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WASHINGTON — U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is naming an unprecedented number of generals and billionaire business executives to his proposed Cabinet, raising eyebrows on Capitol Hill and beyond.
Trump’s proposed inner circle will feature at least three generals, including retired Marine General James Mattis to lead the Pentagon. Mattis has strong opinions on America’s influence on the world stage, as witnessed on Capitol Hill earlier this year.
“Are we demonstrating a decisive form of leadership or are we demonstrating impotence?” Mattis asked at a House hearing examining the threat posed by Islamic State.
Trump has also named five billionaire investors and corporate executives for top posts, including ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.
“Rex will be a fierce advocate for America’s interests around the world,” the president-elect said at a recent public rally.
But advocacy is a duty Tillerson has shunned as a leader in the petroleum industry.
“Whether it’s Russia or Yemen or wherever, the Middle East — I’m not here to represent the United States government’s interest,” he said earlier this year at a business leadership forum. “I’m not here to defend it, nor am I here to criticize it. That’s not what I do. I’m a businessman.”
Trump’s nominees from the corporate world reflect his oft-stated belief that titans of commerce and industry can do more good for America than career civil servants and politicians. The evolving composition of the incoming administration has not gone unnoticed by lawmakers.
“It does concern me, just the number of generals and billionaires in Donald Trump’s picks for his nominees for the Cabinet,” Senator Chris Coons told VOA. The Delaware Democrat serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“Donald Trump will be the first American president in our entire nation’s history with no previous public service, either elected service or military service. And he needs to surround himself with folks who understand the strengths of the American civil service,” Coons added.
In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning about the very forces that will be prominent in the Trump administration.
“We need to guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” Eisenhower said in his farewell address from the White House.
Reactions from Trump, Republicans
According to Trump, there is nothing to fear.
“We’re in the process of putting together one of the great Cabinets, certainly a Cabinet with the highest IQ,” the president-elect said.
Republican lawmakers are mostly supportive of Trump’s picks so far.
“I think General Mattis is an outstanding choice for [secretary of] defense,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. “I’m optimistic the president’s going to have a good national security team, all aspects of it, in place.”
Political analyst John Hudak of the Washington-based Brookings Institution said Trump’s choices are unsurprising but could lead to pitfalls.
“This is a corporatist White House. We have elected a CEO,” Hudak said. “Typically, when a general wants something done, it gets done. When a CEO wants something done, it gets done. That’s not necessarily true in the American bureaucracy. The Cabinet picks are going to find out very quickly how different life inside the Beltway [the interstate road that encircles Washington and its suburbs] is compared to the lives that they have led.”
Senate Democrats do not have the votes to block Trump nominees by themselves, but are pressing them to make full financial disclosures, including their tax returns — something the president-elect has yet to divulge.