Amidst the flurry of appointments, bombastic bulletins, mendacity, and over-hyped housekeeping that has marked the incoming Trump Administration is the question of policy, its implementation and those who will implement it. The popular criticism of Donald J. Trump, the man who will be the 45th president of the United States, is that he has no positions, no ideology, no logical internal consistence.
Like many popular criticisms this is a falsehood; the most comprehensive statement of the man’s ideology is his 2011 book Time to Get Tough. Crippled America, with that glowering, not “nice”cover is too filled with the superfluous self-absorbed asides of Donald Trump to paint a clear picture of the new president’s values. It’s a campaign book, and reads like one. Time to Get Tough suffers from none of these defects: issues are treated at the length they usually are in conservative popular tracts, legislation is recommended, and Trump postures as a Neo-Reagan whenever he, with a rabbinical lilt, asks “Mr. President” if he’s satisfied with himself.
Neo-Reagan is where Donald Trump would like the “neo” comparisons to end, though the temptation is always great to add a certain sinister suffix to that stem. He is not a neo-conservative (though his Departments are stacked with them), and he is not a neo-liberal; he feels no need for the faux-probity and measured countenance that afflicts those two similar breeds of politician.
Donald Trump is instead a creature familiar to America. He is not a break from the norm, and the rumors of his erraticity are greatly exaggerated. He is an American Conservative.
Dianna Furchtgott-Roth, who is a member of Trump’s Labor Department Landing Team wrote this the day after the election: “Many people say Donald Trump is a different kind of Republican. Yes, he is unusual in that he isn’t a politician by trade and eschews politicians’ doublespeak. But most of his political positions are right down the traditional Republican line.”
She’s right, and she would know.
“Bush Has Been So Bad, Maybe the Worst President in the History of this Country”
Those were Donald Trump’s words in the aftermath of Obama’s election in 2008. His spat with Jeb Bush and supposed repudiation of the Bush legacy on the Iraq War was a through-line for the 2016 election, and allowed him to position himself against the neoconservative foreign policy defended casually by Hillary Clinton.
The public presentation of his domestic policy hits more familiar marks.
Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers, likened Andy Puzder’s selection as incoming Labor Secretary to putting a fox in a chicken coop. Those foxes have already multiplied, and come from all quarters but a single direction. That direction is the Bush Administration, the supposed enemy of Trump.
The first pair of foxes are a dynamic duo from Americans for Limited Government, a conservative organization with the motto “Rolling Back Government on Every Front.” Nathan Mehrens and Richard Manning are two members of the transition landing team preparing to bulldoze the Labor Department. Manning is the President of Americans for Limited Government, and Mehrens the General Counsel and President of Americans for Limited Government Foundation. The two men write at the organ of the their organization, NetRightDaily, as well as publishing op-eds in places like The Hill and Investor’s Business Daily. Mehrens and Manning were also both former members of the Bush Labor department, and much of what they write concerns the department, disagreement about regulations, and distrust of unions in government.
A couple of weeks after the election of Donald Trump, Mehrens wrote an article about a tranche of regulations that should be repealed immediately. He calls the regulations “impos[itions] on business,” language he uses often. He called an OHSA questionnaire “ludicrous” and claimed it contained “exactly zero questions dealing with matters of health and safety.” Section IV of the questionnaire is titled Corporate control over safety and health policies and practices at the franchise, and includes some of the following questions:
“Does corporate provide franchisee with any type of safety program…
Does corporate set any standards for safety training…
Does Corporate provide any instruction to franchisee about keeping injury and illness data…”
Change his sentence to “exactly zero questions dealing with matters of health and safety [appear on the first page and a half]” and his statement becomes remarkably accurate; the real value of it though is its uncovering (buried shallow) of his boilerplate conservative position against regulation for business (which is tediously but effectively referred to as “employers” throughout nearly everything written by everyone referred to in this article). This aversion to regulation does not extend to the monitoring and increased oversight of any and all union and unionization activity.
