Who’s coming and going in Donald Trump’s Cabinet

  • The president has been signalling that a Cabinet shuffle was in the works
  • Follows a string of high profile departures from the White House
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 2:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2018, 2:17pm

This story is published in a content partnership with POLITICO. It was originally reported by Matthew Choi on on November 20, 2018.

Now that midterms are over, US President Donald Trump hasn't wasted time starting his long-suspected Cabinet shuffle.

Only a day after the elections, Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and more top officials are expected to follow.

Here are some of the Cabinet hot seats, and a rundown of who is waiting in the wings.

Attorney General

Sessions' relationship with Trump grew testy after the former attorney general recused himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election.

The new acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, has voiced scepticism over the Mueller investigation, prompting calls from both sides of the aisle to find a permanent replacement soon.

Potential replacements:

  • Chris Christie: The former New Jersey governor was the first prominent Republican to back Trump in 2016 and was a high contender for AG before Sessions was appointed.
  • Alex Acosta: The Washington Post reported in March that Trump mused about making Acosta attorney general after seeing the labour secretary on Fox & Friends. But Acosta said he’s hesitant to take the job before Mueller’s report is released.
  • Bill Barr: Trump's team contacted Barr, a veteran attorney general from the George H.W. Bush administration, for the role, but he suggested they look at other options. Still, he didn't say no.
  • Mark Filip: Filip, another more traditional option, served as deputy attorney general during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Kris Kobach: When Kansas Secretary of State Kobach ran for governor this year, Trump said on the he hopes he loses so he can join his administration. Kobach did lose, freeing him up for the job, but at least one informal adviser doubts he would be ready for the job.
  • Matthew Whitaker: It's a long shot given the outcry over his initial appointment, but The Washington Post reported Trump toyed with making Whitaker a permanent replacement weeks before he pushed out Sessions.

Homeland Security Secretary

Rumours have been circulating that Kristjen Nielsen will likely be out soon. Trump has expressed frustration with Nielsen’s handling of his immigration policies, and her replacement will likely take a tough stance on immigration.

Potential replacements:

  • Thomas Homan: As former acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and an immigration hawk who has defended separating families at the border, Homan would be a prime pick to energise Trump's base.
  • Kevin McAleenan: The current commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, McAleenan has been tasked with finding locations and designs for Trump's border wall.
  • Major General Vincent Coglianese: Coglianese currently runs the Marine Corps Installations Command, and being on active duty could bar him from taking the job. But he is ideologically aligned with Trump.

Chief of Staff

If Nielsen is out, many believe John Kelly could soon follow. The chief of staff has been one of Nielsen’s closest allies and would likely quit on his own if Nielsen were to go, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Potential replacement:

  • Nick Ayers: Vice-President Mike Pence’s chief of staff has already curried favour within the Trump family and has emerged the leading candidate to replace Kelly at only 36 years old.

Commerce Secretary

Wilbur Ross may deny rumours that he’ll leave the administration any time soon, but those within the Trump orbit say he may be out as soon as January. Ross has played a role in trade negotiations with China, and his replacement would oversee the 2020 census.

Potential replacements:

  • Mick Mulvaney: Mulvaney, who currently serves as head of the Office of Management and Budget, previously made a bid for White House chief of staff. But now he's speaking openly of becoming Ross' successor.
  • Linda McMahon: Before joining Trump's cabinet as small business administration administrator, McMahon was a wrestling tycoon who helped turn WWE into a global brand – a feat Trump viewed as a qualification for her current position.
  • Ray Washburne: A major Republican donor, Washburne initially supported Christie's presidential bid before the New Jersey governor conceded to Trump. Washburne now serves as the president and CEO of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a government entity.
  • Karen Dunn Kelly: Currently serving as undersecretary for economic affairs at Commerce, Kelly is vying within the department to claim the top job. An agency spokesperson denied that Kelly was jockeying for the position.

Secretary of the Interior

Ryan Zinke is being investigated for possible ethics violations following a POLITICO report that he maintained ties to a real estate deal with the chairman of Halliburton. Zinke has also garnered a reputation for lavishly spending taxpayer dollars.

Potential replacements:

  • David Bernhardt: Zinke could name his own heir, passing the baton to his deputy secretary, a long-time lobbyist who will likely continue Trump’s anti-regulatory policies.

Defence Secretary

James Mattis has long clashed with Trump, offering more moderate views than the president had hoped. Trump called him “sort of a Democrat” during an interview on 60 Minutes and said “at some point, everybody leaves”.

Potential replacements:

  • Tom Cotton: The Republican senator from Arkansas is one of Trump's fiercest supporters. But Cotton said he isn't interested in the job and has already announced his bid for re-election in 2020.
  • Lindsey Graham: A similarly hawkish Republican senator, Graham proved his loyalty to Trump during the tumultuous confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But Graham hasn't expressed much interest in the position.

United Nations Ambassador

Nikki Haley announced in October she would resign from her post at the end of the year. In her resignation letter, Haley insisted she won’t challenge Trump in 2020 for the presidency.

Potential replacements:

  • Heather Nauert: A former Fox News host, Nauert now serves as the State Department's spokeswoman and acting undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

    Kelly Knight Craft: Currently serving as ambassador to Canada, Craft has prior UN experience as an alternate delegate during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Jamie McCourt: McCourt served as California co-chair for the Trump campaign and is currently deployed as ambassador to France and Monaco.
  • Ric Grenell: A US ambassador in Europe serving in Germany, Grenell also has UN experience working as a US spokesman at the United Nations during the Bush administration.