Trump says he likes people with strong opinions and welcomes a diversity of opinion within his team. Well, the test is set to begin.
What have Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, and John Kelly got in common? Well, they have three things – probably more actually, but for the sake of keeping this article shorter than War and Peace, let’s focus on three things.
And they are as follows.
Number one, they are top men in President Trump’s Cabinet. John Kelly is Secretary of Homeland Security, James Mattis is the Secretary of Defense, and Rex Tillerson is shortly to be the new Secretary of State.
Number two, they are known as strong men. Kelly and Mattis are retired generals, and indeed Mattis has also earned the moniker ‘mad dog’, while Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, is not exactly a pussy cat.
Number three, they all disagreed with Trump’s executive order applied to visitors to the US from seven, mainly Muslim countries.
But that’s okay, we are told. President Trump welcomes debate, he wanted a team of people who can stand up to him and argue their ground.
His Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin is reported to be a supporter of Janet Yellen, chair at the Fed, a woman who has been the subject of scathing comments from Trump.
But how much does he really welcome debate?
He has already fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general, but that is hardly the same thing. Ms Yates told Justice Department Lawyers not to defend the Trump executive order. In a letter, she wrote: “I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right. At present I am not convinced that the defense of the executive order is consistent with these responsibilities, nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.”
But then Ms Yates was an Obama appointee. The White House accused her of betraying US citizens. That was a bit over the top, but it is no surprise that she was fired, and no doubt she fully expected it.
The real test is to follow. What will happen if Tillerson, Kelly or Mattis publicly disagree with Trump? If President Trump shrugs his shoulders and says “well, I didn’t want yes men,” then we can at least give him credit for that. But if he reacts in much the same way as he did over the Yates row, then that will be more worrying.