trump’s worst Cabinet member

Tough to pick from flawed group
Tight race for title of Trump’s worst Cabinet member
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill on June 13, 2017.
Photographer: Al Drago/The New York Times

Who do you think is Donald Trump’s worst Cabinet member?

In a normal world we would never be asking this question because, of course, you would have no idea. In a normal world, an American who could come up with two Cabinet names besides the secretary of state’s would be regarded as an unusually dedicated citizen.

But this year, every appointee is a potential star. For one thing, Cabinet officials are particularly important in an administration in which nobody else — not the president, not the White House staff, not the kids — knows what they’re doing.

For another, they’ve been given an unprecedented number of early opportunities to make public spectacles of themselves.

Trump held his first full Cabinet meeting last week and the nation gaped as his team jumped into a cutthroat competition for the title of Top Toady.

(“Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can’t thank you enough for the privileges you’ve given me and the leadership you’ve shown.”)

And every day there’s an attention-getting surprise.

Under normal circumstances we do not talk a whole lot about, say, the secretary of housing and urban development.

You would be forgiven for forgetting that this one is Ben Carson. Until you heard that the new head of the department’s massive New York-New Jersey office is going to be the woman who planned Eric Trump’s wedding.

So, got to say Ben’s a comer.

Still, everybody can’t be a Worst finalist.

I’d cross off low-profile contenders like Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, even though Perdue sent out a press release promising to “Make School Meals Great Again,” and he seems to have some unusual nutrition preferences. (“I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk.”)

One definite possibility is Tom Price, secretary of health and human services — he of the “Mr. President, what an incredible honor ...” quote.

This is the guy who’s got a woman who doesn’t believe in contraception in charge of a government program on family planning.

Price also has a sleazy history of advocating legislation that could boost profits for health care companies whose stocks he was betting on.

And I haven’t even mentioned that he’s supposed to be the administration’s titan of Trumpcare.

How about Betsy DeVos?

The secretary of education showed promise from the moment she was named and delivered what Sen. Al Franken called “perhaps the worst performance by any nominee in the history of nomination hearings.”

This was the one where she appeared not to realize there are laws on the education of disabled students and floated the theory that schools might need guns to protect the kids from grizzlies.

DeVos has a weakness for any school that isn’t public. Last week she froze Obama-era reforms aimed at protecting students who enroll in for-profit schools, an area in which her family happens to have significant investments.

Champions of other nominees for Worst Cabinet Member argue that DeVos is so out of her depth that she may not be able to accomplish much.

You have to give extra attention to the people who actually appear capable of getting a load of terrible things done, like Scott Pruitt of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The problem is that Pruitt knows what he’s doing,” said Stephanie Schriock of Emily’s List.

Pruitt, of course, helped prod Donald Trump into dropping out of the Paris climate accord, although chances are the big guy didn’t need a whole lot of urging.

Norman Eisen, a longtime ethics expert and government watchdog, was tempted by DeVos and Price, but decided in the end that “the pick of the litter is [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney by a nose.”

You may remember that when Mulvaney introduced his first budget, observers discovered he had counted the same $2 trillion twice.

“So many choices,” said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

At first Ornstein refused to pick for Worst, arguing that the contest for most awful Cabinet member should be treated like a kid’s athletic competition where everybody’s a winner.

In the end, however, he went for Attorney General Jeff Sessions. (“Racist on voting rights and more, bringing back mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, promoting the cancer of private prisons.”)

Sessions, I have to say, was a super-popular choice among Cabinet-watchers I talked with.”

His views are just terrible and he runs into so much trouble,” one senator understated.

This is, of course, the Jeff Sessions who once advocated capital punishment for marijuana dealers and who spent last Tuesday at a Senate hearing in which he humiliated himself while attempting to protect a president who won’t even offer him a word of support.

In fact, Jeff Sessions would probably be Donald Trump’s least favorite Cabinet member. Does that make you want to vote for him more or less? 

Tell me your top Worst, people.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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