Collins: An update on Trump's worst cabinet member

Collins: An update on Trump's worst cabinet member

September 29th, 2017 by Gail Collins/New York Times News Service in Opinion Times Commentary

FILE - In this March 24, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price are seen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Congress is launching a wide-ranging examination of air travel by high-ranking Trump administration officials. The House Oversight and Government Reform committee is following up on reports that health secretary Tom Price used pricey charters when cheaper commercial flights would have done. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

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Donald Trump has just voted in the Worst Cabinet Member contest.

"We'll see," he said when asked by reporters if he was going to fire Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. I believe I speak for us all when I say this does not sound like a vote of confidence.

Price recently became famous as the guy who enjoys traveling by private charter plane at the taxpayers' expense. You would think that Trump, who loves his private planes like a family member, would be a little sympathetic to someone's distaste for commercial travel. But no.

"I am not happy about it. I'm going to look at it. I am not happy about it, and I let him know it," Trump told reporters Wednesday.

Now Price is also the guy who is waging a war against birth control that's cratering teen pregnancy prevention programs. But in this administration you can ruin federal initiatives aimed at avoiding unwanted pregnancy, and Trump — no fan of unwanted pregnancy — will completely ignore it. If Price goes down, it will be over his travel bills, which is sort of like Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion.

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Price claimed that a majority of the private charters he'd taken "were for the opioid crisis or the hurricanes." No indication of whether it was a weather disaster or drug emergency that took him to the Aspen Ideas Festival in June. Still not quite as bad as attempting to cut $6 billion from next year's National Institutes of Health research. But I say, go with what you can get. Price is terrible, and whatever sends him out of government is fine.

Do you think he's the Worst Cabinet Member? There's so much competition. Consider Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who attempted to get rebellious House members to support Trump's budget deal with the Democrats by asking them to do it "for me." Apparently Mnuchin had no idea that Republican lawmakers' affection for him was about on par with their feelings for special work sessions over holiday weekends.

Policywise, Mnuchin is an awful Treasury secretary, unless you'd been hoping the post would go to someone whose strong point is a keen understanding of all the hopes and needs of the hedge fund industry.

Plus, there's a plane thing! At one point Mnuchin tried to get a government jet to take him on his honeymoon. More recently, he used one to fly him and his wife to Fort Knox.

Mnuchin argued that Fort Knox was an important stop for a Treasury secretary because, you know, there's all that gold. When cynics speculated that the couple just wanted to be somewhere where they could get a good view of the eclipse, Mnuchin told Politico, winningly, that was silly: "You know, people in Kentucky took this stuff very serious. Being a New Yorker I was like, the eclipse? Really? I don't have any interest in watching the eclipse."

It's true. We New Yorkers do not care a bit about planetary phenomenon. We are only interested in jaywalking and hedge funds.

The Trump Cabinet is worth trashing on so many important levels that it does seem unfair to judge the members simply on the basis of stupid moves of self-gratification. You would like to see the country denouncing Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, for having stripped his agency of scientists. ("Science is not something that should be just thrown about to try to dictate policy in Washington, D.C.")

However, that seems to be working well for Pruitt in Trump Washington. So as a fallback, let's encourage discussion of the $25,000 he's spending to put a soundproof phone booth in his office.

Is there anybody in this Cabinet whom you can like? A Morning Consult/Politico poll of registered voters found Defense Secretary James Mattis had the most support — although to be honest, none of Trump's appointees exactly elicited enthusiasm. Mattis is frequently mentioned as a man standing between our president and Armageddon, so you could understand him being popular even if he got caught flying in the wrong plane.

The Trump administration has clearly gotten American people very interested in the presidential Cabinet. For instance, 24 percent of the respondents in that poll said they liked Sonny Perdue, and the idea that many people even know Perdue is secretary of agriculture is sort of a wow. Although of course it's possible that some of them thought he had something to do with chicken.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was at the bottom, presumably because a whole lot of people believe that she is trying to reorganize public education into a private venture.

DeVos — who also came in last in a readers poll I did a few months back — has been a particular foe of government attempts to crack down on for-profit colleges that cheat their students. Recently, she picked a former official in a for-profit college to lead a department anti-fraud unit.

And on this one, we know that it's the policies people don't like. DeVos is so godawful rich, she rides in private planes she pays for herself.

New York Times News Service

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