Trump assembles America's 'richest cabinet'

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Donald Trump at his desk in Trump Tower in 2010Image source, AP
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Donald Trump is a billionaire - but he won't be the richest person in his cabinet

US President-elect Donald Trump took a populist tone on the campaign trail, pledging to stand for a beleaguered working class abandoned by the elite.

Yet, as he selects his cabinet, observers are already pointing out that he is putting together the richest administration in US history.

So far, his choices include a billionaire investor, a woman who married into a retail dynasty and a multi-millionaire banker.

Democrats have been quick to the attack. "Donald Trump's administration: of, by and for the millionaires and billionaires," tweeted Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Image source, Twitter

Mr Trump, of course, brings immense wealth to his new role. The property tycoon's worth is estimated at $3.7bn (£3bn) by Forbes magazine, with more than 500 businesses in his empire.

But he might not be the richest member of his team. His nominee for education secretary, Betsy Devos, is the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos, who founded the Amway retail giant. Forbes puts their family wealth at $5.1bn.

Next up is Wilbur Ross, the president-elect's pick for commerce secretary. Forbes puts the wealth of Mr Ross, who headed Rothschild Inc's bankruptcy practice before starting an investment firm, at $2.5bn.

Mr Ross's deputy will be Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs baseball team and the son of Joe Ricketts, a businessman who has an estimated wealth of $1.75bn.

In any other company, Mr Trump's choice for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, might have been expected to be the richest person in the room.

After 17 years at Goldman Sachs, he founded a hedge fund and later bought a bank that became known for seizing the homes of borrowers who fell behind on mortgage payments. Reports put his wealth at over $40m.

Image source, AP
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Steven Mnuchin is a multi-millionaire with years of experience in the banking industry

Elaine Chao, who will take on the transport secretary role and is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is the daughter of a shipping magnate.

Ben Carson, frontrunner for the housing portfolio, and Tom Price, who will head health and human services, are also reported to be multi-millionaires.

Drain the swamp?

Mr Trump's moneyed line-up has not gone unnoticed.

Last month, the Politico news website speculated that the combined wealth of the cabinet could top $35bn - though this depended on the inclusion of oil mogul Harold Hamm as energy secretary and includes a claim by Mr Trump that his wealth exceeds $10bn.

Quartz subsequently pointed out that the $35bn figure exceeded the annual Gross Domestic Product of Bolivia.

Image source, Reuters
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Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is by far the wealthiest member of Obama's cabinet

The Democrats also have some high earners. The Obama cabinet contains one person who could challenge Team Trump in the wealth stakes - Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune. Forbes puts her wealth at $2.4bn.

Current Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to be worth about $200m and several other Obama cabinet members are estimated to be in the $1m-$10m range.

However, it was Mr Trump's insistence that he would "drain the swamp" in Washington and represent working-class Americans that won him support in blue-collar areas around the country. Will choosing such a wealthy cabinet alienate his voters?

A spokesman for Mr Trump said that his appointments were not inconsistent with his campaign pledges.

"You want some people that are insiders and understand the system and some outsiders that are creative thinkers, out-of-the-box thinkers and disruptors," Anthony Scaramucci, of Trump's transition committee, told Reuters news agency.

The Democrats disagree - particularly in the case of Steven Mnuchin, who Democrat Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren called "just another Wall Street insider".

"That is not the type of change that Donald Trump promised to bring to Washington - that is hypocrisy at its worst," they said in a joint statement.

"This pick makes clear that Donald Trump wants to cater to the same Wall Street executives that have hurt working families time and again."