Mehrens reveals his labor position most succinctly in an article dealing with the coming Labor defeat in the Supreme Court on the “agency shop agreement.” With Donald Trump tasked with appointing the next Supreme Court Justice, who will break the 4-4 stalemate, that case is guaranteed to go against unions. He disputes the idea that public sector unions can provide employees with any services that are not inherently ideological.
“Since all bargaining with a public sector employer (bargaining with you and me as the taxpayers)” he writes, “is essentially a political act attempting to achieve a desired result from the government, it stands to reason that no public sector employee should be forced to pay any agency fees at all.”
Mehrens has worked as head of the organization since 2013. He’s spent much of his career at various political advocacy agencies, including one called Stop Union Political Abuse. His time there was spent first as Director of Research, where he described his role as “Manag[ing]Congressional lobbying efforts and lead[ing] programs to influence federal agencies.”
Mehrens has also written that the National Labor Relations Board should have its authority “pared back,” something that would be under the purview of Congress. Requests for comment from Mehrens (and everyone else mentioned in this article) were not answered, but according to the Labor Department the landing teams have been busy meeting with officials in the department since before Thanksgiving.
Mehrens’ work has been defined by anti-union activity, backed by an assumption of implicit malfeasance in the activities of the organizations. In his work at SUPA the organization disbursed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Congress members and a federal bureaucracy it sought to bend to its anti-regulatory agenda. Money was given to people like Representative Tom Feeney, who from 2006-2008 made the Center for Responsibility and Ethics’ “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress” report.
In his time at the Bush Labor Department under Elaine Chao, Trump’s incoming Transportation Secretary, Mehrens’ worked on drafting regulations to beef up the Office of Labor-Management Standards, whose function is to provide oversight and regulation of labor unions.
Rick Manning worked in the same Labor Department as Nathan Mehrens, where he served as the chief of staff for the Office of Public Affairs, the public relations wing of the Department. He included within his expertise labor union oversight, Mehrens’ field of expertise. Manning also has a history of work in conservative political organizations. In 1999 He worked as coalitions and outreach coordinator for the campaign of J.C. Watts, who as a representative from Oklahoma stuck closely to Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America agenda. Gingrich (who wrote a letter to the New York Times praising Andy Puzder as Labor Secretary pick) is one of many Vice Chairs on the Transition Executive Committee, and has written (in his 2008 book Real Change) about increasing funding to the Office of Labor-Management Standards, an office both Mehrens and Manning have experience with.
Manning wrote an article for The Hill in October titled ‘Sorry, Allstate CEO: Profit is the Only Responsibility of a Corporation’ taking to task Tom Wilson for suggesting that corporations should look at other aspects of business practices outside the maximization of profit. In it he also bashed pension funds that take into account social and environmental concerns, calling such activity “play[ing] social do-gooder.”
Americans for Limited Government
Both Nathan Mehrens and Rick Manning are the only paid employees of Americans for Limited Government Research Foundation Inc. and Americans for Limited Government Inc. Nathan Mehrens, whose services to the transition have been offered on a volunteer basis, was paid $104, 015 in 2014, the last year records are available, while Rick Manning, who is also volunteering for the transition, received $18,000. Compensation throughout the years reviewed in IRS 990 filings are inconsistent, with salaries varying in some years from $0 to $100,000 and slightly above.
Over the past five years the Americans for Limited Government Foundation took in support totaling $5.8 million.
The organization maintains two websites monitoring large unions, UFCW Monitor and SEIU Monitor. Mehrens and Manning will now direct hiring of the federal employees that will likely regulate and provide oversight for the unions they so clearly dislike, from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union, both among the top five largest unions in the United States, to smaller organizing movements trying to get off the ground.
The Trump Labor Department’s landing team is stacked with ex-Bush officials, some of whom served as far back the administration of Bush I. Diana Furchgott-Roth took her first turn under a Bush from 1991-1993, when she was the deputy executive director of the White House Domestic Policy Council and the associate director of the Office of Policy Planning. She came to H.W. from the Reagan administration, where Bush had been a powerful Vice President through both terms, and where from 1986-1987 she was an economist on the staff of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors.
