Speed Reads

Fill the Swamp

With Mark Esper's confirmation, 4 Trump Cabinet departments are now headed by former lobbyists

On Tuesday evening, Mark Esper was sworn in as defense secretary, hours after the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed him to fill the position following a record 204 days without a confirmed Pentagon chief. Esper, a 55-year-old West Point graduated and Army officer, brings decades of military experience to the job, along with stints as a professional staffer on two Senate committees, a position in George W. Bush's Pentagon, and a spell at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Esper was also, until he became Army secretary in 2017, a lobbyist for Raytheon, the No. 3 U.S. defense contractor. And heading up the department you used to lobby isn't too uncommon in the Trump administration, it turns out. As Rachel Maddow pointed out on MSNBC Tuesday night, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is a former oil industry lobbyist, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler was a coal industry lobbyist, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar was a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist and senior executive.

President Trump memorably vowed to "drain the swamp" in Washington, D.C., but he also boasted at his re-election kickoff last month that his administration has "stared down the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests, who made a living bleeding our country dry. That's what we've done."

Soon after being sworn in as president, Trump signed an executive order requiring all political hires to sign a pledge that bars them from lobbying the agencies they worked at for five years and avoid lobbying White House officials or political appointees as long as Trump is president. "But loopholes, some of them sizable, abound," ProPublica's David Kravitz reported in February, and "at least 33 former Trump officials have found ways around the pledge," most prominently former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Of those 33, "at least 18 have recently registered as lobbyists," Kravitz added. "The rest work at firms in jobs that closely resemble federal lobbying. Almost all work on issues they oversaw or helped shape when they were in government."