Monday, Feb. 11, 2019 | 2 a.m.
The votes are in, and the winner of the Worst Trump Cabinet Member competition is …
It’s the first time a secretary of commerce has ever won the title. Don’t let me hear you complaining that this administration hasn’t accomplished anything.
The Ross victory is a little suspect, since it came right after he gave an interview in which he expressed befuddlement about why furloughed government workers were going to food banks and homeless shelters when they could, you know, just go see their banker and take out a loan.
Do you think he was making a play for first place? Nah, that was just Wilbur being Wilbur, the guy who happily marveled that when President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia, “there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere.” When reminded that the Saudi government has a way of making protesters disappear, Ross admitted “in theory that could be true” but quickly added, “there was certainly no sign of it.”
Until then, Ross’ biggest claim to Cabinet fame was perhaps his habit of falling asleep at meetings. Hey, the man is 81. Give him a break.
Coming in a close second was Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, followed by that perennial favorite, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
Nielsen, who one reader called “the queen of mendacity,” got votes for her work separating thousands of families at the Mexican border. The Trump immigration policies were on so many people’s minds, they put Stephen Miller in fourth place even though he’s not actually in the Cabinet.
Miller, a 33-year-old senior adviser to the president, is a longtime enemy of bipartisan immigration reform who’s a chief architect of Trump’s wall-mania. So it’s sort of pleasant to mention, just for the heck of it, that lately Miller’s seemed to be trying to fight premature balding by spraying some kind of black stuff on the top of his head.
Our voting results are not entirely scientific, given readers’ demand to be able to vote for two, three or 12 different contenders. (“Why not give it to them all? My daughter played softball and everybody got a trophy.”)
DeVos, a former Worst Cabinet Member winner, has faded a bit as her ineffectiveness appeared to mitigate some of her bad intentions. Nevertheless, it’s clear our readers have been keeping an eagle eye on what she’s been up to. One voter cited “her disinterest in addressing the national student debt crisis; her support of private institutions’ shady loan practices; her bungling of college campus sex policy; and her complete lack of knowledge and interest in classroom achievement.”
Other high-rankers in the Worst contest were Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Some readers mentioned Pompeo’s cheerful visit to Saudi Arabia that was highlighted by “his boys-will-be-boys willingness to overlook the savage murder of Saudi Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson got quite a few votes despite a certain lack of, um, public presence. (“What happened to Ben Carson? No, seriously. What happened to him? Did he fall asleep in a chair somewhere? Did he ever get out of that elevator?”)
Ditto Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, whose most notable recent achievement was being the Cabinet member who stayed away from the State of the Union address so he could run the country if everybody else got assassinated. We do not want to pursue this thought for any number of reasons.
There were virtually no votes for either the head of the Department of Interior or the Environmental Protection Agency. Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt were big Worst contenders in the past, but they’re gone now, thrown into the darkness for various embarrassments along the line of super-expensive trips on the public dime and, in Pruitt’s case, telling an aide to inquire about purchasing an old mattress from a Trump hotel.
Now Trump has announced that he’s nominating David Bernhardt to be his new secretary of the Interior. Bernhardt is a former oil lobbyist whose biggest interest in public lands appears to involve drilling on them. I’ll bet we hear a lot more of him next time around.
The list goes on and on. There’s hardly a Cabinet member who doesn’t seem to be driving readers crazy. Some of them are losing sleep over the fact that Sen. Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, is running the Department of Transportation while her family runs an international shipping company. (“I’m not convinced she would win a prize — there are so many corrupt contenders. But she might get a (dis)honorable mention.”) Chao is also a big fan of privatizing things — including the Federal Aviation Administration.
Truly, we should give a shout-out to Trump for creating such a memorable bunch of top officials. “I have followed politics a very long time … and this is the first time I can actually name more than one or two Cabinet people from memory, because they are so freaking dangerously bad,” moaned one reader.
Think about it. How many members of the Obama Cabinet can you recall? Even when George W. Bush was hanging out with Dick Cheney, did you know who was running the Department of Commerce?
At least we’re all paying attention.
Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.