Under the second Bush she returned to her Reagan Administration role from 2001-2002 before becoming the chief economist of the Chao Labor Department from 2003-2005.
Since then she’s been a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, housed on Vanderbilt Avenue just blocks away from J.P. Morgan’s constellation of buildings over on Madison. Furchtgott-Roth has argued against raising the minimum wage in articles for the institute. In a video published the day after the election her colleague Oren Cass, another Senior Fellow at the Institute (where there are a preponderance of Senior Fellows, many quite senior fellows), proposes wage subsidies as an alternative, which has the government rather than businesses cover small rises in wages.
F. Vincent Vernuccio III
Vernuccio was once called a “top union watchdog” by Fox Business’ Stuart Varney. Like Nathan Mehrens and Rick Manning, Vernuccio has a rich history of loudly calling for less regulation on businesses and more oversight of labor unions. Vernuccio is another member of the Chao/Bush entourage. He was special assistant to the Assistant Secretary for Administration & Management in the last year of Bush’s second term. There he worked administering the Labor-Management Reporting & Disclosure Act, which was passed in 1959 ostensibly to crack down on undemocratic and corrupt union behavior. The law regulates to a degree the internal workings of unions, as well as mandating reporting by union officials of potential financial interest in spheres their work might bring them into.
After government Vernuccio spent nearly four years as a labor consultant before he hooked up with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another free enterprising policy shop which does not publish its donor list but is tightly intertwined with big business (Myron Ebell, a climate change denier who ran the Trump EPA transition team that produced future EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, is a longtime CEI member). Vernuccio spent two years at the Institute as Labor Policy Counsel, writing articles denouncing “Big Union” before heading on to righter pastures at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. There, as Director of Labor Policy, he’s consistently made the case for “Right to Work,” a setup endorsed roundly by the Republican National Platform and explicitly by Donald Trump, who said in February “I like right-to-work better.”
Dreiband works at the massive law firm Jones Day, which according to Above the Law employs over two and a half thousand lawyers and pulled in revenues of $1.9 billion during the last reporting period. Eric Dreiband was Deputy Administrator of the Wage and Hour Division from 2002-2003, where he worked on the regulation that raised the salary limit for overtime workers. Trump’s new Labor Department will work on getting rid of the Obama Labor Department’s rule that raised the limit again, to make employees earning under $47,476 eligible for overtime. Dreiband’s expertise in the Wages and Hour Division, the office in the Labor Department that manages regulation governing overtime, will position him well to pick employees and draft clarifying documents on the extent of the change. Dreiband is, like many on the landing team, an opponent to secret-ballot union elections.
He will also be spearheading the transition over at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where he was General Counsel from 2003-2005.
Before Mark Cowan served in the White House he was an operations officer and country desk chief for the CIA, and then from 1973-1979 the Assistant Legislative Counsel to the Director of the CIA. He served under three in that time; William Colby, George H.W. Bush, and Stansfield Turner. That wasn’t the last Cowan saw of Bush. Cowan served as a presidential appointee under three administrations, through which one similarity ran: Bush. Under Reagan’s presidency with the powerful H.W. as Vice President Cowan was at the labor department, first as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, then Chief of Staff & counselor to the Secretary of Labor. Then under H.W. Cowan was the Commissioner of the National Commision on Employment Policy. After a break in the Bush run, Cowan came back for a tenure on George W. Bush’s Council on the 21st Century Workforce, established by an Executive Order and replacing Bill Clinton’s Commission on Workers, Communities, and Economic Change in the New Economy. Clinton’s council head was chosen by the president from the members of the commission (who he appointed), while Bush’s was de facto the Secretary of Labor. Clinton’s commission was to be made up of, among other groups, individuals who represent labor organizations, while Bush’s only demanded “individuals who represent the views of…labor organizations.”
Cowan parlayed his government career into private lobbying, spending 12 years as a partner at the high powered Patton & Boggs law firm (since merged with Squire to become Squire Patton Boggs), which made $42 million in 2012. He now works with The Spectrum Group, a vague, massive consulting group which is working closely with the transition. In 2013 the company made just north of $7 billion. Cowan found time to found his own firm as well, Cowan Strategies. With many of these companies it’s difficult to pinpoint what it is they say they do, but Cowan Strategies lays it all out on the table:
“We are able to effectively impact federal policy development, shape the perceptions of decision makers and facilitate investment opportunities in Washington and in capitals around the world. Cowan Strategies’ network includes former senior Congressional staff, Administration officials, retired military officers, intelligence professionals, scientific experts, C-level business executives, public relations specialists, and others who possess extensive legislative, regulatory, political and subject-matter expertise to ensure that our clients and their interests are addressed in an efficient and effective manner.”
The company’s slogan is “The Intersection of Global Business and Government.”
In April Donald Trump gave a speech warning against the “false song of globalism.” Mark Cowan is one of its singers.
Smith’s time as special assistant in the Chao Department of Labor Office of Public Affairs overlapped with Rick Manning’s. Before his tenure there he worked in public affairs at the Office of Special Counsel, and as legislative assistant to Representative Vito Fossella of New York. Since 2009 he’s been at Capital Alpha Partners, LLC, which describes itself as “an independent research boutique, specializing in the investment implications of government actions.” To that end, it caters to “the institutional investor community,” drawing analysts from Wall Street and policy backgrounds. Capital Alpha Partners itself came out of Prudential Equity Group’s Washington Research Team. Smith’s areas of expertise at the firm include Labor and Industrials coverage, which the company announced he would halt his coverage on during his time on the transition.
Some of his other areas of expertise are transportation and infrastructure, which he has not indicated he will stop covering. Like all the other members of the landing team, he is working on a voluntary basis. This volunteering extends to heading the transition in the Federal Labor Relations Authority, the National Labor Relations Board, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Board, the National Mediation Board and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
Zelden is ostensibly more in the private sector than any of his landing team companions. After directing Louisiana US Senator Bill Cassidy’s Southwest Regional office for a year, he moved to CRC Global Solutions, where he is an executive and claims a specialization in importing and exporting to European markets, “primarily from the Port of New Orleans.”
He is also a longtime lobbyist. Before his two latest jobs he spent time at a string of lobbying firms including two he founded. In 2009 Bell, Heroux & Zelden earned $325,000 and from 2008 to 2014 pulled in a total of $1,275,000. From 2001 to 2005 Zelden Consulting Group earned $400,000.
The incoming Labor Secretary was praised by the Wall Street Journal editorial board when Donald Trump picked him, and identified Puzder’s chief challenge as “flipping an entrenched bureaucracy.” Flipping is a good word for what will likely be the path, from the bureaucracy staffed by Obama appointees and hires back to the one Elaine Chao and George W. Bush oversaw.
Puzder is a committed free market ideologue. In 2010 him and David Newton wrote “Job Creation: How It Really Works and Why Government Doesn’t Understand It,” a book ProPublica described as a “deregulatory manifesto.” Puzder’s co-author, reported ProPublica, opposes raising the minimum wage and supports “right-to-work.”
In an email back in November Newton was “really looking forward to Trump’s economic and tax plans to get America back to 4.5%-to-5.5% GDP growth with ‘true’ U6 unemployment at/under 5% and robust new job creation with limited govt spending/deficits.”
Puzder has laid out arguments in the Wall Street Journal detailing consequences he sees setting a minimum wage will have, particularly in restaurants like those owned by the company he is chief executive of, CKE Restaurants, as well as testifying in front of the Republican chaired Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions to detail flaws in the Affordable Care Act. With the prospect of fiery hearings expected on such nominees as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Attorney General Jeff sessions, and perhaps Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, one might think that certain nominees, and Puzder himself could be blocked (they won’t be). But Puzder has faced subdued scrutiny after a flurry of media attention and perfunctory press releases following the announcement of his nomination; there is little opposition to him in the HELP committee and that which does exist is made irrelevant by the simple majority Republicans hold in that chamber. And Puzder comes from the same ideological lineage as those Republicans; were he not confirmed the bureaucracy installed by the landing teams would remain, and any alternative to him could hardly be any different.
-By Marlon J. Ettinger